A sideman is a professional musician who is hired to perform live with a solo artist, or with a group in which they are not a regular band member.[1] The term is usually used to describe musicians that play with jazz or rock artists, whether solo or a group.[2]

Sidemen and sidewomen are often well-versed in multiple styles of music, and can be hired at any level of the music industry, from playing in a cover band to backing up established artists on major tours.[3]

While many artists can work as sidemen or session musicians, others will only fill one role. The generally accepted difference is that a sideman performs live while a session musician is hired to perform in a recording studio.[4]

Career progression

Aspiring musicians often start out as sidemen, playing rhythm guitar, comping on keyboards, playing drums in the rhythm section, or singing backing vocals for a well-known bandleader or singer.[5] Once sidemen have become experienced with live performance and recording with established artists, some move on to develop their own sound, a recognized name, and fans of their own, or go on to form their own groups, at which point they become bandleaders and recruit their own sidemen and sidewomen.[6] Some examples of this are:

David Lindley (1980) playing the pedal steel guitar

Some sidemen become famous for their musical specialties, and become highly sought-after by pop, rock, blues, jazz and country music bands. Examples of some of these include multi-instrumentalists. David Lindley is a multi-instrumentalist who has worked with such diverse musicians as Curtis Mayfield, Dolly Parton, Jackson Browne, and Hani Naser.[9]

Waddy Wachtel's guitar licks and experience have placed him as a bandleader while on tour with Stevie Nicks, and Chuck Leavell, who has toured with The Allman Brothers Band, but more often, is onstage with The Rolling Stones on keyboards.[10][11][12]

Often sidemen go on to form their own groups and/or solo careers; for instance, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Pete Best acted as sidemen to Tony Sheridan before becoming famous as The Beatles, with the addition of Ringo Starr.[13] Jimmy Page left his first attempts working in bands to hone his skills as a session player, where he met John Paul Jones; he later recruited Robert Plant and John Bonham to form Led Zeppelin.[14] Bob Dylan's first recorded song was as a harmonica sideman on Harry Belafonte's cover of "Midnight Special".[15][16]

Other musicians may take time from their own bands to tour or record as a sideman for other artists, such as punk bassist Mike Watt with J Mascis and the Fog or Iggy and the Stooges.[17]

Bernard Fowler, backup vocalist for The Rolling Stones

See also


  1. ^ Hinton, Kerry. Cool Careers Without College for Music Lovers. The Rosen Publishing Group, 2002. p. 57
  2. ^ "Sideman | Definition of Sideman by Oxford Dictionary on Lexico.com also meaning of Sideman". Lexico Dictionaries | English. Retrieved September 30, 2020.[dead link]
  3. ^ Melvin, Gary. "A Guide to Being a Successful Sideman". Los Angeles, California: Musician Wages.com. Archived from the original on May 8, 2012. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
  4. ^ "Earl Slick on Being David Bowie's Sideman and His New Documentary". reverb.com. July 5, 2017. Retrieved October 1, 2020.
  5. ^ Brown, Mel (2008). From Zero to Sideman. Career Equity LLC. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-9815706-0-0. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  6. ^ Wake, Matt (June 25, 2020). "20 rock stars who got their start as sidemen". Advance Local.
  7. ^ Stanton, Scott (September 2003). The Tombstone Tourist: Musicians. Simon and Schuster. p. 191. ISBN 978-0-7434-6330-0.
  8. ^ "How Glenn Frey & Don Henley Became the Eagles, As Told by Linda Ronstadt". Billboard. January 18, 2016. Retrieved September 30, 2020.
  9. ^ Kotapish, Paul (2012). "Big little Music: The Weird and Wonderful World of String Wizard David Lindley". Cover Story, Acoustic Guitar Magazine. String Letter Publishing, Inc., David A. Lusterman, publisher. Archived from the original on June 14, 2009. Retrieved December 13, 2012.
  10. ^ O'Malley Greenburg, Zach (August 26, 2011). "Chuck Leavell: The Rolling Stone Who Gathers Moss". Forbes. Retrieved January 11, 2012.
  11. ^ LEAVELL, CHUCK; JOAN RAYMOND (January 8, 2008). "Rolling? We're More Like the Flying Stones". New York Times. Retrieved January 16, 2008.
  12. ^ Greenhaus, Mike https://relix.com/articles/detail/chuck-leavell-talks-stones-tour/ Relix
  13. ^ Lewis, Randy (February 20, 2013). "Tony Sheridan, British rocker who performed with the Beatles in the early 1960s, dies at 72". Washington Post. Retrieved September 30, 2020.
  14. ^ FOGARTY, Mark (August 14, 2008). Went to See the Gypsy. p. 211. ISBN 978-1-4357-5140-8. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  15. ^ "1961: Bob Dylan Lays Down His First Track". Haaretz.
  16. ^ "Dylan's early released recordings: With Belafonte, Hester & Big Joe Williams | Untold Dylan".
  17. ^ Callwood, Brett (September 2011). The Stooges: Head On. Wayne State University Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-8143-3710-3. Retrieved December 28, 2020.