Rock Reads: Alice Cooper Band's Dick Wagner - Not Only Women Bleed

Reviewed by Morley Seaver

You know his songs, "Welcome to My Nightmare", "The Black Widow", "I Never Cry", and of course, "Only Women Bleed", as modern day classics recorded by Alice Cooper. Guitar enthusiasts will his guitar from work with Lou Reed, KISS, Aerosmith, Meat Loaf and many more. Michigan rock and rollers in the late '60s and early '70s will remember him as a cult hero as leader of the bands The Bossmen, The Frost and Ursa Major. That person would be Dick Wagner.

As a so-called side man or collaborator on the big stage, Wagner is one of the few that has managed to become a personality in his own right. A highly-sought session guitarist and songwriter, he managed to parlay his contributions to Alice Cooper and Lou Reed into a career that includes countless guest appearances to a wide variety of artists.

When you have done as much as Wagner has done in his career, what is there left to do? Well, write a book to tell all the stories about it, of course. And that's just what he has done. Wagner has inked his autobiography Not Only Women Bleed covering his life right up to present day.

This is as complete a book as has been written by a rock star. We're given all the info from Wagner's days fronting his own bands as well as many great stories about the superstars he's played with. Some celebrities gloss over their indiscretions, with many shifting blame and refusing to take ownership of some of their self-imposed problems. Not so for Wagner. This book is a warts 'n all memoir and he gives as much play to his drug use and infidelities as he does his triumphs

The book is written in an unusual way. It's laid out in a manner that documents notable events and milestones throughout Wagner's life to date. It's not just a chronological recount that includes all the minutiae that the average reader might skip over. As a result, we are left with the main dish minus the coleslaw and pickles. To say this is a fascinating read would be an understatement.

Let's face it, for most people, unless you're a Michigan-area resident, the vast majority of the rock audience will know Wagner via his working relationships with Alice Cooper and Lou Reed. And fans get all the goop here about joining these two legends.

Wagner's partnership with Alice, who wrote a forward to the book, began when Dick shopped some solo songs around and was contacted by Shep Gordon, Alice's manager. Gordon convinced him to try writing some songs with Alice. The first contribution was for "I Love the Dead", the fan fav from the Billion Dollar Babies record, although he is un-credited.

From there, Alice went the solo route and he and Wagner put together the Welcome to My Nightmare record which contained the world-wide smash "Only Women Bleed". That sparked a partnership that extended up into the '80s with the Hey Stoopid record.

Many stories from the Cooper days are revealed like the night Alice was so intoxicated at a show in Vancouver that, blinded by the lights, he walked off the front of the stage and crashed to the concrete below. Not sure what to do, Wagner and the band kept playing the same song three times while Alice was treated by paramedics backstage for what was later diagnosed as cracked ribs. Finally, Alice emerged from the shadows aided by a crutch which he swung proudly in the air. The audience ate it all up thinking it was just part of the show.

Other great stories include when Coop turned down a dalliance with Raquel Welch and the night a rental snake gave a hug that was a bit too enthusiastic. Unrelated amusing stories abound as well like a failed attempt at assembling a super-group with ex-Door Ray Manzarek and Iggy Pop after Iggy did an impromptu strip tease at the first rehearsal.

Another partnership is given its due as well. Wagner was playing a massive outdoor festival in Michigan in 1970 when he first heard fellow guitarist Steve Hunter who was playing with Mitch Ryder that day. That was the seeds of a tandem that has become one of the most famous in rock history. In fact, Gibson.com called the pair's intro to Lou Reed's song "Sweet Jane", the 25th best guitar solo ever record.

From women (boy there was a lot) to drugs (oh boy, there was a lot) to rock 'n roll (wow, what's more than a lot?), this book proves that Wagner has lived the life of five ordinary men. But the good times don't stop there, boys and girls. Wagner has also included two CDs with the package. The first is called Full Meltdown, which is a collection of songs that Dick has written between 1979 and 1995. There are some real gems on here, particularly the incredible "Darkest Hour", the boppy "Insatiable Girl" and the gorgeous ballad "These Days". The second disc is an album by an acquaintance of his by the name of Dr. Gary Telgenhoff on which Wagner plays all lead guitar.

If you're a classic rock fan, you'll love this book. And if you're a fan of Dick's, this is a no-brainer. Not Only Women Bleed is the best rock 'n roll book I've read in quite a few years.


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