They’ve played with the likes of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan and Jon Bon Jovi. This weekend, some of the top supporting players in the music business will be in the spotlight.
Neptune guitarist Marc Muller, a longtime player for Shania Twain who most recently worked for Springsteen on the 2019 “Western Stars” LP and its companion film, is enlisting some of his top-shelf colleagues for Sidemen Center Stage: The Musicians Behind the Artists.
Happening Friday, Dec. 3, at the Vogel at the Count Basie Center for the Arts on Monmouth Street in Red Bank, the show is a musicians-in-the-round evening with individual mini-sets and a collaborative jam.
Muller will be joined by Jon Herington, guitarist for Steely Dan on record and on stage since 1999, along with longtime Bob Dylan bassist Tony Garnier, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes keyboard player Jeff Kazee and Paris Monster drummer Josh Dion.
For music aficionados, it’s a rare opportunity to witness collaboration between some highly in-demand hired guns.
“Even though all of these guys have been around, many haven’t gotten to work with each other,” Muller said.
But Muller, who’s also been behind the Grateful Dead tribute Dead On Live for more than a decade, said the COVID-19 pandemic opened up players’ schedules.
“A lot of these guys are friends of mine from when I used to live in New York or (from) being out on the road or doing sessions in New York in the past,” Muller said. “But really, the last 10 years or so, everyone’s been so busy so we could never get together and try anything new because they’re all either out on tour or working. But with the pandemic, everyone was sitting around.”
Friends began joining in on the fun for Muller's Dead On Live gigs, and now he's launching the Sidemen Center Stage concept. Muller said he hopes Friday's show is the first of several, given the abundance of talent in the area and the infinitely possible player combinations.
“There’s a whole community of people in the New York and Philadelphia area who have just played with so many people," said Muller. "I mean, years and years of history (between the) musicians that are here. And there is no better room to do it than the Vogel, just based on how well they put it together as a listening room and how good it sounds in there.”
'Leave egos at the door'
It makes sense that Steely Dan masterminds Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker had great appreciation for their sidemen — after all, the two were supporting players themselves, playing some of their pre-Dan days as part of Jay and the Americans.
Herington — who played at the Basie in November as part of Steely Dan's "Absolutely Normal Tour '21" and will play the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel with the band on June 30, 2022 — discussed his employers' appreciation for their players.
"I don’t think it’s lost on Donald, for instance, how great a band this is and how strong the musicianship is," said Herington, who grew up in West Long Branch. "Really, there’s no weak link and it’s pretty phenomenal in that way. But there’s a sort of irony there, too, because in some ways Donald and Walter always made a habit of trying to find the best players they could possibly (find)."
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Herington noted how Becker, who died in 2017, would be happy to step aside and let a different guitarist or bassist play on a song if he felt they could play a given part better.
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That selfless attitude is crucial.
"You have to have confidence and you have to be a strong player with a range of abilities, but most of all you need to have the idea that the music is what you’re serving first," Herington said.
"What it takes to be a good sideman, other than being versatile and having skills ... is you need no gimmick," Muller said. "Leave egos at the door and come in and do what you do to support the artist."
Sidemen Center Stage, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, the Vogel at the Count Basie Center for the Arts, 99 Monmouth St., Red Bank, $29 to $49, 732-842-9000, thebasie.org.
Alex Biese has been writing about art, entertainment, culture and news on a local and national level for more than 15 years.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Musicians who played with Springsteen, Steely Dan in the spotlight