Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Rock’n’Roll Guns for Hire: the Sideman

BBC4's "Rock’n’Roll Guns for Hire: The Story of the Sideman " was a ninety minutes look at those popular music artists who support the star - but aren't members of the band.

Bernard Fowler and Earl Slick

Here is what The Guardian had to say:
"Earl Slick played guitar on stage for David Bowie, on and off for 40 years, so he has some insight into the psychology of being a sideman – a professional musician in the service of a big ego. “Most of the time we’re invisible,” he says. “Ghosts at the top table.”

Slick took an unusual leading role in Rock’n’Roll Guns for Hire: The Story of the Sideman (BBC4), exploring what it takes – and what it means – to have a career based on facilitating someone else’s vision. Even in this he was overshadowed, as big names offered their perfect sideman’s job description. “The better you are at your job, the less people will notice you,” said Keith Richards. “And that’s the whole point.”

In fact, all of the Rolling Stones turned out to heap measured praise on Bernard Fowler, their long-serving back-up singer, arranger and person in charge of remembering how all the songs go. The Stones seem utterly reliant on him.

We were also introduced to Wendy and Lisa of Prince and the Revolution fame; Crystal Taliefero, who played just about everything for Billy Joel; and legendary Stax guitarist Steve Cropper, whose co-writing credits on a string of hits make him a rare creature – a sideman with a pension."
What made this programme riveting was the psychological angle. The 'sidemen' seemed to be more professional, to have greater musical knowledge and certainly better musicianship than the stars they supported.

What on earth did they lack?

In a word: charisma. This was shown most clearly at the end, where after the death of Bowie some of the featured sidemen joined up to create a kind of 'Bowie tribute band'.  Bernard Fowler did the vocals - in his own accomplished and unique style - while Earl Slick played guitar. The whole thing was an embarrassing travesty - about as much excitement as watching paint dry.

"Low energy," as Trump might observe.


We know something about charisma. On the five-factor model it loads on Extraversion and Neuroticism (negatively). Considerably greater insight comes about through delving deeper into the 30 constituent facets (each of the five FFM dimensions further resolves into six facets).

Jasmine Vergauwe, Bart Wille, Joeri Hofmans and Filip De Fruyt wrote "Development of a Five-Factor Model charisma compound and its relations to career outcomes", concluding:
"In summary, the experts described the prototypical charismatic leader to be low on several Neuroticism facets, indicating that that they are in general:
  • relaxed, unconcerned, cool: (low on anxiety) 
  • optimistic (low on depression) 
  • self-assured, glib, shameless (low on self-consciousness)
  • clear-thinking, fearless, and unflappable (low on vulnerability).
Moreover, the experts rated the charismatic leader as typically high on all Extraversion facets, except for excitement seeking. This means that the charismatic leader tends to be:
  • cordial, affectionate, attached (high on warmth) 
  • sociable, outgoing (high on gregariousness)
  • dominant, forceful (high on assertiveness)
  • vigorous, energetic, active (high on activity)
  • happy, cheerful, and joyous (high on positive emotions). 
Further, two Openness facets have been indicated to be prototypically high for the charismatic leader, namely:
  • actions (unconventional, eccentric)
  • values (permissive, broad-minded).
Finally, within the Conscientiousness domain:
  • achievement striving (workaholic, ambitious) 
is perceived to be high in charismatic leaders, and none of the Agreeableness facets came out as a relevant personality-related description of the prototypical charismatic leader."
The sidemen by contrast were introverted, transactional, very amiable and conscientious.

It occurred to me suddenly that they were the quintessential consultants.


In sport too the same dichotomy. It's a problem when the qualities that make for sporting success are not aligned with a native charisma:
  • Djokovic has charisma, Murray is a sideman
  • Peter Sagan and Alberto Contador have charisma; Froome, Quintana - sidemen
  • Lewis Hamilton has charisma, Nigel Mansell was a sideman.

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