Graham Reid | | 3 min read
A number of big stars have mentioned this, so we'll repeat it here: the most expensive cars in the recording studio parking lot belong to the session musicians.
It might be a joke – most stars don't drive themselves to studios – but it says something about the lifestyle of those who have avoided the excesses and weariness of touring in favour of studio sessions, be they on albums or for advertising jingles.
Session players have to be excellent and flexible musicians, able to fit in with the demands of a producer, arranger or star, be quick and accurate, and also be prepared to sit around for hours at a time some days.
One day they might be working with a chart-topper and the next with someone nervously getting their debut album ready.
Or working with an ex-Beatle.
When 22-year old guitarist David Spinozza got a call from a woman who introduced herself as Linda he initially had no idea who she was, until she added her surname and said, “We'd like to hear you play”.
Spinozza had established his career on sessions for John Denver, jazz saxophonist Oliver Nelson and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis all-star jazz orchestra.
But when he went to the rehearsal space on New York's West 45th Street to meet the McCartneys he was taken aback and miffed that there were other guitarists there: it wasn't a session but an audition for McCartney's studio band which would record the Ram album.
Spinozza wasn't a Beatles' fan: “I thought they were a cute little harmony band, I didn't put them on the same level as say James Brown or Otis Redding”.
He hated the idea that the gifted session musicians had to audition for someone they could run circles around musically. But he liked the idea of having a Beatle on his growing CV.
So he signed on – he and drummer Denny Seiwell were top tier players and commanded double the union scale – and on October 12, 1970 began work on McCartney's single Another Day in CBS' Studio B.
Spinozza found it an unusual session, McCartney didn't play a note on bass that day, although he liked him (“very witty”) and respected his work ethic which was serious and business-like.
And so for a couple of days the sessions continued, but when McCartney didn't commit to further sessions Spinozza took other work rather than sit around unpaid.
When Linda heard this she “got a little pissy”.
“She was a little insulted that I didn't just drop everything and continue with them. And I said, 'Welcome to New York. This is a freelance world, and when I take a job I don't cancel it when a better one comes along'.”
And so Spinozza walked. But walked into a remarkable career.
He subsequently worked with John Lennon on Mind Games and Ringo Starr (Ringo the 4th). That's a trifecta of former Beatles, and if we add in Yoko Ono (he led her live band in New York) just one short of a Royal Flush.
The Yoko connection is interesting. He worked with her on Feeling the Space and A Story while Lennon was off on his 18-month Lost Weekend and it was widely rumoured he and Ono had an on-going affair.
He doesn't talk about Ono these days.
When Lennon was shot and Ono released the classic Walking on Thin Ice single she asked Spinozza if she could use It Happened – which he'd played on – for the B side and it's said paid him a whopping US$100,000 for it.
Again he has no comment on that.
Spinozza has been one of the most successful of session players (that's him on Dr John's Right Place Wrong Time) who also branched into production (James Taylor) and soundtrack work.
In the Seventies in addition to his Beatle work he played on albums by BB King, Paul Simon (Paul Simon and There Goes Rhymin' Simon), Laura Branigan, Don McLean's single American Pie (“I thought it was too long”), John Denver, Billy Joel, Bonnie Raitt, Judy Collins, Bette Midler, Garland Jeffreys (also acting as producer on his Ghost Writer, One-Eyed Jack), the McGarrigle sisters . . .
He toured with Carly Simon.
In more recent decades he was on Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach's Painted from Memory and albums by Celine Dion, Rod Stewart, Michael Franks . . .
In 2021 he was nominated for a Grammy (best contemporary instrumental album) for At Blue Note Tokyo. The same year he appeared on the tribute album to the McCartney's Ram, Ram On
He has had solo albums under his own name, played in and conducted the Saturday Night Live band in the early Eighties, was on the Blues Brothers albums . . .
He's probably got an expensive car too.
Now you know why we need to talk about the remarkable David Spinozza.
For other articles in the series of strange, sad or interesting characters in music, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . go here.