The years I had as a sideman, or “hired gun” as I’ve also heard it called, proved invaluable to me as a guitarist in general, and also as a future “front man.” It is a very proud and often “unsung” part of the music industry, this role of making others “sound good” through your backup work, but believe me, it can work wonders for you and your career, especially if you do get the recognition you deserve!
And the only way to get that recognition is to do well! I only know one way of making music, and that is to be 1000% committed to it, and as dedicated to it as possible. The minute I hear a song, and I know that I am soon to be a part of it, I will always give it my all…whether it means laying out, or overplaying to do the right thing! In the end, it really does communicate with the audience, and hopefully, the performer you are being the “sideman” for really takes notice of the wonderful job you are doing for them, and most importantly acknowledges it! It’s so important that we feel at least recognized and rewarded for doing an exceptional job musically, and that others don’t let petty jealousies and other nonsense stand in the way of you getting the proper accolades you deserve!
If you take on any sideman jobs, do not be too choosey. You want to be known as an all-around player, and also as someone who takes on challenges, as opposed to one who passes on them! This kind of negative reputation can really spread quickly, and can truly put the brakes on an otherwise well-advancing career! People write me all the time, saying that they’ve gotten a certain gig, but they want to leave it because they hate the music! I’m sorry, but these days, where there are easily at least 1000% more great guitarists around than when I was starting out, you’ve got to be glad to get almost any gig you can take. Now, if a better one comes along, and offers you more financial stability as well as musical and artistic happiness, then of course, by all means take on the new gig. Just don’t make too many people hate you in the process, because everyone ends up re-tracing their steps to a certain degree in this business, and more often than not, you’ll run into old acquaintances again.
So remember also, being a “sideman” will always lead to helping you be a “frontman” one day, and it’s been the case for so many artists for so many years. The ones who were once “hired guns”, usually end up being the nicest to work with, and the ones who will understand and recognize what you do for them the most!