July 30, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Frost, Cooper guitarist Dick Wagner dies at 71

Dick Wagner, who made music history leading Detroit band the Frost in the ’60s, and then in the ’70s played with Billy Joel, Lou Reed’s Rock and Roll Animal band and the Alice Cooper Band, has died. He was 71.

Wagner, who Cooper deemed “one of a kind” and “irreplaceable,” played guitar, sang and wrote numerous hit songs from the 1960’s on. He was born in Iowa but grew up in Waterford Township and Saginaw.

He died Wednesday morning in a Phoenix hospital, where he had been battling a lung infection after heart surgery, according to Ray Goodman, who played guitar in his current group, the Maestros of Rock.

“We did our last performance in early July in Owosso, then he flew home on the sixth, and had what should have been fairly simple heart surgery,” Goodman said. “They expected him to be released in three or four days.”

Wagner first became known to Michigan rock fans with the Bossmen, with songs including the Wagner-penned “Baby Boy,” before founding the Frost, which became one of the stars of Detroit’s booming late 1960s rock scene. The band recorded three albums for Vanguard. Their second, 1969’s “Rock and Roll Music,” was recorded live at the Grande Ballroom.

The guitarist had played on Cooper sessions, along with guitarist Steve Hunter, and co-wrote the “Welcome to My Nightmare” album with him, which solidified Cooper’s career.

In a statement released by his record company, Alice Cooper said: “Even though we know it’s inevitable, we never expect to suddenly lose close friends and collaborators. Dick Wagner and I shared as many laughs as we did hit records. ... His brand of playing and writing is not seen anymore, and there are very few people that I enjoyed working with as much as I enjoyed working with Dick Wagner. A lot of my radio success in my solo career had to do with my relationship with Dick Wagner. Not just on stage, but in the studio and writing. Some of my biggest singles were ballads that I wrote with Dick Wagner. Most of ‘Welcome to My Nightmare’ was written with Dick. There was just a magic in the way we wrote together. He was always able to find exactly the right chord to match perfectly with what I was doing. I think that we always think our friends will be around as long as we are, so to hear of Dick’s passing comes as a sudden shock and an enormous loss for me, rock and roll, and to his family.”

Hunter reminisced about Wagner on his Facebook page. “From 1973 until about 1978, Dick and I were lucky enough to play on some pretty cool records and some amazing stages all over the world with some incredible artists. We had a thing when we played together like none other I’ve experienced. ... Dick has written and co-written some real rock ’n’ roll classics that will live on, as well as his playing. The stuff we did together back in the ’70s was really and truly magical.”

One of Wagner’s best known compositions was “Only Women Bleed,” co-written with Cooper, and he named the memoir he wrote a few years ago “Not Only Women Bleed.” Wagner was proud of the work he did with Cooper over the years, but also felt that he wasn’t fairly compensated for it, financially.

Goodman first met Wagner when the latter was in the Frost and he was in SRC. They had a brotherly but at times volatile relationship, with Wagner firing and then rehiring Goodman.

“The two performances we did this year (at Callahan’s in Auburn Hills, and Owosso), were the best I’ve done with him,” Goodman said. “He wanted to have the surgery so he could get even better. We were planning on touring this fall.”

Wagner came back from a bout with severe health problems in recent years. He suffered a heart attack and stroke in 2007 that had him out of commission until 2011.

The guitarist is survived by his wife, Sandra, two grown sons and a daughter.

Memorial arrangements will be announced soon.

Youtube videos

Dick Wagner and the Frost, “Rock and Roll Music”: www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8OgoVfSuBE

Dick Wagner and the Frost, “Sunshine”: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g8op8lGuo0

Dick Wagner and the Frost, “Mystery Man”: www.youtube.com/watch?v=rygrz8q7Aj4

Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter onstage with Alice Cooper: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mh5uMD_Gaq4

swhitall@detroitnews.com

Dick Wagner in 1969 / Detroit News file photo