Session players are the unsung stars of the music industry. As temporary members of big name bands, they step in during recording or touring to fill in the gaps in an act’s lineup, and often learn their parts in only a matter of hours.

Here the Top Ten Session Musicians and Studio Bands.

10. Thomas Lang
Instrument: Drums

Austrian percussionist Thomas Lang isn’t as famous as Neil Pert or Keith Moon, but he’s regularly listed by music magazines as one of the most technically skilled drummers in the world. Lang began drumming at the age of five, and gained prominence in the 90s after a string of session gigs and tours with pop acts ranging from Peter Gabriel to Kelly Clarkson.

9. The Hollywood Studio Symphony
Instrument: Full symphony orchestra

Little known outside of Los Angeles, the Hollywood Studio Symphony is a rotating group of orchestra musicians responsible for playing the soundtrack music for countless big screen films.

8. The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section
Instruments: Keyboard, Drums, Guitar, and Bass

One of the most famous session bands of all time, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section is a group of Alabama-based musicians who have backed up some of the most storied acts of the 60s and 70s.

7. James Burton
Instrument: Guitar

Even at the age of 71, journeyman guitarist James Burton is still going strong as a session musician. Born in Dubberly, Louisiana, Burton was a semi-pro musician by his early teens, and by 18 he had already played the guitar solo on the 1957 Dale Dawkins hit “Susie Q.”

6. Billy Preston
Instrument: Keyboard, Organ, Harpsichord, Accordion, Clavinetr

Piano player Billy Preston is a familiar name to music fans. He had a lengthy solo career, several hit songs including the classic “Nothing From Nothing,” and even won a Grammy for his 1972 instrumental track “Outa-Space.”

5. Carol Kaye
Instrument: Bass, Electric Guitar

Described by many as the most widely heard bass player in history, Carol Kaye has played on dozens of Billboard Hot 100 hits while still remaining unknown to most casual music fans. The daughter of two musicians, Kaye grew up in Los Angeles, where she worked as a bass instructor in her early teens.

4. Ray Cooper
Instrument: Percussion

English percussionist Ray Cooper has played drums for some of rock’s biggest names, and along the way he’s developed a cult following for his unique choice of instruments, astounding technical skill, and prodigious, often 15-minute-long drum solos.

3. The Wrecking Crew
Instruments: Guitar, Drums, Bass, Keyboard, Saxophone, Trumpet, Trombone, Percussion, Harmonica, Vocals

Individual members of The Wrecking Crew appear elsewhere on this list, but it would be an oversight not to recognize the whole group for their immense contribution to pop music.

2. The Funk Brothers
Instruments: Guitar, Drums, Bass, Keyboard, Saxophone, Trumpet, Trombone, Percussion, Harmonica, Vocals

From 1959 until 1972, The Funk Brothers provided the studio backup sound for nearly every act on the legendary Motown record label in Detroit. Unlike The Wrecking Crew in L.A. and Booker T. and the M.G.’s in Memphis, The Funk Brothers were rarely credited for their work, and few outside of the industry knew about them until the release of the 2002 documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown.

1. Hal Blaine
Instrument: Drums

Drummer Hal Blaine is the epitome of what it means to be a session musician: talented, prolific, and yet still relatively anonymous.


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