Most Respected Session Musicians?

As I understand it, there are certain session musicians that are widely respected in the profession. The ability to adapt to whatever band they are working with is considered quite a talent, as is persistence and reliable quality.
Is this true? If so, what are the names of the most noted?

Prolly the quintessential example is bassist Carol Kaye.

the funk brothers ,wrecking crew …

Tony Levin

Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones

And the recently departed Glen Campbell

Tommy Tedesco

He was everywhere!

The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, The Muscle Shoals Horns, The Memphis Horns, The Nashville A-Team

Toto guitarist Steve Lukather has been a very popular session musician throughout his career, and has appeared on over 1500 recordings, primarily during the 1970s and 1980s. He, himself, notes that the era of the session musician has ended (the quote below is from 2011, and appears on his Wikipedia page):

Paul Shaffer’s World’s Most Dangerous Band is made up of top studio cats who have played on everything.

Drummers like Steve Jordan and Bernard Purdie. So many guitar players like all of the Steely Dan go-to players.

Session work is its own world.

Fwiw, it is my understanding that the Swampers in Muscle Shoals, compared to say the Funk Bros, Wrecking Crew or Brill Building gang, we’re not so much great, versatile musicians as a tight unit with a distinct groove. That’s not a bad thing at all - my gosh, look at what they played on! - but it points out that there’s different types of session success.

kenobi, yeah, I’d mention Lukather. He’s the Tommy Tedesco of the past 40 years - THE gold-standard commercial session guitarist in LA. Must be so weird to be the guitar player on the biggest selling album of all time, Thriller, except for one single lead. And yeah, pocket studios, pro tools and the Internet changed session work forever.

Gotta share some love for Nicky Hopkins, who played piano for everybody who was anybody in the '60s, including but not limited to the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, the Dead, Jefferson Airplane, the Jeff Beck Group, and scores of others.

Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn

Gotta include the Kinks on that list, since Hopkins’s harpsichord was an important part of their sound on several key tracks, including, appropriately enough, “Session Man.”

Herbie Flowers

Jody Linscott

Mark O’Connor

The thing I respected most about Tedesco wasn’t his playing–it was having a cartage service to take his equipment to gigs. That is sweet!

He’s a bit more than a session player ;). Pretty much one of the best fiddlers and guitarists out there. I saw him play Hot Club jazz with Frank Vignola, then switch to bluegrass when Chris Thile came out and sat in. Just a huge talent.

A lot of famous jazz musicians started as sidemen. One of note was drummer Buddy Rich, born to a Vaudeville family, never learned to read music, but played with the biggest names in music before leading his own orchestra. I never cared for him, but you have to admire the work ethic.

Waddy Wachtel (guitar)

Steve Gadd (drums)

Billy Preston

ETA - one of the more unique sessions - Paul McCartney will be sitting in on drums for an upcoming Foo Fighters release.

And the song actually was about Nicky Hopkins!


My two favorite session guitarists: James Burton and Clarence White. I have a truckload of records on which they play on, and those are not the worst in my collection.

Sly and Robbie: rhythm section for maybe half of every reggae recording ever and a big chunk of pop and rock records, too.

ETA: one more who comes to mind: Ry Cooder. Besides having an extensive solo recording career of his own, he played on countless other’s, some of the biggest names. Heck, he even played on the first album by Little Feat, a band who really wasn’t in need of a goof slide player.