A sideman is a professional musician who is hired to perform or record with a group of which he or she is not a regular member. They often tour with solo acts as well as bands and jazz ensembles. Sidemen are generally required to be adaptable to many different styles of music, and so able to fit smoothly into the group in which they are currently playing. Often aspiring musicians start out as sidemen, and then move on to develop their own sound, a name, and fans of their own, or go on to form their own groups. Some examples of this are:
- James Burton and Glen D. Hardin, playing guitar and keyboards respectively, who performed in the backing band for Elvis Presley, also backed Gram Parsons before joining newcomer Rodney Crowell and veteran Albert Lee in Emmylou Harris' "Hot Band".
- Don Henley and Glenn Frey were in the initial backup band for Linda Ronstadt, which toured in support of her eponymous debut album. Afterwards, with the addition of Joe Walsh and Don Felder, (and later, Timothy Schmit), they formed the Eagles.
Some sidemen become famous for their musical specialties, and become highly sought-after by pop, rock, blues, jazz and country music bands. Examples of some of these include multi-instrumentalists. David Lindley is a multi-instrumentalist who has worked with such diverse musicians as Curtis Mayfield, Dolly Parton, Jackson Browne, and Hani Naser. Lindley used his time as a sideman to discover and master new instruments while on tour around the world, becoming proficient on ethnic instruments rarely seen in Western music genres. He has mastered so many that he admits to losing count, and instead placed a photo gallery of them on his website.
Waddy Wachtel's guitar licks and experience have placed him as a bandleader while on tour with Stevie Nicks, and Chuck Leavell, who has toured with The Allman Brothers Band, but more often, is onstage with The Rolling Stones on keyboards.
Often sidemen go on to form their own groups and/or solo careers; for instance, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Pete Best acted as sidemen to Tony Sheridan before becoming famous as The Beatles, with the addition of Ringo Starr. Jimmy Page left his first attempts working in bands, to hone his skills as a session player, where he met John Paul Jones and sought and recruited Robert Plant and John Bonham to form Led Zeppelin. Bob Dylan's first recorded song was as a harmonica sideman on Harry Belafonte's cover of "Midnight Special".
Some notable sidemen include
- Kenny Aronoff, drummer
- Mickey Baker, guitarist
- Ray Brown, jazz bassist
- Sonny Clark, hard bop, pianist
- Vinnie Colaiuta, drummer
- Rodney Crowell, guitarist
- Jesse Ed Davis, guitarist
- Johnny Dodds, jazz clarinetist
- Graeme Duffin, guitarist (Wet Wet Wet)
- Bill Evans, jazz pianist
- Morgan Fisher, guitarist and keyboardist for Queen
- Bernard Fowler, vocalist for the Rolling Stones, Little Axe
- Steve Gadd, drummer
- Eddie Gómez, jazz bassist
- Omar Hakim, drummer
- Taku Hirano, percussionist
- Roy Hargrove, trumpeter
- Freddie Hubbard, trumpeter
- Roger Ingram, trumpeter
- Steve Jordan, drummer
- Bradley Joseph, keyboardist
- Kenny Kirkland, pianist
- Chuck Leavell, keyboardist
- Kyle Martin, drummer
- Stan Munsey, keyboardist
- Pino Palladino, bass guitarist for The Who, the John Mayer Trio
- Owen Pallett, violinist, sideman of Arcade Fire
- Phil Palmer, guitarist
- Jack Petersen
- Morris Pleasure, piano, keyboardist, bassist, guitarist, trumpet, music director Earth, Wind and Fire
- Pino Presti, bass guitarist for Gerry Mulligan, Quincy Jones, Astor Piazzolla, Shirley Bassey, Mina, Aldemaro Romero
- Billy Preston, keyboardist
- Leon Russell, pianist
- Steuart Smith, guitarist (the Eagles)
- Daryl Stuermer, touring guitarist/bassist with Genesis and Phil Collins
- Chester Thompson, touring drummer with Genesis and Phil Collins
- Klaus Voorman, bass guitarist
- Fred Wesley, jazz and funk trombonist
- Jason White, punk rock guitarist, sideman of Green Day until 2012, when he was promoted to the band's lead guitarist.
- Phil Woods, jazz alto saxophonist and clarinetist
- Miskin, Paul D. (August 25, 2008). "Good Vibrations: The Evolution of Popular Music". Retrieved December 16, 2009.
- Melvin, Gary. "A Guide to Being a Successful Sideman". Los Angeles, California: Musician Wages.com. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
- Kotapish, Paul (2012). "Big little Music: The Weird and Wonderful World of String Wizard David Lindley". Cover Story, Acoustic Guitar Magazine. String Letter Publishing, Inc., David A. Lusterman, Publisher. Retrieved December 13, 2012.
- "Midnight Special by Leadbelly Songfacts". Songfacts.com. Retrieved 2014-05-24.