The name isn't household, but the sound of Rusty Anderson's guitar has played in a few million homes-and cars, stadiums and high school proms, for that matter. For the past decade, he's been one of the world's hottest session musicians, assisting everyone from Elton John to Courtney Love. He's also been a full-time member of Ednaswap, art rockers Animal Logic (alongside ex-Police man Stewart Copeland) and now The Paul McCartney band.
"Just a minute," Anderson amiably says, pausing our conversation to oblige a man asking for "one more" autograph. Anderson is in London for a rare solo show to support his new album, Undressing Underwater.
Anderson's prowess drew attention early on, having formed his first band at age 9. Session work "just sort of happened," he says, and he counts that as a blessing. He started as a teenager with country singer Ronee Blakely, then quickly ran up an impressive resumé.
Talking to a session man is a delicate exercise; though their role as ghost-players has made music the whole world loves and wants to hear more about, almost every sideman would rather talk about their own stuff.
Anderson says, "after a while, it becomes so much name-dropping. It's a busy schedule and I kind of like to keep it that way. But there are things that really stand out. Playing with Elton John was a real kick. Between one thing and another, I'm always playing on someone's record, recording on my own, demo-ing or doing some songwriting."
In fact, Anderson's most famous riff began as a demo-the melodic hook for the ubiquitous "La Vida Loca," as immortalized by Ricky Martin.
"I just watched [the popularity of that song] grow," he says. "It became the first single and then it became gigantic. It was actually pretty trippy."
Most recently, Anderson has recorded with McCartney and is planning for a 2005 tour with the former Beatle. Though the job doesn't leave him time to hit the road on his own, he will play his first solo show in San Diego on Sept. 15. Anderson played in the area last year-at a private gig with McCartney in Rancho Santa Fe that was leaked to the press and became San Diego rock lore.
"That was a real one-off," he recalls. "It's very strange that that happened, but I think that the guy who put that on-it was for his wife's birthday-had a lot of money to donate to the landmine benefit. It sort of caught Paul at a moment when he thought "Great, okay.'"
Used to playing in arenas, the relatively modest setup was a bit jarring for the players. "In a way, playing for one person is harder than playing for 10," he says. "And playing for 10 people is harder than playing for a thousand. It sort of exponentially gets easier, because you have a mutual agreement with the audience to push you forward."
For all his experience, Underwater Undressing is Anderson's solo debut. It's a keen study in edgy pop-rock, with hooks that should please fans of Cheap Trick, Jason Falkner or Jellyfish. Trainspotters will note a host of guests on the album, including Brian Wilson/Wondermints sideman Probyn Gregory, Stewart Copeland, and yes, McCartney.
Holding down two jobs is an increasingly American thing to do, but for Anderson, it's hardly a chore.
"I've always been a musaholic," he says. "And what I've done is just what my passion has led me to."
Rusty Anderson plays with Four Eyes and The Shambles at Humphrey's Backstage Lounge, 9 p.m. on Sept. 15. $8. 619-224-3577.