Alicia Keys needs little introduction. The young singer/pianist's first two albums--her 2001 debut, Songs in A Minor, and 2003's The Diary of Alicia Keys--have together sold more than ten million copies, and her soulful pop R&B has won her nine GRAMMY Awards so far.

When singer/songwriter Aslyn was recording her debut album, Lemon Love, her producers surprised her with a special treat: a string scoring session at London's famed Abbey Road Studios.

After playing bass on well over 2,000 albums, wouldn't session work get a little, well, old? "Absolutely not," insists Leland Sklar. "To this day, every time I get a call to do something, I think, 'Oh man, this is so bitchin'!'"

The band Chicago has always boasted multiple singer/songwriters--that's one reason they've been able to generate so many memorable hits during their 38-year career. But the man most responsible for the songs that put the group on the map is keyboardist/vocalist Robert Lamm, who wrote such classics as "Beginnings," "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" and "Saturday in the Park."

To some, the phrase "funky drummer" connotes a James Brown drum loop that's been done to death via innumerable remixes. But in the case of Tower of Power drummer David Garibaldi, the words signify a lifelong commitment to drums education, and the eternal search for powerful new grooves.

Stephen Schwartz has written music and/or lyrics for some of the best-loved musical productions of the last 30-plus years, including Godspell, Pippin, and animated features Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Prince of Egypt. His work has earned him three Academy Awards, four GRAMMYs, and four Drama Desk awards to date. We spoke to him recently about his latest hit, the musical Wicked, which is currently touring 22 U.S. cities in addition to its ongoing run at Broadway's Gershwin Theatre and Chicago's Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre.

HOW DID NICKELBACK EVOLVE FROM A HANNA, ALBERTA, COVER band into an international rock powerhouse? The group's winning blend of heavy riffs and radio-friendly hooks is only half the answer. The other factor is the group's dogged determination. Singer/guitarist Chad Kroeger and his bandmates have worked tirelessly for the better part of a decade, during which they often managed, marketed and booked themselves.

Some say music and business don't mix. But perhaps they haven't met Cory Rooney. As a composer, producer and keyboardist, Rooney is responsible for dozens of hits by Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Mary J. Blige, Jessica Simpson, Destiny's Child, R. Kelly, Nas, Christina Milian, Thalia and others.

Tony Haselden doesn't believe in writer's block.

"THERE'S AN OLD SAYING," SAYS THE AUTHOR OF SUCH country smashes as Michelle Wright's "Take It Like a Man" and Keith Whitley's "It Ain't Nothing." "'Writers write.' If you write something bad, you file it away so no one sees it. But you need to keep writing till you find the magic. You won't find it by not writing!"

JAZZ DRUMMER ANTONIO SANCHEZ WAS ONLY FIVE WHEN HE DISCOVERED HIS destiny. "My uncle took me to a friend's house," he recalls. "The first thing I saw when they opened the door was a big drum kit with a bunch of cymbals. It was love at first sight! I started taking lessons and never looked back."

Most people aren't awake at 4:30am, let alone recording heavy metal tracks in their personal studios, but guitarist Dustin Tooker, and his band, Grade 8, believe in capturing ideas whenever inspiration strikes.

"IF WE WANT TO RECORD AT 4:30AM ON A TUESDAY, WE DO IT," SAYS TOOKER. "That's why it's great living here in Las Vegas. This city goes 24 hours a day. It's normal to be out all night and sleep during the day. When you call for a pizza in the middle of the night, it shows up."

"I WAS A PLAYER FIRST," SAYS HITCHINGS. "I wrote songs, but I never took it seriously until I cowrote that song one afternoon with Carmine Appice. He was late to Rod's house, and he said, 'We've got to write a disco song in 20 minutes!' I said, 'You've got to be joking!' But we put this thing together, and Rod heard something in it. Now Rod didn't much like 'Sexy,' and I didn't like it either. But when I got my first check from that song, I thought, 'You know, that doesn't sound so bad.' And by the time the third check came in, I said, 'Dang! I'm a genius!'"

In 2003, Evanescence scored one of the biggest hits of the decade to date with Fallen. The disc clicked thanks to the inspired pairing of guitarist Ben Moody's infectious riffs and vocalist/keyboardist Amy Lee's dramatically ethereal vocals. But when it came time to tour, the duo expanded to a quartet, adding guitarist John LeCompt and drummer Rocky Gray. And things got a lot heavier.

DRUMMER CHAD SZELIGA'S ROOTS LIE IN JAZZ AND FUNK, YET HE LOVES HIS NEW gig with the riff-heavy rock band, Breaking Benjamin. "Some jazz players see rock as some downbeat, devil-worshipping thing," he says. "But playing rock has brought more attitude and confidence to my drumming."

HAMMOND, WHO GREW UP LISTENING TO EVERYTHING from gospel to Lou Rawls to heavy metal, began singing with his church choir at 12. "I also took a lot of school music lessons," he says. "I was in the school chorus and the band. The first instrument I was attracted to was the drums, then guitar and bass. I'd walk through the music stores as a kid, just plinking on the guitars. I'd pick out little songs that I'd heard, like this." He sings the signature riff from "Smoke on the Water," then continues, "I just understood the instrument--I instinctively knew how to get a good tone out of it."

Thanks to Robert Randolph, one of the best-kept secrets in American music is a secret no more.

The young bandleader is a practitioner of a soulful and idiosyncratic style of pedal-steel guitar playing with roots not in Nashville country, but black gospel music.

Canadian-born singer/songwriter Carolyn Dawn Johnson was midway through college when she made a life-defining U-turn, jettisoning her biology studies for a less certain future in music.

"I WAS DOING WELL ACADEMICALLY, TAKING THE LOGICAL ROUTE," SHE SAYS. "But I really wanted to do music! It was my favorite thing. I was playing out and jamming and people started telling me how much they related to my songs. It really inspired me to take it seriously and work at it."