“Supergroup” is a dubious distinction in the rock ’n’ roll world.
It connotes a band formed by musicians with already established credentials, often with other ensembles — or, as Time magazine noted in 1974, “an amalgam formed by the talented malcontents of other bands.” Most trace the term’s origins back to Cream in 1966, and supergroups have populated the music scene on a consistent basis ever since.
One of the latest comes to the Detroit area this week — Them Crooked Vultures, featuring former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl back on the drums, Led Zeppelin bassist-keyboardist John Paul Jones and Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme on vocals and guitar. The trio has made only minimal impact so far; it’s only played a few shows and its first album is awaiting release. History indicates a mixed prognosis for any supergroup; some benefit from their collective credentials, others turn out to be something less than the sum of their parts. Here’s a look at some, though certainly not all, of the most significant supergroups rock has produced:
Cream (1966-68): Hailing from the Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton was the best-known member of this trio, though bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker boasted their own impressive credentials with the Graham Bond Organisation. In just three years, they blended rock, blues and jazz into a dynamic “Strange Brew” that was torn apart by egos and idiosyncrasies. Clapton and Baker would come together again in Blind Faith (see below), while Bruce would join other all-star supergroups with Robin Trower (BLT), and Leslie West and Corky Laing of Mountain (West, Bruce and Laing). Listen to: “Wheels of Fire” (1968).
Crosby, Stills & Nash (& Young) (1968-present): David Crosby (the Byrds), Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield) and Graham Nash (the Hollies) were a collective big deal when they got together; adding Neil Young (Buffalo Springfield) after their first album was icing on the cake as well as the start of a volatile brotherhood that’s continued on and off for more than four decades. Listen to: “So Far” (1974).
Blind Faith (1969): After Cream, Eric Clapton wanted to start a smaller scale collaboration with Traffic’s Steve Winwood. But the group took on supergroup proportions when temperamental Cream drummer Ginger Baker joined, along with Family’s Ric Grech on bass. Blind Faith had its moments, but succumbed to the weight of the accompanying hype after just one album and tour. Baker subsequently used Winwood and Grech in Ginger Baker’s Air Force. Listen to: “Blind Faith” (1969).
Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970-78, 1991-98): Bringing together Keith Emerson (the Nice), Greg Lake (King Crimson) and Carl Palmer (Atomic Rooster), ELP demonstrated a decidedly classical music influence, rocking up compositions by Leonard Bernstein, Modest Mussorgsky and others. It’s not commonly known, but Emerson and Lake first approached Mitch Mitchell from Jimi Hendrix’s Experience to play drums. Listen to: “Brain Salad Surgery” (1973).
Cactus (1970-72, 2006-present): The Vanilla Fudge rhythm section of drummer Carmine Appice and bassist Tim Bogert originally planned to join forces with guitarist Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart until Beck was injured in a car accident and Stewart joined the Faces. Cactus then took a Detroit turn when they recruited guitarist Jim McCarty from Mitch Ryder’s Detroit Wheels and singer Rusty Day from the Amboy Dukes. The quartet released three albums before splitting up, and Appice and Bogert finally got together with Beck in 1972 for a short-lived collaboration. McCarty, Bogert and Appice started working together again as Cactus in 2006. Listen to: “Cactus” (1970).
Bad Company (1973-2002): Free’s Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke joined forces with Mott the Hoople’s Mick Ralphs and King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell, then signed with Led Zeppelin’s manager Peter Grant and Zep’s Swan Song label for an instantly winning combination. The lineup changed over time, but Rodgers, Kirke and Ralphs (Burrell passed away in 2006) have taken steps to make sure only they can play as Bad Company these days. Away from Bad Company, Rodgers also has worked with Zep’s Jimmy Page in The Firm and the Faces’ Kenney Jones in The Law. Listen to: “Bad Company” (1974).
Journey (1973-87, 1995-present): Even before Steve Perry, Journey was something of a supergroup, formed by members of Santana (Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon), the Steve Miller Band (Ross Valory) and the Tubes (Prairie Prince). Schon and Valory remain in the band, while keyboardist-guitarist Jonathan Cain brought his own track record from the Babys. Schon, meanwhile, also has helmed low-level supergroups such as HSAS and Soul SirkUS, both with Sammy Hagar, and he and Cain were part of Bad English with the Babys’ John Waite. Listen to: “Next” (1977).
U.K. (1977-80): A potent combination found King Crimson refugees John Wetton and Bill Bruford together with Roxy Music violinist Eddie Jobson and guitarist Allan Holdsworth from Soft Machine and Gong. Holdsworth and Bruford left after the first album, and the group ended after two, though Jobson recently resurrected the name. Listen to: “U.K.” (1978).
Asia (1981-86, 1989-present):Prog rock heads were wowed by this combination of members whose credits included Yes, King Crimson, Roxy Music, Uriah Heep, the Buggles and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Some two dozen members have passed through its ranks since, but the original Asia quartet is currently back intact and working on new material. Listen to: “Asia” (1982).
XYZ (1981): Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page did some recording with Yes bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White as XYZ — eX-Yes/eX-Zeppelin, get it? — and Zep singer Robert Plant sat in at one rehearsal in February of 1981. The trio ultimately abandoned the project, though some of the recordings have leaked out as bootlegs over the years.
The Power Station (1985, 1996-97): John Taylor and Andy Taylor took a busman’s holiday from ’80s boy band Duran Duran to form this group with Robert Palmer and Chic drummer Tony Thompson, scoring hits with “Some Like it Hot” and a cover of T. Rex’s “Get It On (Bang a Gong).” Michael Des Barres (Silverhead, Detective) stepped in when Palmer decided not to tour. Listen to: “The Power Station: 20th Anniversary Edition” (2005).
Traveling Wilburys (1988-90): A genial lunch led George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne to a recording session for a Harrison B-side at Bob Dylan’s home studio in Malibu, Calif. — picking up Tom Petty on the way there. The song, “Handle With Care,” gave birth to a new band, complete with faux names and made-up history, and a big hit. The group recorded two albums — the second after Orbison’s death in 1988 — both of which were re-released in a combined package in 2007. Listen to: “Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1” (1988).
Electronic (1989-99): Bernard Sumner (Joy Division, New Order) and the Smiths’ Johnny Marr recorded three albums together, with help from the Pet Shop Boys and Krafterk’s Karl Bartos. Listen to: “Get the Message — The Best of Electronic” (2006).
Damn Yankees (1989-98): Styx’s Tommy Shaw and Night Ranger’s Jack Blades joined the Ted Nugent Motor City madhouse for a pair of albums, hitting big with the 1990 power ballad “High Enough.” The group keeps talking about another project, but Shaw and Blades are spending more time as a duo these days. Listen to: “Damn Yankees” (1990).
Down (1991-present): The longest lasting of former Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo’s several side projects was formed in New Orleans with members of Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar and Eyehategod, later adding Pantera bassist Rex Brown. The quintet has released three albums and has a fourth planned for 2010. LIsten to: “Down II: A Bustle in Your Hedgerow” (2002).
Mad Season (1994-99): Meeting in rehab, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready and bassist John Baker Saunders of the Walkabouts put this band together with Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley and Screaming Trees’ drummer Barrett Martin. Its lone album yielded the minor hit “River of Deceit.” Listen to: “Above” (1995).
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (1995-present):
Members of NOFX, the Foo Fighters, Lagwagon and the Swingin’ Utters are behind this good-humored group that specializes in punk covers of popular songs from all genres. Listen to: “Me First and the Gimme Gimmes Ruin Jonny’s Bar Mitzvah” (2004).
A Perfect Circle (1999-present):
Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan formed this alt.rock supergroup with Tool guitar tech Billy Howerdel, and the roster has included members of Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson, nine inch nails, the Vandals and others. Three albums in, and Keenan and Howerdel are reportedly writing for a fourth. Listen to: “Mer de Noms” (2000).
The Transplants (1999-present): The trio of blink-182’s Travis Barker, Rancid’s Tim Armstrong and Skinhead Rob Aston has released two albums and is waiting for time to continue their collaboration. Listen to: “Transplants” (2002).
Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk survived the breakup of Rage Against the Machine by joining Chris Cornell after the singer become a free agent following Soundgarden’s demise. Three albums and a well-publicized trip to Cuba followed before the quartet called it quits after six years together. Listen to: “Out of Exile” (2004).
Oysterhead (2000-2001): A Police reunion wasn’t even a whisper when drummer Stewart Copeland got in musical bed with Phish’s Trey Anastasio and Primus’ Les Claypool for an album and tour. They keep talking about doing it again, but so far ... nothing. Listen to: “The Grand Pecking Order” (2001).
Velvet Revolver (2002-present): At loose ends after leaving or being forced out of Guns N’ Roses, Slash, Duff McKagen and Matt Sorum decided to work together again after playing a benefit concert. After flirting with Buckcherry’s Josh Todd and Keith Nelson, they settled in with Stone Temple Pilot frontman Scott Weiland and guitarist Dave Kushner (Danzig, Suicidal Tendencies). After six years and two albums, Weiland split to return to STP, leaving Velvet Revolver on indefinite hiatus — but not, the remaining members claim, broken up. Listen to: “Contraband” (2004).
Monsters of Folk (2004-present):
The quartet of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and M. Ward has been playing together for five years but just released its first album in September. Listen to: “Monsters of Folk” (2009).
Angels & Airwaves (2005-present): Blink-182’s Tom DeLonge tapped former members of the Offspring, 30 Seconds to Mars and Over My Dead Body for his other band, which will release its third album in 2010. Listen to: “I-Empire” (2007).
The Raconteurs (2005-present): This quartet came together in Detroit while Brendon Benson was working on his 2005 album “The Alternative to Love” and wrote a song called “Steady, As She Goes” with the White Stripes’ Jack White. They recruited the Greenhornes rhythm section of “Little” Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler and have since recorded two albums. The group is currently on hold, however, while White and Lawrence launch the Dead Weather, another supergroup with members of the Kills and Queens of the Stone Age, and Benson resumes his solo career. Listen to: “Broken Boy Soldiers” (2006).
Hellyeah (2006-present): This metal collective was hatched during the 2001 “Tattoo the Earth” tour, when Mudvayne’s Chad Gray and Greg Tribbett became friendly with Nothingface guitarist Tom Maxwell. They eventually coaxed Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul into the fold for 2007’s self-titled debut, and they’ve completed work on a second album for 2010 release. Listen to: “Hellyeah” (2007).
Chickenfoot (2008-present): What started as some friendly (and drunken) jamming at Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina in Mexico became a serious concern when he, Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer and Detroit native Chad Smith brought in guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani. The group released an eponymous debut album in June and has vowed to continue to make time for the band amidst the members’ other commitments. Listen to: “Chickenfoot” (2009).
Tinted Windows (2008-present): Pure pop rules in a band that brings together Taylor Hanson (of Hanson), Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos and Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha. Listen to: “Tinted Windows” (2009).
Isles & Glaciers (2009): Craig Owens and Matt Goddard from local favorites Chiodos have joined emo-minded mates from Emarosa, Pierce the Veil and other bands in a project that’s expected to release its first album in 2010.
Them Crooked Vultures perform at 8 p.m. Thursday (Oct. 8) at the Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward Ave. Tickets are $47.50. Call (313) 961-5451 or visit www.livenation.com.
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