What's So Super About Supergroups? : The Good, the Bad and the Magnificent Seven.
What is so super about Supergroups? Something I've never managed to fathom out. Seems like a great idea on paper getting a new band together from established stars, but once they put it down on disc then it falls apart.
Somehow the whole never seems to add up to the sum of its parts. And for most of the part they fall well short of expectations. There are exceptions of course and I'll present here some of my favourites as well as the good, the bad and the downright mediocre.
A memorable cross-fertilisation was Them Crooked Vultures, a three-way collaboration between Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John-Paul Jones that released an album in November 2009.
It's a good album and received warm reviews as well as healthy sales figures. But you put the main creative protagonists from Queens of the Stone Age and the Foo Fighters in the same room, then throw in the multi-talented bass player, producer, arranger and songwriter from Led Zeppelin and I think you would expect something really special.
It's a strong album with several fine tracks like 'Bandoliers', 'Caligulove', 'New Fang, and 'Mind Eraser, No Chaser' .
Interesting song titles but overall nothing earth-shattering, nothing particularly 'super-duper' to get you spinning cartwheels. It's just a pleasing album with fairly good riffs and quirky melodies that sound more like the Queens of the Stone Age than any of the other bands the personnel have been involved with.
Same deal a few months earlier with Chickenfoot who had a real pedigree with their collective CV's. Rock legend Sammy Hagar on vocals, his old Van Halen buddy Michael Anthony on bass, with axe master Joe Satriani on lead guitar and Chad Smith cooling out on a break from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
All that talent in one band and they come up with a truly mediocre collection of numbers on their debut album. There are one or two good songs in there such as 'Oh Yeah', 'My Kinda Girl' and the closing ballad 'Future in the Past' but the rest are pretty average and instantly forgettable. A similar story with their follow-up album wittily entitled 'Chickenfoot III'.
Next up in 2009 was Black Country Communion another temporary ensemble comprising blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa, Glenn Hughes and Jason Bonham on drums. No disrespect to any of these guys as they are all fine musicians but again their albums were very good without being spectacular.
Stand out tracks are the first single 'One Last Soul' and 'Song of Yesterday' which is an outstanding slice of epic Blues. Glen Hughes later joined The Dead Daisies in 2019 alongside former Dio and Whitesnake guitarist Doug Aldrich in a revolving door band that had included John Corabi, Dizzy Reed, Marco Mendoza and Deen Castronovo
These disappointing facts are nothing new as the so-called Supergroup has usually proved to be an anti-climax in the past 40 years of the Rock n' Roll business.
Although there are worthy exceptions, the best ones were usually strictly one-off affairs, just getting together to make a single and have some fun. No danger of over doing it and stretching the point with a whole new album of material.
Less is more as Contraband showed when they produced a rockin version of ‘All the Way to Memphis' in 1991 which went down quite well in Rock circles. Boasting German guitarist Michael Shenker, Tracii Guns from L.A. Guns, Share Pederson from Vixen and Bobby Blotzer of Ratt, it was an improvement on the classic original by Mott the Hoople.
Every Christmas without fail I play 'A Merry Jingle' by The Greedies who were an amalgam of Thin Lizzy and the remnants of the Sex Pistols train wreck. They released their punk-inspired medley of 'Jingle Bells' and 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas' in 1979 and had a Top 30 hit in the UK.
If you think it sounds appalling then you would be wrong so next Christmas check it out on Youtube and see what you think. It should have been a Christmas No.1 back then. Maybe it will someday because you never know, after Rage Against the Machine making it to the top of the UK charts in December 2009 anything is possible.
Magnificent No.1 : Cream
The legendary 1960s UK blues-rock band consisting of Scotsman Jack Bruce on bass and vocals, ex-Yardbird Eric Clapton on lead guitar and vocals, and jazz drummer Ginger Baker.
Clapton and Bruce had already played together with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers.The sound of Cream was characterised by a mixture of blues, and psychedelia.
They were short-lived but highly successful with classic songs like 'Badge', 'White Room' , 'I Feel Free' and 'Sunshine of Your Love'.
Highly influential in the early days of Heavy Rock they were quickly followed by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Of course, Eric Clapton deservedly has the status of a guitar legend and enjoyed massive success as a solo artist. Cream reformed very briefly in 2005 for a few money-spinning gigs at the Albert Hall in London and at New York's Madison Square Gardens.
Clapton was then involved in Blind Faith in 1969 when he teamed up with Steve Winwood(ex Spencer Davis Group and Traffic), bassist Rick Grech from Family and Ginger Baker.
They had a successful tour of the USA including appearing in front of 20,000 at Madison Square Gardens and released an album that sold half a million copies. But Clapton was dissatisfied with the supergoup bandwagon and within less than a year they had split up.
He went on to briefly play with the Plastic Ono Band alongside John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Other notables such as George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Billy Preston and Phil Spector were involved but they were never an established band.
In 1969 Ginger Baker's Air Force was formed by the ex-Cream drummer with Steve Winwood and Denny Laine of the Moody Blues amongst others. A jazz-rock fusion they recorded two albums without registering much interest.
Magnificent No.2 : Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
They first saw the light of day when Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield linked up with David Crosby of The Byrds and they invited Graham Nash of The Hollies to join them.
In 1969 Crosby, Stills and Nash released their debut album which was a success with two Top 40 hit singles into the bargain. Later that year they were joined by Neil Young and in only their second gig they appeared at Woodstock. They released the album 'Déjà-Vu' which spawned three hit singles and was followed by another hit with Neil Young's 'Ohio', a protest song about the Kent State shootings in 1970.
The group broke up that year but continued intermittently swaying between a trio and a quartet as Neil Young pursued his career with Crazy Horse and solo work. They reformed in 1974 and played stadium gigs but in 1976 Neil Young made a sudden exit during a tour.
They came together again very briefly in 1989 on 'American Dream' and then released a well-received album called 'Looking Forward' in 1999 followed by a tour which grossed $42 million. They toured again in 2006 on the 'Freedom of Speech Tour' which resulted in a live album and a concert film.
Magnificent No.3 : Humble Pie.
Former Small Faces star Steve Marriott formed Humble Pie with Peter Frampton from The Herd. They were joined by bassist Greg Ridley of Spooky Tooth and a 17-year old drummer in Jerry Shirley.
They wrote some memorable Rock songs such as 'I Can't Stand the Rain', 'Natural Born Boogie', 'I Don't Need No Doctor', '30 Days in the Hole' and an acoustic version of Graham Gouldman's 'For Your Love'. But they were best known as a fantastic live band and their sound was captured in 1971 on the classic 'Rockin' the Fillmore' which is regarded as one of the greatest live albums ever made.
However Frampton left the band to go solo and although the band continued throughout the years in various guises and line-ups they never reached the peak of the early 1970s. Tragically Steve Marriot died aged 44 in 1991 as the result of an accidental house-fire. In 2003 at the age of 56 Greg Ridley died in Spain of pneumonia and resulting complications.
Magnificent No.4 : Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
Progressive Rock legends who were formed in 1970 by Keith Emerson of The Nice, Greg Lake from King Crimson and Carl Palmer from Atomic Rooster.
They played at the famous Isle of Wight Festival and released several albums including 'Tarkus' (1971), 'Brain Salad Surgery' (1973). The pinnacle of their career was arguably their headline show at the California Jam where they squeezed Deep Purple into a supporting role.
They took a three year hiatus but returned to find the music scene revolutionised by Punk Rock and Progressive Rock was no longer in vogue and they broke up in 1979. A new line-up called Emerson, Lake and Powell appeared in 1985 with ex-Rainbow and Whitesnake drummer Cozy Powell with a fair amount of short-lived success.
The original line up reformed with two albums and several tours in the 1990s before disbanding again. However they are booked to appear at a 40th anniversary show in July 2010 in London.
Magnificent No.5 : Bad Company.
With the demise of Free a new band Bad Company rose from the ashes in 1973 with ex-members Paul Rogers and Simon Kirke joined by Mott the Hoople's Mick Ralphs and Box Burrell from King Crimson.
They were hugely successful with memorable rockers like 'Can't Get Enough', 'Moving On', 'Good Lovin' Gone Bad' and the ballads 'Shooting Star' and 'Feel Like Making Love'. The original line-up recorded their last album 'Rough Diamonds' in 1982 after which Paul Rogers left.
The band reformed in 1986 with a new singer Brian Howe and had modest success until their album 'Dangerous Age' in 1988. This reached gold status followed by 'Holy Water' in 1990 which went platinum and 'Here Comes Trouble which went gold in 1992. He was replaced by Robert Hart in 1995 who had average success in his two years as a vocalist.
Paul Rogers made occasional forays back into the band on shows and recordings and the original line-up eventually toured the USA again in 2009. They will play more gigs in the UK in April 2010.
Interestingly, there were a few musical contrivances in the 1980s for some strange reason. Coming back to Sammy Hagar he joined up with Journey guitarist Neal Schon, Kenny Aaronson of Foghat and Santana drummer Michael Shrieve in 1983.
Calling themselves 'Hagar, Schon, Aaronson Shrieve' or 'H.S.A.S.' for short they came up with a very good album in 'Through the Fire'. A quality AOR collection of tunes that still sound fresh today due to strong production and excellent musicianship on songs like 'Valley of the Kings', 'Missing You', 'Top of the Rock' and an interesting guitar version of Procul Harem's 'Whiter Shade of Grey'.
The incredible fact is that it was all recorded live on stage with guitar dubs added to the mix and crowd noise removed in the studio. Definitely an album that was an exception to the rule and they should have recorded more.
As should have Bad English too who comprised John Waite on vocals with his fellow ex-Babys star Jonathan Cain.
The latter, of course, was in Journey along with guitarist Neal Schon who made up the third of the famous trio in this band. They formed in 1988 and were joined by Ricky Phillips, also of the Babys as well as Deen Castronovo on drums and released two useful albums in 'Bad English' and 'Backlash' .
With classic songs like 'Forget Me Not', 'Price of Love’, ‘So This is Eden', 'Time Stood Still' and the No.1 ballad 'When I See You Smile', written by Diane Warren, they came up with some great Soft Rock tunes. I would give them pass marks with distinction. Not bad at all.
At the end of the decade the Damn Yankees formed and enjoyed short-lived success with guitar-legend Ted Nugent, Jack Blades from Nightranger, Tommy Shaw of Styx and Michael Carellone on drums. They had two successful albums and also hit No.3 in the U.S. with a single 'High Enough' in 1990.
But let's get back to the disasters as it's much more fun to write about.
How about The Power Station from 1985 who comprised the excellent Robert Palmer on vocals backed up by John and Andy Taylor from Duran Duran with Tony Thompson the drummer with Chic. All they could muster was an inferior version of 'Get It On' which wasn't a patch on the T-Rex original and which seemed pretty pointless anyway.
The follow-up single 'Some Like it Hot' was a truly dreadful piece of 80's Pop-Rock with that clinical production style and sterile drumbeats that characterised the decade. The rest of the songs on the album were totally forgettable.
The only remarkable fact about this band was that they appeared on stage in Philadelphia at Live-Aid in 1985 rubbing shoulders with the likes of Led Zeppelin and Mick Jagger. How did they get on that gig?
At least Robert Palmer had flown the coop and Michael des Barres sang at the concert. Their second album 'Living in Fear' took 11 years to surface and about 11 minutes to sink again.
Magnificent No.6: Asia.
They were formed in 1981 featuring John Wetton(King Crimson, Roxy Music), Steve Howe(Yes), Carl Palmer(ELP) and Geoff Downes of The Buggles and Yes.
Their first self-titled album was a monster success in the USA remaining at No.1 for 9 weeks and sold 4 million copies. The albums produced hit singles 'Heat of the Moment' and 'Only Time Will Tell' and also received a nomination for a Grammy award. The follow-up album 'Alpha' went platinum but did not enjoy the same popularity as their debut. Although they did enjoy a Top 10 hit with the catchy 'Don't Cry' single.
The third album 'Astra' in 1985 was not a success and a tour was cancelled due to lack of ticket sales and the band disbanded the following year. The band resurfaced with various line-ups, albums and tours without ever creating their original success. Then in 2006 the original members finally got together and went on a World Tour followed by an album called 'Phoenix' in 2008.
Cursed forever were the band The Far Corporation for having the outrageous gall to re-record 'Stairway to Heaven’ in 1985. Die-hard Led Zeppelin fans never forgave them for that, especially as it was a UK No.8 hit. The fact that they were created by Frankie Farian who was responsible for the fakery of Boney M and Milli Vanilli should have sent up the distress flares.
Singer Robin McAuley, and Toto guitarist Steve Lukather were among the villains of this desecration and the follow-up 'Fire and Water', another cover of a Free classic, was no better. Again they released another album years later in 1994 which sank without trace.
Talking of Led Zeppelin reminds me of The Firm from 1984 who produced two albums. With Paul Rogers on vocal and Jimmy Page on guitar how could it fail? Well, it did. Although the project did not exactly crash and burn, on the other hand it didn't succeed in setting the music world alight either.
So in 1986 The Firm went to the wall and they shut up shop with everyone going their separate ways. But history often repeats itself and Rogers teamed up in 2005 with Brian May and Roger Taylor to inaugurate a new mediocrity in the imaginatively entitled combo 'Queen + Paul Rogers' playing to massive audiences and lukewarm reviews.
Richly laden with a stellar cast The Highwaymen was group of four legends of country music; Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. They were around for a 10 year period between 1985 and 1995, recording three albums and three chart singles, including the No.1 'Highwayman' in 1985.
They didn't set the brushwood on fire though but they made three respectable albums combining their own material with classic covers. After 'The Road Goes on Forever' album in 1995 they concentrated on their solo careers
In the UK the band Gogmagog were a disastrous attempt by Jonathan King to form a heavy metal supergroup with lofty ambitions.
Singer Paul Di'Anno and drummer Clive Burr, both ex-Iron Maiden with ex-Gillan guitarist Janick Gers, guitarist Pete Willis who had been in Def Leppard and former Whitesnake bassist Neil Murray.
They were all stars of the 'New Wave of British Heavy Metal' or NWOBHM as coined by Rock journalist Geoff Barton in Sounds Magazine. King had planned them to produce a rock opera but all that came of the project was a paltry 1985 EP 'I Will Be There' with three tracks. Least said soonest mended.
Magnificent No.7: The Travelling Wilburys.
When it comes to star-studded personnel you really couldn't ask for any better than this.
Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne all got together in 1988 and had a blast. Their eponymous first album was described as a 'low key classic' if memory serves me correctly with elements of rock n' roll, skiffle and acoustic tunes.
Again, if you want to be harsh you would have a strong case for arguing that the whole did not equal the sum of its parts. With five such talented and indeed legendary figures in music you would be forgiven for expecting an absolute killer album.
The point was that it was never the intention of the Wilburys to produce a masterpiece. They just wanted to hang out together, jam and make some tunes they liked. They came up with some great songs like the excellent 'Handle With Care', the much underrated 'End of the Line’, a great sing-a-long tune, plus 'Congratulations', 'Rattled' and 'Tweeter and the Monkey Man'.
Their second album, the mischievously entitled 'Vol.3', (Chickenfoot weren't the first) was not as successful and they didn't record together again although individual members did collaborate together on solo projects.
The band Audioslave were formed in Los Angeles in 2001.
With Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell and the musicians from Rage Against the Machine, pioneering lead guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer. They introduced a distinct style combining hard rock with alternative rock. The band released three successful albums and received three Grammy nominations before Cornell left in 2007 and the band split.
The self-titled debut album, 'Audioslave', was released on November 19, 2002 and entered the Billboard 200 chart at number seven after selling 162,000 copies in its first week and by 2006 achieved triple platinum status.
It produced the singles 'Cochise' and 'Like a Stone'. One of the most radio-friendly songs the band recorded was 'Be Yourself' (2005) the first single from 'Out of Exile' an album which went platinum and it was. Their third and final album was 'Original Fire' in 2006.
Gary Moore and a couple of the Cream legends had a go in 1994. With Jack Bruce on bass and Ginger Baker on drums they became BBM, releasing a competent album called 'Around the Next Dream' then touring together in the UK and at some festivals in Europe.
But it was over really before it ever started and they went their separate ways.
Velvet Revolver was another troubled outfit with three ex-members of Guns n' Roses fronted by Scott Weiland.
He turned out to be the trouble after the ex-Stone Temple Pilots singer walked out of the band after only two albums. But to be fair to the lads, their first album 'Contraband' was a belter with the sublime guitar of Slash electrifying every note. A fine opus it was without achieving the critical acclaim or record sales of 'Appetite for Destruction'. However the follow-up 'Libertad' was a disappointment as the cracks began to appear in the line-up.
Who has heard of The Satellite Party then? They sounded really promising in 2005 with Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction on the vocals and the talented maestro Nuno Bettencourt, who played with Extreme, providing the guitar.
But in 2007 soon after an appearance in England at the Download Festival in Donington, Bettencourt left the band before he'd hardly got settled in. He reformed Extreme who toured the same year. The Satellite Party split from Columbia records and the current line-up is none too clear.
But let's end on a positive note, or a fairly positive note and return to the Travelling Wilburys. Of all the 'Supergroups' I've mentioned I would place the Wilburys as one of the best example of what can be done by great artists coming together as a group.
But we still await the definitive Supergroup album and I wonder if we will ever see a true classic arising from the ashes of other bands. We've been waiting over 40 years so I'm not holding my breath.
Here's a snatch of the Wilburys.........................