The notion of the “supergroup” has always held a special fascination for rock fans, who relish the prospect of hearing what top tier artists can achieve when they join forces. True, superstar egos often clash, but when talent and chemistry come together in the right way, the results can be pure magic. Recently, the supergroup concept has taken on a new life – witness the latest entry, SuperHeavy – but through the years many major artists have attempted such projects. Below are 10 supergroups who have done proper justice to the concept.
Formed in 1969, in the wake of Cream’s dissolution, Blind Faith at first seemed to push the “supergroup” concept to spectacular heights. Comprised of Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood (fresh off his tenure with Traffic) and Rick Grech (formerly of the band, Family), the gifted quartet released just one album, but through the years the disc has attained a prominent place in the rock pantheon. Had Winwood’s ambitions prevailed – he was striving toward something akin to a “rock” version of jazz ensemble – Blind Faith’s legacy might have reached epic proportions.
Rising from the rubble of prog rock, which had been hammered to bits by the punk explosion, Asia boasted a spectacularly talented lineup in the persons of Steve Howe (Yes), John Wetton (King Crimson), Carl Palmer (ELP) and Geoff Downes (The Buggles). Releasing their debut album in 1982, the band scored a massive hit – as well as endless rounds of MTV airplay – with the arena-ready pop song, “Heat of the Moment.” Critics were never enamored of Asia, but the band’s debut remains emblematic of a certain brand of ’80s rock. The group has survived in myriad incarnations through the years.
No band dispelled the notion that ego clashes were an inevitable component of supergroups quite like the Traveling Wilburys did. Consisting of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, the group came together initially in 1988 to record a Harrison B-side. In the end, the makeshift quintet had so much fun recording together, they decided to make an entire album. Fans and critics alike loved the band, which went on to earn a Grammy in 1989 for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group. In the wake of Orbison’s tragic death, the remaining members released a second album in 1990.
Founded in 1984, The Firm centered on Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and ex-Free singer Paul Rodgers, with bassist Tony Franklin and drummer Chris Slade (formerly of Uriah Heep) rounding out the lineup. Released in 1985, the band’s self-titled debut album failed to light up the charts, but The Firm’s music has aged well and fits comfortably alongside the varied accomplishments of both Page and Rodgers. A second album, Mean Business, was released in 1986, before The Firm closed its doors. Subsequently, Page said the group was never meant to last for more than two albums.
Predating the Traveling Wilburys by three years, The Highwaymen proved that country music stars could participate in the “supergroup” concept as well. Comprised of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson – all close friends and “outlaw” pioneers – The Highwaymen came roaring out of the chute in 1985 with a chart-topping single titled, fittingly, “Highwaymen.” The group’s debut album hit #1 as well. The band went on to record two more albums, each spaced five years apart, but Jennings’ death in 2002 put an end to hopes for more Highwaymen fare.
Them Crooked Vultures
It’s hardly surprising that Them Crooked Vultures’ music splits the difference between grunge, hard rock and prog. Consisting of the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones and Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme (with guitarist Alain Johannes included in the touring band), the group performed their first gig in August 2009, before embarking on a hugely successful world tour. A 2009 single, “New Fang,” was quickly followed by the release of Them Crooked Vultures’ self-titled debut album in September of that same year. Earlier this month (November 2011), Johannes confirmed that the group has plans to record a second studio disc.
Although frontman Sammy Hagar brushes aside the “supergroup” designation, it’s hard to deny that a band that includes Hagar, Van Halen’s Michael Anthony, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith and shredder extraordinaire Joe Satriani is exactly that. Springing to life in a jam session at Hagar’s club in Cabo Wabo, Mexico, Chickenfoot released their debut album in 2009, and have garnered raves from critics and fans. Having refined their chemistry on the road, the group have gone on to release a second album, titled Chickenfoot III. “We decided to skip making a second album,” Hagar jokingly explained, during an interview on VH1 Classic’s That Metal Show.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Rising from the ashes of The Byrds, The Hollies and Buffalo Springfield, the teaming of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young yielded music remarkable for its sweeping influence on American music and American culture. Having already recorded an album as a trio, Crosby, Stills and Nash brought in Young as an equal partner just in time to make a splash at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Despite their small body of work as a quartet – nearly 20 years passed before CSN&Y recorded a studio follow-up to their 1970 debut – the band remains legendary for their intricate vocal harmonies and their stylistic range.
Formed in 1973, Bad Company generated a tremendous buzz among rock fans when they announced their lineup would include former Free members Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke, ex-King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell and former Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs. As the first band signed to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song imprint, the group struck gold right away with their self-titled debut album. A supergroup with staying power, Bad Company’s original lineup released six albums together, scoring such hits as “Can’t Get Enough,” “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and “Shooting Star.” Various incarnations of the band have carried on to this day.
In contrast to their relatively brief period together – the group disbanded after a little more than two years – Cream’s influence and enduring legacy have been monumental. Formed in 1966, the power trio of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker journeyed through incendiary blues, searing hard rock and melody-driven (though still hard-hitting) psychedelia. Tracks such as “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room” helped pave the way for Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and similarly heavy bands that emerged at the dawn of the ’70s.