Look on the stage! It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s a Super Group!

By Lee Zimmerman

When you think of legendary rock and roll bands, acts like The Beatles, Queen, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Van Halen and Pink Floyd tend to come to mind. But there’s one claim that will always elude these venerated acts, and that’s membership in rock and roll’s Super Group Club.

The term — which rose to prominence with such 1960s acts as Blind Faith and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young) — has more to do with timing than outright talent.

First, you need to have at least three members, the majority of whom have achieved prior success, either as a solo artist or with another act. (Sorry, Wings.) And said group must release at least one album. If in doubt, check the group’s membership list for Eric Clapton. Slowhand has proven himself to be the go-to guy in numerous super groups, including
Derek & The Dominos and Delaney & Bonnie & Friends.

Million Dollar Quartet Carl Perkins Johnny Cash Jerry Lee Lewis Elvis Presley Heritage Auctions photo

The so-called Million Dollar Quartet featured (from left) Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash), aka The Million Dollar Quartet, was signed by Lewis, Perkins and Cash. It sold for $490 via Heritage Auction Galleries.

The Million Dollar Quartet

Members: Johnny Cash (vocals, guitar); Jerry Lee Lewis (vocals, piano); Carl Perkins (vocals, guitar); and Elvis Presley (vocals, piano)

Albums: “The Million Dollar Quartet” (1981); “The Complete Million Dollar Session” (1987); “Elvis Presley — The Million Dollar Quartet” (1990)

Although the term super group wasn’t coined until after The Million Dollar Quartet convened, many point to it as the template for the concept, if not the first known example.
The Million Dollar Quartet came to pass during a jam session engineered by Sun Records president Sam Phillips on Dec. 4, 1956. Carl Perkins had come to the studio (along with his brothers Clayton and Jay and drummer W.S. Holland) to record a follow-up to his hit “Blue Suede Shoes.”

Phillips invited his newest signed artist, Jerry Lee Lewis, to play piano on the track. When Sun alumni Elvis Presley dropped by to say hello and to observe the Perkins session, he subsequently opted to join in and jam. Johnny Cash was present, too. Although some musical experts have questioned Cash’s participation, Cash is clearly heard in studio chatter recorded during the session. Cash himself affirmed his participation, and said his voice was not as prominent because of his distance from the microphone.
Listeners finally got to judge for themselves in 1981, when recordings from the all-star summit were released on the Charly label.

Blind Faith publicity photo

Blind Faith

Members: Eric Clapton (guitar, vocals); Steve Winwood (keyboards, guitar, vocals); Ginger Baker (drums, vocals); Ric Grech (bass)

Album: “Blind Faith” (1969)

Although it was one of the first bands to be labeled a super group, Blind Faith’s band name was a bit of a misnomer. Steve Winwood had already found success with Spencer Davis Group and Traffic. Ginger Baker had played in Cream alongside Clapton. As for the guitarist metaphorically referred to as God? He had The Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers to his credit, too. Any collaboration among these three was bound to succeed on more than faith.

Clapton was still a bit skeptical, though. He had endured the hype and expectations surrounding Cream with Baker and bassist Jack Bruce, and Clapton was hesitant to enter into another project that would draw that level of attention and anticipation. However, Clapton’s previous partnership with Winwood in the short-lived, ad-hoc band called Powerhouse weighed in Blind Faith’s favor. Winwood, who was on hiatus from Traffic, persuaded his guitar-playing friend to make something more of the jams they enjoyed at Clapton’s home in Surrey and channel their energies into a full-fledged ensemble that would include Baker on drums. However, Baker’s inclusion posed another dilemma.

Clapton had promised Bruce that any reconvening with a former Cream mate would involve all three. Due to the animosity between Baker and Bruce, that scenario never came to fruition until Cream reunited for its 1993 induction to the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame and for concerts in 2005 at London’s Royal Albert Hall and New York’s Madison Square Garden.

After Blind Faith recruited Family bassist Ric Grech, the group entered the studio to record Blind Faith’s first — and, as it transpired, only — album. While the eponymous LP was an outstanding example of its members’ individual skills and their ability to mesh their various contributions, it contained only six songs, one of which — Baker’s “Do What You Like” — was more an excuse for incessant jamming. Nevertheless, the album soared to No. 1 upon its release in Summer 1969. The cover, which featured a photo of a naked girl holding a silver space ship and bearing no mention of the band anywhere — sparked immediate controversy and was issued in the U.S. with an alternate cover boasting a standard portrait of the band.

After making its live debut on June 7, 1969, at a free concert in London’s Hyde Park, Blind Faith embarked on a two-month summer tour. Despite hoopla from the press and the public, the group’s relative lack of original material forced Blind Faith to rely on old Cream and Traffic songs, which only served to show that the musicians were still bound to their former legacies. When the tour concluded in August, the members went their own ways. Clapton retreated from the spotlight to play the role of sideman with Delaney & Bonnie, later taking veterans of that outfit with him to create Derek and the Dominoes.

Winwood and Grech followed Baker into his sprawling jazz-rock ensemble Air Force. The two eventually found their way to a newly revived Traffic. Winwood reconnected with Clapton nearly 40 years later for a brief tour and a live CD/DVD recorded at Madison Square Garden in February 2008.

Crosby Stills Nash and Young photo courtesy Rhion/Joel Bernstein

Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Neil Young and Graham Nash perform on CSNY’s legendary 1974 tour. Photo courtesy Rhino/Joel Bernstein.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Members: David Crosby (vocals, guitar); Stephen Stills (vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass);  Graham Nash (vocals, guitar, keyboards); Neil Young (guitar, vocals)

CSN albums: “Crosby, Stills & Nash” (1969); “CSN” (1977); “Daylight Again” (1982); “Live It Up” (1990); “After the Storm” (1994)

CSNY albums: “Déjà Vu” (1970); “American Dream” (1988); “Looking Forward” (1999)

Perhaps the most celebrated super group of all time — certainly the most durable — Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were a product of the late 1960s, when experimentation and new ideas were the catalyst for so many musical partnerships. Though members’ relationships have seldom been as harmonious as their singing — due in large part to competing egos and the destructive effects of drug abuse — the seamless vocal blend of both the three and four-voice versions established the rock-solid template emulated by countless ensembles.

As individuals, the members had sterling credentials. Stephen Stills and Neil Young had been the cornerstones of Buffalo Springfield, although Young often found himself the outsider and left the band prior to its final hurrah. David Crosby had been a member of the Byrds, but often found himself at odds with other members, particularly Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman.

When Crosby took Young’s place in Springfield during the group’s performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, it literally set the stage for subsequent collaboration with Stills. A mainstay with The Hollies, Nash had an ever-increasing desire to break out of the band’s hit-oriented format. That, and his preference for pot over pop,  eventually brought Nash into the company of Crosby and Stills. During the latter months of 1968, the group perfected its precise harmonies at the Laurel Canyon home of mutual friend Cass Elliot, and Crosby, Stills and Nash record its eponymous debut in May 1969. Stills handled the bulk of the instrumentation, with drummer Dallas Taylor of the band Clear Light going uncredited and relegated to a shadowy photo on the album’s back cover.

Once work wrapped on the debut album, the trio sought to expand its ranks and targeted Steve Winwood to join as keyboard player. Winwood’s involvement in Blind Faith precluded that possibility, so the group turned to Young, who brought along fellow Canadian (and bassist) Bruce Palmer. Problems with drugs led to Palmer’s deportation; he was replaced by Motown session man Greg Reeves. The group recorded “Déjà Vu” and began to tour almost immediately, with its first date in Chicago in August 1969, followed by Woodstock a few days later. With that, CSN and CSNY immediately became part of the counter culture, a bond that strengthened through political activism and documentation of such momentous events as the trial of the Chicago Seven and the killings at Kent State.

The group’s cumulative output has been erratic at best. Crosby and Nash created an ongoing collaboration that’s managed to persist, both as marquee players and in service to others, but the partnership among all four players has been inconsistent. Regardless, those two early albums still shine with harmonies and charisma 40 years on.

ELP Emerson Lake and Palmer

Emerson, Lake and Palmer in Montreal in 1977. Photo courtesy Shout! Factory.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Members: Keith Emerson (keyboards); Greg Lake (bass, guitar, vocals); Carl Palmer (drums, percussion)

Albums: ”Emerson Lake & Palmer” (1970); “Tarkus” (1971); “Pictures at an Exhibition” (1971); “Trilogy” (1972); “Brain Salad Surgery” (1973); “Works Vol. 1” (1977); “Works Vol. 2” (1977); “Love Beach” (1978); “Black Moon” (1992); “In the Hot Seat” (1994)

An offshoot of keyboardist Keith Emerson’s experiments with The Nice that fused rock and classical concepts, Emerson, Lake and Palmer first germinated at the end of 1969, when Emerson and King Crimson bassist Greg Lake, then with King Crimson found their respective combos sharing the bill at various venues. The pair took the opportunity to jam at their sound checks. After deciding to make their union permanent, Emerson and Lake began to search for a drummer who would be fluid enough and versatile enough to complement their new extemporaneous approach. The duo initially approached Mitch Mitchell, who was free of commitments after his boss, Jimi Hendrix, dissolved the Experience to form Band of Gypsies with drummer Buddy Miles. Mitchell declined but suggested the pair reach out to Carl Palmer, whose previous credits had included The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and its immediate offshoot, Atomic Rooster. (The connection with Mitchell was enough to fuel the longstanding rumor that Hendrix had considered joining the fledgling trio, at which point it would have become HELP.)

After some initial hesitation, Palmer accepted the invitation. ELP made its debut in August 1970, then grabbed widespread notice with a spectacular performance at the Isle of Wight later that month. The band’s self-titled debut, released that same year, brought ELP instant acclaim, thanks to Lake’s enduring ballad “Lucky Man” — not to mention the obvious instrumental flourish proffered by Emerson and Palmer. Its follow-up, “Tarkus,” brought that progressive posture further into focus. By the time ELP released the classically infused “Pictures at an Exhibition,” the group’s stature as a pillar of the progressive community was already assured. Thanks to “Trilogy” (which boasted the band’s only Top 40 contender in the Lake ballad “From the Beginning”), “Brain Salad Surgery” and the  triple-disc live set, “Welcome Back My Friends to the Show that Never Ends,” ELP became festival headliners and achieved multi-million sales status.

The group called it quits in 1979, after the lackluster performance of “Love Beach,” although Emerson and Lake later reconvened with drummer Cozy Powell in tow, thereby preserving the ELP abbreviation.

Palmer moved on to a new supergroup — Asia — where he was joined by heavy hitters John Wetton (King Crimson, Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash, U.K.) Geoff Downes (Yes, Buggles) and Yes guitarist Steve Howe.

The three original members of ELP reunited for 1992’s “Black Moon.” Their individual and collective efforts have been intermittent since then, but recent reissue campaigns serve as a reminder of the grandiose designs at which ELP excelled.

Plastic Ono Band publicity photo

The Plastic Ono band in Toronto. Publicity photo.

Plastic Ono Band

Members: John Lennon (vocals, guitar, keyboards); Yoko Ono (vocals);  Eric Clapton (guitar, vocals); Klaus Voormann (bass); Alan White (drums)

Album: “Live Peace in Toronto 1969” (1969).

Taking its name from a performance art concept Yoko Ono shared with John Lennon — using four plastic stands, each with a tape recorder, to function as a virtual backing band — the Plastic Ono Band was an improvisational outfit by nature. Its revolving door of participating outside musicians was just as changeable as the band’s name suggests.
The name was used for the first time to banner the July 1969 release of the single “Give Peace a Chance,” which Lennon and Ono recorded live in Montreal at their ‘bed-in’ protest.

On Sept. 13, 1969, guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Klaus Voormann and drummer Alan White came together with Ono and Lennon to perform at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival under the Plastic Ono Band moniker. Lennon and Clapton had performed together before — along with The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards on bass and Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Mitch Mitchell on drums — as The Dirty Mac for “The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus” TV special recorded on Dec. 11, 1968.

But this most famous lineup of the Plastic Ono Band reportedly logged its first-ever rehearsal in the air, during the flight to the gig. The band’s performance was captured on the album “Live Peace In Toronto 1969,” and the success of the performance more or less cemented Lennon’s decision to leave The Beatles permanently.

An expanded, all-star version of the Plastic Ono Band performed an abbreviated set at London’s Lyceum Theatre on Dec. 15, 1969. Joining Lennon, Ono, Clapton, Voormann and White were Bobby Keys, Billy Preston, Keith Moon, Jim Gordon, George Harrison and Delaney & Bonnie.

The band’s name appeared on several subsequent albums, including the 1970 solo releases by Lennon and Ono. Guest performers on those LPs included Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Phil Spector, David Izenzon, The Ornette Coleman Quartet and Charlie Haden and The Liberation Music Orchestra.

The band’s name changed from time to time, too: Plastic Ono Nuclear Band, Plastic U.F.Ono Band, Plastic Ono Elephant’s Memory Band and the Plastic Ono Mothers (to mark a one-off performance with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention at the Fillmore East) all were used.

Humble Pie photo courtesy A&M recordsHumble Pie

Members: Steve Marriott (vocals, guitar, keyboards); Peter Frampton (vocals, guitar); Greg Ridley (vocals, bass); Jerry Shirley (drums)

Albums: “As Safe As Yesterday Is” (1969); “Town and Country” (1969); “Humble Pie” (1970); “Rock On” (1971); “Performance – Rockin’ the Fillmore” (1971)

The four young musicians who came together as Humble Pie in late 1968 proved to be a potent combination.

Steve Marriott, the soulful, pint-size dynamo at the helm of the Small Faces, had one of the most dynamic voices of his generation, easily up there with Steve Winwood, Joe Cocker, Chris Farlowe and Rod Stewart when it came to sass and spirit. Peter Frampton, still a fresh-faced teen idol, had gained a reputation as an agile guitarist and a supple singer in his own right. Greg Ridley proved his mettle in Spooky Tooth, adding his emphatic bass playing and gruff vocals to a powerful front line. Finally, there was 17-year-old Jerry Shirley, something of a wunderkind and one of the best drummers on the U.K. scene.

Marriott had always intended to work with Frampton; he had hoped to persuade his bandmates to add Frampton to the Small Faces lineup. When those efforts failed, Marriott left the Small Faces’ pop-oriented approach behind (but not the Immediate record label) in favor of Humble Pie’s aggressive hard rock, showcased on the Pie’s riveting debut, “As Safe As Yesterday Is.” The band’s sophomore effort, “Town and Country,” took an opposite tack dominated by acoustic tracks and country-type offerings. Humble Pie combined these disparate influences on its eponymous debut for A&M, and with savvy manager Dee Anthony to guide them, the band rose to superstar status in the U.S. Humble Pie’s extraordinary double live album, “Performance — Rockin’ the Fillmore,” proved the ultimate culmination of fury and finesse. When Frampton left the group in October 1971, Colosseum guitarist Clem Clempson came on board. But that was the beginning of the end. Humble Pie disbanded after the release of 1975’s “Street Rats” album.

In 1980, Marriott and Shirley revived Humble Pie with bassist Anthony Jones and vocalist Bobby Tench, but there was little to link the band to the Humble Pie of old. Two albums later (1980’s “On To Victory” and 1981’s “Go For The Throat”), Humble Pie called it quits for good.

Traveling Wilburys publicity photo Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison

The Traveling Wilburys (from left) “Lucky” (aka Bob Dylan), “Otis” (aka) Jeff Lynne, “Charlie T.” (aka Tom Petty),  “Nelson” (aka George Harrison) and “Lefty” (aka Roy Orbison) set the bar pretty darn high for super group lineups. Publicity photo.

The Traveling Wilburys

Members: George Harrison (vocals, guitar); Bob Dylan (vocals, guitar); Roy Orbison (vocals, guitar); Tom Petty (vocals, guitar); Jeff Lynne (vocals, guitar) Jim Keltner (drums)

Albums: The Traveling Wilburys Volume 1 (1988); The Traveling Wilburys Volume 3 (1990); The Traveling Wilburys Collection (2007)

It seemed from the beginning that the Travelling Wilburys were destined to come together, given that the individual members had mostly all worked in tandem in various combinations in prior years. George Harrison and Bob Dylan originally convened at Dylan’s home in Woodstock in 1969, writing several songs, one of which, “If Not For You,” appeared on both Dylan’s “New Morning” and Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.” The first hint of an expanded collaboration came as an outgrowth of Harrison’s comeback album, “Cloud Nine,” which found unabashed Beatles fan and Electric Light Orchestra mastermind Jeff Lynne behind the boards. During a radio interview in February 1988, Harrison mentioned the possibility of working with several of his other famous collaborators under the moniker of the Traveling Wilburys, a name derived from a slang term he had used to describe his solution to some perceived faults in the recording of “Cloud Nine.” “We’ll bury (Wilbury) them in the mix,” he joked to Lynne, and the handle stuck.

Supposedly Harrison had first suggested the Trembling Wilburys as the band’s name, but Lynne preferred the word “Traveling,” as it had more of a journeyman quality to it.
The actual group took root at Bob Dylan’s Malibu home, where Harrison, Lynne and Roy Orbison, who Lynne was producing at the time, gathered to share a meal with Dylan. The group planned to record a B-side for a “Cloud Nine” track titled “This Is Love.” Harrison needed to retrieve a guitar he had inadvertently left behind at Tom Petty’s house. Harrison soon returned with the guitar — and Petty. The song the Wilburys recorded, “Handle with Care,” was deemed too good to be relegated to a flip side, and it became the impetus for an entire album featuring contributions from the five principals. The Wilburys’ eponymous debut, also known as “Volume 1,” was an immediate success, spawning several hit singles and attaining triple platinum sales and a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group.

Orbison’s unexpected death in December 1988 prompted a brief search for a replacement, with Del Shannon and Roger McGuinn considered as candidates, but ultimately the band’s follow-up effort, titled “Volume 3,” featured the quartet of Dylan, Harrison, Petty and Lynne. A 2007 Rhino box set features both of the original albums, a DVD of promotional videos, a handful of unreleased tracks and B-sides and the charity single “Nobody’s Child.”

In a move reminiscent of The Ramones, the singing members assumed Wilbury pseudonyms under the guise of being half brothers. For “Volume 1,” Harrison, Lynne, Petty, Dylan and Orbison,  took on the nicknames Nelson, Otis, Charlie T., Lucky and Lefty Wilbury, respectively. For “Volume 3,” the nicknames changed to Spike (Harrison), Clayton (Lynne), Muddy (Petty) and Boo (Dylan). Although acclaimed session musician Jim Keltner appeared in the Wilburys videos and performed on both albums, he didn’t get a Wilbury nickname. Instead, band members dubbed him Buster Sidebury.

Robert Plant and Band of Joy

Robert Plant & Band of Joy perform at War Memorial Auditorium February 9, 2011, in Nashville, Tennessee,, for Season 3 of “Live from the Artists Den.” Publicity photo.

Band of Joy

Members: Marco Giovino (percussion);  Patty Griffin (vocals, guitar); Byron House (bass); Buddy Miller (guitar, vocals);  Darrell Scott (vocals, mandolin, guitar, accordion, pedal, lap steel guitar, banjo); Robert Plant (lead vocals)

Album: ”Band of Joy” (2010)

Robert Plant’s decision to immerse himself in Americana seemed an unlikely career move to many, despite his ongoing unabashed admiration for many of the artists — Moby Grape, Tim Buckley, Gene Clark, among them — who helped to spur the movement.

“Raising Sand,” Plant’s acclaimed 2009 collaboration with Alison Krauss, affirmed his credibility in the roots-rock arena. But he moved full throttle into alt-country when he enlisted go-to guitarist Buddy Miller to put together a new version of his pre-Zeppelin group, Band of Joy. Miller was well prepared for the challenge. He had played with the best of the best artists in Nashville, Tenn., and Austin, Texas. In addition to a number of albums recorded under his own name and with his wife, Julie, Miller has helmed projects for artists including Steve Earle, Linda Rondstadt, Solomon Burke, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch.

Miller soon recruited Patty Griffin, with whom he had worked in Three Girls and Their Buddy (featuring Miller, Griffin, Harris and Colvin). He rounded out the all-star ensemble with multi-instrumentalist and regarded singer-songwriter Darrell Scott, drummer Marco Giovino and bassist Byron House. The group toured extensively to support it’s only album to date, the self-titled “Band of Joy.” Plant just released a new solo effort, “Lullabye And … The Ceaseless Roar,” on which he is backed by The Sensational Space Shifters.

Band of Joy wasn’t Plant’s only post-Zeppelin super group. In 1984, he was lead vocalist for the vintage R&B outfit the Honeydrippers, which also featured Chic’s Nile Rodgers, former Yardbird Jeff Beck, Andy Silvester of Savoy Brown and fellow Zep alum Jimmy Page (who in 1985 teamed up with super-group magnet Paul Rodgers of Bad Company fame for The Firm).

The Monsters of Folk. Photo courtesy Press Here Publicity.

The Monsters of Folk. Photo courtesy Press Here Publicity.

Monsters of Folk

Members: Yim Yames (vocals, guitars, piano, bass, drums, drum programming, synths); Connor Oberst (vocals, guitar, piano, bass, steel drum); Mike Mogis (vocals, keyboards, mandolin, steel guitar, dobro, drum programming, synths, effects); M. Ward (vocals, guitar, piano, synths, bass); Will Johnson (drums)

Album: “Monsters of Folk” (2009)

With members drawn from the rosters of My Morning Jacket (Yim Yames), Bright Eyes (Connor Oberst and Mike Mogis) and She & Him (M. Ward), the Monsters of Folk formed in 2004, when members met during hiatuses from their individual projects. While outside interests delayed work on the Monsters’ debut album, the anticipation paid off when the album was released in September 2009 and promptly ascended to the top of the charts. Their band’s super group status was further affirmed when it was tapped to perform at Neil Young’s 23rd annual Bridge School Benefit in Mountain View, Calif.

When the band made its bow on “Austin City Limits,” Yames, Oberst, Mogis and Ward added Centro-Matic drummer Will Johnson to the roster, declaring him “the fifth Monster.” Oberst has promised a follow-up album is in the offing, but no specifics have been released to date.

The Royal Southern Brotherhood. Publicity photo.

The Royal Southern Brotherhood. Publicity photo.

Royal Southern Brotherhood

Members: Cyril Neville (vocals); Devon Allman; (guitar); Mike Zito (vocals, guitar); Charlie Wooten (bass) Yonrico Scott (drums)

Albums: “Royal Southern Brotherhood” (2012), “heartsoulblood” (2014)

Royal Southern Brotherhood’s very name reflects a converging musical lineage that distinguishes its members from their contemporaries. The lineup includes famous names like Neville and Allman — Cyril and Devon, respectively. The former was a charter member of The Meters and its successor, the Neville Brothers. The latter is the offspring of Gregg Allman and nephew of the late, great Duane. Veteran bluesman Mike Zito, veteran bassist Charlie Wooten and respected drummer Yonrico Scott round out the rest of the roster.
The big names provide the attraction. But the band’s music stirring blend of attitude and aptitude proves that Southern rock still rules. (Some of the song titles on the Brotherhood’s powerful debut hinted at the members’ roots, too: “Left My Heart in Memphis,” “Moonlight Over the Mississippi” and, um, “Sweet Jelly Donut.”)

Zito and Neville had known each other for a couple of years before the Brotherhood; they co-wrote the song “Pearl River” for one of Zito’s albums. Zito’s history with Allman stretched back nearly 20 years, to the days when the two worked together in a St. Louis music store. Zito’s manager suggested the three musicians try their luck as a unit, and in May 2011, they assembled to write some songs. After opting to take their music on the road, they recruited Wooten; Scott followed once the group headed into the studio.

Highwaymen publicity photo

Johnny Cash makes his second appearance in our Super Group countdown, this time with fellow Highwaymen (from left) Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. Publicity photo.

The Highwaymen

Members: Willie Nelson (vocals, guitar); Johnny Cash (vocals, guitar); Waylon Jennings (vocals, guitar); Kris Kristofferson (vocals, guitar)

Albums: ”Highwayman” (1985) “Highwayman 2” (1990); “The Road Goes On Forever” (1995)

Getting four American icons together was a monumental feat, given that Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson had long challenged the notion that country music was merely a commercial commodity. Each operated outside the confines of the country norm, bringing to the fore an honesty and integrity that often put the artist at odds with the Nashville establishment. These guys weren’t prone to wearing big hats and singing songs about tears in their beers; they helped spearhead a new singer-songwriter tradition that would inspire a new breed of rootsy insurgents in the years to come.

The quartet had its own roots in an initial incarnation dubbed The Outlaws, a nod to their collective uncompromising reputations. The Outlaws’ sole album – 1976’s “Wanted! The Outlaws” – featured Nelson; Jennings; his wife, Jessi Colter; and Tompall Glaser, best known for the Glaser Brothers. While the material wasn’t unique to The Outlaws’ album — it didn’t even feature the four singing in tandem — it provided tangible evidence that the so-called outlaw movement had become a force to be reckoned with. “Wanted! The Outlaws” became the first country album in history to sell a million copies. It reached No. 1 on the country charts and climbed to the Top 10 on the pop side, thanks in part to a pair of hit singles: “Suspicious Minds” and “Good Hearted Woman,” which peaked at No. 2 and No. 1, respectively.

Nelson, Kristofferson, Cash and Jennings released three albums between 1985 and 1995. Their first, “Highwayman,” was credited to Nelson, Jennings, Cash, Kristofferson, who later adopted the album title as a collective banner for the group’s sophomore set.

The Highwaymen put their outlaw reputations to use outside of music. While they weren’t identified as such, they provided voices for the Louis L’Amour Collection, a four-CD box set of seven Louis L’Amour stories released between 1997 and 1999.

Los Super Seven publicity photo

Los Super Seven

Members: Joe Ely (guitar); Freddy Fender (vocals); David Hidalgo (guitar); Flaco Jimenez (accordion); Cesar Rosas (guitar); Rick Treviño (guitar); Ruben Ramos (vocals)

Albums: “Los Super Seven” (1998); “Canto” (2001); “Heard It on the X” (2005)

Featuring members of Los Lobos (David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas) and Texas Tornados (Freddy Fender and Flaco Himenez), as well as Latin music stars Joe Ely, Rick Treviño and Ruben Ramos, Los Super Seven adeptly blended Tejano, mariachi, blues, R&B, country and rock. The group made its performing debut in 1998 and garnered a Grammy for Best Mexican/Mexican-American Album for its self-titled debut released the following year.

Los Super Seven has drawn plenty of guest artists from Latin music acts, including Los Lobos (Steve Berlin, Louie Perez, Conrad Lozano); Texas Tornados (Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers); Calexico (Martin Wenk, Volker Zander, John Convertino, Joey Burns, Paul Niehaus, Jacob Valenzuela); Ozomatli (Wil-Dog Abers); Raul Malo, Alberto Salas, Susana Baca; Alberto Salas; Max Baca; Caetano Veloso; Cougar Estrada; John Contreras; Joel Guzman and Alberto Salas. But Los Super Seven also has attracted noted country, rock and blues musicians including Delbert McClinton, Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Rodney Crowell, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Redd Volkaert, Charlie Sexton, Denny Freeman and Hunt Sales (yes, his dad is Soupy).

Chickenfoot is the super group brainchild of Van Halen alumnus Michael Anthony, guitarist Joe Satriani, Red Hot Chili Peppers Chad Smith and rock and roll wild child Sammy Hagar. Publicity photo courtesy Noble PR.

Chickenfoot is the super group brainchild of Van Halen alumnus Michael Anthony, guitarist Joe Satriani, Red Hot Chili Peppers Chad Smith and rock and roll wild child Sammy Hagar. Publicity photo courtesy Noble PR.

Chickenfoot

Members: Michael Anthony (bass); Sammy Hagar, (vocals); Joe Satriani (guitar); Chad Smith (drums)

Albums: ”Chickenfoot,” “Chickenfoot III”

Although Chickenfoot may sound like a silly name for a band, the talent encompassed in the quartet is no joke: Van Halen refugees Sammy Hagar and bassist Michael Anthony; acclaimed guitarist Joe Satriani; and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith.

Although Hagar has disparaged Chickenfoot’s rarefied status — the band is all about the members’ friendships and not any kind of concocted hype — the band’s music has spoken for itself. Both “Chickenfoot” and “Chickenfoot III” studio albums have had impressive showings on the charts, including Top Hard Rock Albums (No. 1 for both); Top Independent Albums (No. 1 and 2,  respectively); Top Rock Albums (No. 2 and No. 4, respectively); and Billboard 200 (No. 4 and No. 9, respectively).

As for the real reason for the band’s handle? Anthony insists that it only alludes to the symmetry that developed during the initial jam sessions involving him, Hagar and Smith. The branches, he says, represent the three talons of a chicken’s foot, and they’re symbols of the three-pronged attack from these original principal players.

Honorable Mention

Arms Concert benefit publicity photo
A.R.M.S. Benefit Concert

The A.R.M.S. concerts were organized by ex-Faces/Small Faces bassist Ronnie Lane, who, in his later years, suffered from multiple sclerosis. The shows were billed as The Ronnie Lane Appeal for ARMS and featured a star-studded lineup of English musicians, including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Steve Winwood, Bill Wyman, Kenney Jones and Charlie Watts. The shows were the first time that Clapton, Beck and Page, who had served different tenures as lead guitarists for The Yardbirds, performed together at the same time onstage. You can catch the excitement on the two-CD import set “Eric Clapton & Friends: The A.R.M.S. Benefit concert From London.”

Swag picture disc for "Different Girls."

Swag picture disc for “Different Girls.”

Swag

When successful country crossover band the Mavericks went on hiatus, bassist Robert Reynolds set about founding the band Swag with Jerry Dale McFadden (Sixpence None The Richer), Ken Coomer (Wilco), Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick, and power-pop pundit Doug Powell. The group released a few limited-edition singles in the late 1990s and a 10-inch picture disc EP (“Different Girls”) in 2000. Those singles were combined with new songs for Swag’s sole LP to date, 2001’s “Catchall.”

Sky Kings album

Sky Kings

Consisting of Poco’s Rusty Young, New Grass Revival’s John Cowan, The Doobie Brothers’ Pat Simmons and Foster and Lloyd’s Bill Lloyd, The Sky Kings recorded several sessions for an album with Warner Bros., but only three singles were released in 1996. The album was shelved until Rhino Handmade released it as “From Out of The Blue” in 2000.

Tinted Windows featuring Taylor Hanson, Adam Schlesinger, James Iha, and Bun E. Carlos. Publicity photo/Damien Neva.

Tinted Windows featuring Taylor Hanson, Adam Schlesinger, James Iha, and Bun E. Carlos. Publicity photo/Damien Neva.

Tinted Windows

In early 2009, Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos hooked up with Hanson singer Taylor Hanson, former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and Fountains of Wayne bassist Adam Schlesinger for a new band. The side project to their ongoing obligations, Tinted Windows played its first publicized gig at 2009’s SXSW festival and released its sole studio album to date, “Tinted Windows,” later that year. GM

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