Roadie's Rhetoric Vol.2 - by Ben Beaver

The SUPERGROUP! An Expose: Some Groups Are Born Super

One term that exists in the musical world that I’ve never much cared for is the word “Supergroup.”

Like the Avengers or the Justice League, a Supergroup is a coming together of already powerful individuals in their own right, in an attempt to combine forces and make them into an even more powerful team! What could possibly go wrong?!  Did you see the Justice League movie?  Plenty can go wrong.

My first recollection of hearing the term and getting excited at the idea was in 2007, when I heard announced on the radio the formation of a “Supergroup” called Chickenfoot, which was comprised of Sammy Hagar on vocals, Joe Satriani on guitar, Michael Anthony on bass, and Chad Smith on drums.  Holy Guacamole!!!  I like all those guys!!  So theoretically, this band should be better than Montrose, Van Halen, and Red Hot Chili Peppers combined, right?!?!...  WRONG!!!

Therein lies the inherent problem with the word “Supergroup:” Expectation.  It’s natural to assume that the coming together of a group of already successful musicians would be greater than the sum of its parts, that natural comparisons would be drawn to the musicians’ bands of origin, and that with a supercharged lineup, the music should be superior to any of the individual members’ previous bands.  However, this is very rarely the case.

The coining of the term is generally attributed to Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine, in 1966 with the formation of Cream.  When Eric Clapton teamed up with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, and became the biggest band in the world almost overnight, the idea of the Supergroup first became a musical staple.  Although only together two years, Cream left a mark on the music world that is still felt today.  

In 1968, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash, who had all found individual success in the bands The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Hollies, respectively, all teamed up and formed what would become an extremely successful group, simply going by their last names.  When Neil Young joined a year later, the band truly became an “All-Star Team,” and the formula for success had been proven.

But that is where my problem with the designation comes in, in that it is now and has always been a marketing term, an attempt to create hype and expectation based on the band members’ previous accomplishments, which in no way guarantees the music will automatically be good.  It feels like a capitalization on image which often times leaves the substance rather bland or lukewarm by comparison.  

At the end of the day, the word “Supergroup” is just word, but because it creates excitement and anticipation, it tends to over exaggerate the expectation, which usually results in an inevitable letdown.  But they’ve already got your money by the time you realize it, because you were so amped up by the idea of it, you didn’t even consider the possibility that it might not be good!  I know that they got more than their fair share of my money that way.

But I’ve since come to realize, a true Supergroup is simply a coming together of a group of extremely talented individuals, regardless of past achievements or resumes.  The real Supergroups were the ones that began life that way, even if no one knew it at the time.  

In this context, The Beatles were really the world’s first Supergroup.  Even though no one knew who any of those guys were before The Beatles, the fact that each member went on to continue making incredible music on their own even after the dissolution of The Beatles is a testament to the incredibly concentrated level of talent that was present in that band from the very beginning.  The trend of individual members continuing to make great music after a split is generally a tell-tale sign that a band began its life as a pretty super group.  

The Beatles were so big in fact, that each individual member’s new band was essentially a Supergroup just by virtue of having one Beatle!  Paul McCartney had Wings, John Lennon had The Plastic Ono Band, Ringo Starr had his All-Starr Band, and George Harrison became a member of the most star-studded Supergroup of all time, The Traveling Wilburys!  

When a band is so big that you only need one member to create a Supergroup, what do you call that original band?  An Ultragroup? A Novagroup?  Whatever gets you excited and ready to spend, we’ll call it that.

Led Zeppelin.  The Eagles.  Queen.  Rush.  Fleetwood Mac.  And of course, Pink Floyd.  These bands all were a coming together of a very unique set of variables, most notably the insane level of musicianship and songwriting ability that existed within each of these of these groups.  And the fact that the majority of the above listed bands eventually split up, and some or all of their members went on to have successful solo careers or side projects or new bands, and continued to write amazing music, goes to show that just because you’ve never heard of someone to begin with, doesn’t mean their music or their group will end up being any less “Super” than a bunch of already established big names teaming up.

The members of Pink Floyd will be the first to tell you that they did not all come from a musical background when they started the band.  In fact, with the exception of Richard Wright, none of the members had much familiarity with their instruments or with music at all!  The incredible quality of musicianship was something that evolved over time.  What they had that set them apart from the start was the willingness and the courage to be different.  And they had something to say.  Sometimes, that’s all you need.  Something to say, and the courage to say it, is the cornerstone of greatness.

It was arguably not until after Syd Barrett was replaced by David Gilmour shortly after the band’s inception that they really became a Supergroup, as Gilmour was undeniably a superior musician to Barrett, but the band itself would undoubtedly not have existed if not for Barrett’s vision and courage to be the first to step through the door.  I’ve always found it touching that all four members of Pink Floyd, despite their many differences, were always united in saying that no one ever would have taken that all-important first step if not for Syd, and they kept his presence alive within the music throughout their career.    

Pink Floyd exhibited another classic example of what made them one of the world’s best bands, in that their music was always in a constant state of growth.  This is an aspect that all of the aforementioned bands shared, and what originally made and has kept them all so relevant.  The band and the music grew together, and each Pink Floyd album is arguably more intricate and complex than the ones that preceded it.  But that’s a discussion for another time.

So just remember, you can cram a bunch of talented people in a room together until the cows come home, but that does not guarantee that the chemistry will exist between them that will create a great band or great music.  Sometimes it ends up as just a bunch of talented people in a room together.  But if you got a bunch of talented people in a room together who all share a drive, an ambition, a vision, and a desire to push themselves to deliver the best music they’re capable of producing, then I don’t care what any of their names are, you got yourself a Super Group there my friend!

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