Super Groups – Part 1 The Good, Better and Best

An insight into the weird and wonderful world of super groups, starting off a two part feature, firstly with the good side.


Travelling Wilburys

The Travelling Wilburys clockwise top left; Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, George Harrison

The world of Rock and Roll has been more than giving to loyal fans and casual listeners over the many beer and whiskey soaked decades that have gone before. Each band and artist within the sweaty scene has their own unique contribution to the glorious and sometimes infamous world that refuses to exist quietly. But what happens when members from numerous acts form together, combining their talents and trials for everybody’s entertainment. Ladies and gentlemen, the Super Group is born, wide eyed and desperate for a beer!

As the name says, a super group is, at least on basis of foundation, meant to be super. In a world as volatile as the music industry, and the rock scene more so, it is no mean feat when a number of artists, their baggage and creative styles and all, decide to group together and produce music. Although the idea sounds bad at first, potentially life threatening in some cases, it is remarkable to find that there are actually a few genuinely good super groups that were able to produce notable music that still rocks. These chosen few create a wonderful blend of styles and bring listeners a good dose of music meant more than simply an outlet for aging rockers to have one more stab at some fame. Of course, those exist also. Here in part one we’ll explore the best.

The concept is not a new one to music, the first recognized super groups date back as far as 1968 with Cream. This band of course featured Eric Clapton fresh from The Yardbirds, Jack Bruce of Manfred Man and Ginger Baker of Graham Bond. However, there is some speculation and mild controversy amongst fans of the band and rock music as to whether Cream should be considered a super group or not, their status now firmly placed within rock music lore as being a credible enough band to be considered stand alone, their four albums released over three years a testimony to this. Another super group, considered by many to be the first true band in the sense, are Crosby, Stills and Nash (CSN). Again, these artists are now more recognised for being within this band and achieving greater success than they did as either solo artists or members of previous groups. Cream and CSN, although some of the very first bands to be labelled with this title, skirt the borderline between super group and regular band. Their success however cannot be considered ambiguous as they both continue to tour and perform to this day.

One group, however, stands enormously large over the others like a rampaging giant across a Belgian countryside and, considering their personnel have every right to do so, were The Travelling Wilburys. Consisting of Jeff Lynne of ELO fame, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, George Harrison and Bob Dylan no less, this group is the archetypal example of what and how a super group should be created and performed. Each member a more than credible source of material and musical ability, The Travelling Wilburys to this day still exist as the best example of how potentially fantastic a super group can be for fans of the individual artists and the music they play. Primarily focussing on a more country/folk rock style of music, each of the five transatlantic members come together in a wonderful mixture of harmonics, playing ability and song writing ability. Their debut album, ‘Traveling Wilburys Vol.1’ remains the jewel of the small collection from this group, Handle with Care a fun, imaginative and feel good song that is a pleasure to listen to and enjoy.

The death of Roy Orbison in 1988 however spelled an unceremonious end to the Travelling Wilburys. Their tenure only lasted two full albums and a compilation album, and in many opinions this added to the mythos of the super group. Their short lived success is now consigned to the history books and has left fans and music lovers alike wondering what might have been had they been given a longer shot.

The drama and bedlam that is so often associated with super groups often contributes negatively to the press the band in turn receives. However, there are plenty of positives to take from the amalgamation of very different styles and approaches to rock and roll music. Other very good super groups worth noting that perhaps did not achieve as great success as their peers or previous incarnations would be The Firm, featuring Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. Audioslave with Chris “Bond theme” Cornell of Sound Garden and Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine. Finally Bad Company with Paul Rogers, who also fronted The Firm with Jimmy Page, of Free. A cheeky tip of the cap goes to Journey who, again are more famous for being a stand alone group, consisted of former Santana musicians but also because everybody seems to love them strangely. Look out for Part two when we examine the ugly side of Super Groups, and it’s not pretty!

Jonathan Whitelaw


Tracks and albums are available from Amazon or iTunes. Check out these websites for more band information: http://www.travellingwilburys.com, http://www.crsobystillsnash.com, http://www.ericclapton.com

One Response to “Super Groups – Part 1 The Good, Better and Best”

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