The 10 most amazing supergroups

By Sergio Ariza

The supergroups as such - a meeting of famous musicians - was something that began to be fashionable at the end of the 60s when in England those who believed they were the best guitarist, bassist and drummer of blues rock in the country came together, and gave themselves the name Cream. Clapton, Baker and Bruce decided that they were ‘the cream” among the musicians in the country, and in their brief career they provided the best and the worst of these types of meetings, although the definitive name was given in the US when Al Kooper decided to call the album that he had made with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills, Super Session (despite how bad it seemed to the first); opening the door to all types of stellar unions. Throughout history these types of meetings have provided more mis-steps than great projects, but here we offer you a small list of the cream of the crop, from rockabilly to rock, passing by the blues and country.  

Million Dollar Quartet

Members: Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins  

On 4 December 1956 Carl Perkins went to record Matchbox in the Sun studios of Memphis, and in that session a young man who had just been signed up by Sam Phillips studio, called Jerry Lee Lewis, accompanied him on the piano, and quickly became a star in his own right. Also present was another of the company’s top acts, Johnny Cash, who had come to see his friend Carl, but all the stars lined up when the biggest name on the planet, and ex-Sun, popped by with his girlfriend to make a visit. Elvis Presley had had four number ones that year, the year in which the final explosion of rock came, and he had been crowned as King of the new music. That day would pass into history as he decided that it was the perfect moment to have a ‘jam’ with Perkins, Cash and Lewis. All, less Lewis, had had some success in the charts but that did not impede the 'Killer' being the only one capable of taking the spotlight away from the King. The majority of the songs were old gospels, which they all liked. Listening to Presley and Lewis harmonizing on Down By The Riverside is one of the greatest marvels for anyone who likes early rock and roll. The result would not see the light until 1981 when all four were legends, and Elvis had been four years in his grave. Still, the magic of that night continues to be irrepeatable, and led the three survivors to join together again for a tour that same year that produced the live album entitled, The Survivors Live. In 1986 they returned and added another colleague from the Sun period, Roy Orbison himself, for the album Class of '55.


Members: Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker  

Strictly speaking Cream can be considered the first super group. In 1966 Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker decided to form a band with the ‘humble’ name of Cream. They were the ‘cream of the cream’ of the British musicians, or that is what they thought, and they didn’t get tired of telling anyone who would listen to them. And there were many who did, making them one of the most popular bands in the world. In their short career they did great things like the magnificent Disraeli Gears, and they marked the road for rock for the following decades. For good and for bad. At the end of the band’s days they were so lost in their own egos that they didn’t even listen to each other; each trying to show how good they were individually in a kind of fratricide war against the other two. Clapton says that in one of their last concerts he stopped playing and neither Bruce nor Baker realised. That, and his discovery of the simple approach of The Band, led him to end the group. That said, when they allowed their music to flow, few bands could equal them.

The Dirty Mac

Members: John Lennon, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell  

On 11 December 1968 the Rolling Stones recorded the television special Rock And Roll Circus, which had brought together an incredible line up of Jethro Tull, Taj Mahal, the Who and themselves; but the icing on the cake was the participation of John Lennon himself, who had not played for more than two years previously, in his first appearance live without the Beatles. To accompany him they put at his disposition an incredible group that would make any lover of rock salivate, Eric Clapton on guitar, Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience on drums, and Keith Richards on bass. Lennon decided to christen the group The Dirty Mac, in a joke related to the most fashionable group in the UK at that time, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. The band only played Yer Blues from the Beatles’ White Album, and then an improvisation over Roadrunner, called Whole Lotta Yoko, on which Ivry Gitlis, on violin, and Yoko Ono, on infernal shrieking, joined them.
  On the recording Clapton used his Gibson Es 335, and Lennon the Ephipone Casino that he would employ later in the legendary concert on the Abbey Road rooftop with the Beatles. When, before the recording, the Stones asked him what amplifier he wanted, his response was 100% Lennon: "one that plays".


The Super Super Blues Band

Members: Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley  

In the legendary record company Chess they took note of the new style of supergroups and decided to take a share of the cake. In 1968 they brought together three of their most popular artists, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Little Walter to record an album called (with little imagination) Super Blues. The reception was sufficiently warm that, the same year, they changed Walter for Howlin' Wolf and recorded The Super Super Blues Band (in Chess they didn’t stress themselves too much with thinking up titles). To round things off Otis Spann accompanied them on piano, Hubert Sumlin on guitar, Buddy Guy on bass and Clifton James on drums. And if that line up doesn’t put your hairs on end it is because you haven’t listened to blues in your life… 

Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young)

Members: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Neil Young  

In 1968 Buffalo Springfield had broken up and David Crosby had been sacked from the Byrds, and Stephen Stills and Crosby had started to play and sing together on various songs. In July of that year they were in the home of Joni Mitchell with Graham Nash - who happened to be present and who was in a bad moment with his own band, the Hollies, - when the former sang You Don't Have to Cry; Nash asked them to repeat it and added an extraordinary third voice to it. They all agreed that there was a chemistry and they were quickly signed up by Atlantic, Ahmet Ertegün’s record company, who happened to be a big fan of Buffalo Springfield. After recording their first album Stills, who played the majority of the instruments, suggested adding another member, with Steve Winwood as the first candidate. But the ex Traffic man had just embarked on the project Blind Faith with Eric Clapton so that, on the insistence of Ertegün himself, they decided to sign up another ex Buffalo Springfield member, the Canadian Neil Young. Together they made their live debut at Woodstock and recorded the fundamental Déjà Vu, the harmoníes of the former and the guitar battle between the Firebird of Stills and the Black Beauty of Young, besides their respective Gretsch guitars, made them one of the most popular bands on the planet. Then, as in the majority of cases, egos finished with the group, and the four of them embarked on successful solo careers. There have been various reunions since then, above all of the first three, but they have never managed to find the same magic again. 

Blind Faith

Members: Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood, Ric Grech  

Eric Clapton had been left burned by Cream, the continuous disputes between Bruce and Baker, and seeing them increasingly playing for ‘show’, rather than being in a group, and he left. At the start of 1969 he began to play together with his friend, Traffic’s Steve Winwood, one of Britain’s best vocalists, but shortly after Ginger Baker appeared, and he decided to stay. Clapton was not very happy but Winwood convinced him by saying that they were unlikely to find a better drummer, and in the end they completed the line up with the bassist Ric Grech of Family. For their debut concert they played in Hyde Park before thousands of people. Clapton played a Telecaster with the neck of a Stratocaster, but he wasn’t too happy with the result, seeing the same type of adulation ‘without meaning’, as in the time of Cream. After one album and a brief tour, in which the guitarist had a better time playing with the supporting band, Blind Faith split up and Clapton founded Derek & The Dominos. Despite everything, the resulting album has passed the test of time and is one of the peaks in the careers of both Clapton and Winwood.

Bad Company

Members: Paul Rodgers, Simon Kirke, Mick Ralphs, Boz Burrell  

The drug problems of Paul Kossoff led to the dissolution of Free in 1973, and that same year Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke founded Bad Company together with guitarist Mick Ralphs, who had just left Mott The Hoople, and the bassist Boz Burrell who came from King Crimson. They launched their debut in 1974 that reached number 1 in the US and number 3 in the UK, with their great strengths being Rodgers voice and the brilliant riffs of Ralphs with his Les Paul. The following year they repeated their success with Straight Shooter, but their popularity, and quality, was decreasing from that time on until the horrible Rough Diamonds arrived in 1982. Paul Rodgers got a taste for the supergroups and in 1985 formed The Firm with Jimmy Page, and afterwards joined with Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen.

The Highwaymen

Members: Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson   The country equivalent of the Million Dollar Quartet. Four of the biggest names in the history of country music decided to join forces between 1985 and 1995, recording three albums as The Highwaymen, although this name only appears on the last. Their first album together continues being the most representative, not only because it contains the song that gave them their name, but also because the rest of the album doesn’t devalue it at all, with tracks as interesting as Desperados Waiting for a Train by Guy Clark and Cash’s Big River. Both on the live album and in the studio Nelson and Jennings unite their distinctive guitars with their voices, the former with the legendary Trigger and the latter with his Telecaster.  

Traveling Wilburys

Members: George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne  

The biggest supergroup became one by pure chance. George Harrison was recording Cloud Nine with producer Jeff Lynne and started to tease him about the idea of forming a group in which he would invite his favourite musicians. Harrison chose Bob Dylan and Lynne his idol, Roy Orbison. They had a song entitled Handle With Care and they decided to call them to see what they thought; as both Dylan and Orbison were passing through difficult moments in their careers, they didn’t doubt. The day of the recording Harrison had left his guitar at Tom Petty’s house. So he decided to invite him along as well. This is how the group formed that, at the suggestion of Harrison, became known as the Traveling Wilburys, with each of its five members adopting a new name, of the fictitious ‘Wilburys’ brothers’. The record company suggested they record an album. The five started work and recorded the notable Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 among laughs, imitations of Monty Python and an ambience of cameradery unusual among five millionaires.The album represented a commercial and artistic rebirth for Dylan, Orbison and Petty. The shame was that Orbison could barely enjoy this deserved return as he died two months after the album was released. The four remaining members recorded a second album, ironically titled Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3, and dedicated it to the memory of Lefty Wilbury, who was none other than the author of In Dreams.

Them Crooked Vultures

Members: Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, John Paul Jones  

Dave Grohl
is one of the best drummers in the history of rock. But following the end of Nirvana he abandoned the drumsticks and started with the Foo Fighters, in which he became a singer and rhythm guitarist. But in 2001 Grohl was a little tired of being the leader of a band, and just in that moment he received a call from Josh Homme; consequently Grohl decided to put his band on hold to become the drummer of Homme’s band. Grohl had always admired Homme’s work since his times in Kyuss and together they recorded the splendid Songs For The Deaf. After that he returned to the Foo Fighters. In 2005 he recorded their fifth album with them, called In Your Honor; on which appeared one of his idols, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. It was in that moment that he started to sense the possibility of forming a group together with two of his musical favourites. In the end he had to wait until 2009 until they all had space in their diaries, but that year they recorded their debut album as Them Crooked Vultures, an album of wild riffs and hooky melodies that brings together members of Nirvana, Led Zeppelin and Queens Of The Stone Age in the same potion.