Superheavy band – the ego problem underpinning every Supergroup

Posted on 20 September 2011
By Pierce King
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Supergroups by their very nature often fail to achieve their aim by trying to breed too many conflicting styles and egos.

This stellar quintet of Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart, Damian Marley, Joss Stone, and A.R Rahman have plucked the name Superheavy out of the band name manual, as if to announce their top billing status.

A supergroup is an exciting concept for musicians and fans alike, a chance for the best artists in their genre to mix their creative juices.

Perhaps closest to Superheavy in terms of stature and output (reggae influence aside) the Travelling Wilburys succeeded in moulding the colossal talents of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne into two self-indulgent and road weary albums of disposable country rock.

As far as successful supergroups go, Cream have been vaunted as the greatest ever, consisting of guitarist Eric Clapton, drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce.

But their short and fiery time together (four albums between 1966 and 1968) exposes the biggest drawback for supergroups – superegos. Their intense on-stage musical duels were undermined by less appealing rows in the dressing room.

Clapton could also be dubbed the ‘college bike of Supergroups’ after turning up for any stellar jams and taking part in The Yardbirds, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Cream and Derek and the Dominos.

The Supergroups true era was the Seventies, with the initial breakthrough of line-ups that sounded more like legal firms than bands: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, or Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Heavy rock bands fall particularly hard for the phenomenon with Black Sabbath, Guns N’ Roses, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin swapping members as if picking car keys out of a bowl.

The Foo Fighters are by their very nature a Supergroup formed from the wreckage of other bands with Pat Smear having played in The Germs and Nirvana. Also drummer Taylor Hawkins played with Sass Jordan and Alanis Morissette.

But the Foos are held together by a common musical drive and the self-styled ‘nicest man in Rock’ – Dave Grohl, it’s hard to imagine him forcing his creative vision on band mates. Gentle art of persuasion is the best influence eh Dave?

More recently Dave teamed up with long standing Queens of the Stone Age friend Josh Homme and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones for Them Crooked Vultures, who succeeded in crafting an album of beguiling potency by recognising who does what best and letting them do it.

Any project Jack White puts his name to is dubbed an ‘experimental supergroup’, with The White Stripes legend being able to try out Beatles style harmonies and take a back seat on the drums.

The Dead Weather, which also pull in talent from The Kills’ Alison Mosshart, QOTSA Dean Fertita and White’s very own mini me – Little Jack Lawrence, also achieve moments of supreme musical clarity.

But they lack the raw intensity and power of Jack’s overarching musical genius on The White Stripes and he soon moves on to a new project, like a muse with ADHD.

The lifespan of any supergroup is limited by its very nature – most often formed by talented malcontents of other bands.

Fuelled by the battling of egos, the energy creates excitement, but also means breakups are inevitable.