As members of grunge's holy trinity combine, we look at some of the best supergroups of all time
Music is by its very nature a collaborative medium. And people are easily bored. Add one to the other and you get a fertile environment for restless band members teaming up to try something a bit out of the ordinary or to just fall out with three different people for a change. It’s all a bit like ethical affairs that only rarely end the marriage.
Last week, news circulated that Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic, Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil and Pearl Jam’s Matt Cameron had formed a group called 3rd Secret and surprise-released a debut album. This isn’t Novoselic or Cameron’s first spins on the supergroup carousel (see below), so we started thinking of some of our favourite instances of bands combining like musical Power Rangers.
If you want a power trio, you can’t get any more powerful than Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, each arguably the best in their respective fields at the time. The trio recorded some of the era’s defining songs, from ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ to ‘White Room’ before tensions between Bruce and Baker tore the whole thing asunder.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
If not the original supergroup, then undoubtedly one of the most influential. CSNY formed out of the debris of three of the 60s’ biggest bands after David Crosby, recently forced out of The Byrds, joined with ex-Hollies singer Graham Nash and Steven Stills of the recently defunct Buffalo Springfield. As if that wasn’t enough, Neil Young came on board for the band’s second album, giving birth to the expression “an embarrassment of riches” (probably).
If you’re going to call yourselves The Highwaymen, you’d better be damn sure you’ve got reputations to match. But then again, are you going to doubt the outlaw cred of Johnny Cash, Willy Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson? Of course not.
The Wilburys were possibly the greatest combination of songwriting talent ever assembled. George Harrison needed to record a B-side. Over dinner, he invited Jeff Lynne (ELO) and Roy Orbison to help him record it. Harrison booked in some time at Bob Dylan’s studio. On the way there, he stopped off at Tom Petty’s house to pick up his guitar. Obviously the song this quintet recorded (‘Handle With Care’) was way too good for a B-side and a ridiculously super supergroup was born. Sadly, only Bob and Jeff are still with us.
Electronic was primarily a collaboration between New Order’s Bernard Sumner and The Smiths’ Johnny Marr. Throw in Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys and you’ve got a powerhouse consisting of three of the most important musicians to come out of the North of England. Their crowning glory was the phenomenal 1989 single ‘Getting Away With It’. Sumner and Marr reunited in the mid 90s for a second album, this time with Kraftwerk’s Karl Bartos.
Temple Of The Dog
The melting pot of grunge threw together several supergroups, but Temple Of The Dog was the supergroup of all supergroups, consisting of most of Pearl Jam with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron (who would later join Pearl Jam himself). The band was formed in tribute to their friend Andrew Wood (of Mother Love Bone) who had died of a heroin overdose.
When Golden Smog first came together, each member played under a contractually necessary pseudonym. However, by their second album Down By The Old Mainstream, it was revealed that the actual members included an alt-country dream team of Soul Asylum’s Dan Murphy, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Gary Louris and Marc Perlman of The Jayhawks, Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and Kraig Johnson of Run Westy Run.
It might be easier to list the bands that Mike Patton isn’t in. The Faith No More frontman regularly pops up in other outfits, from the bonkers Mr Bungle to alt-metal quartet Tomahawk (themselves something of a supergroup). But even those projects don’t have the pedigree of Fantômas, which originally featured Slayer’s Dave Lombardo, the Melvins’ Buzz Osbourne and Mr Bungle/Tomahawk bassist Trevor Dunn.
During Smashing Pumpkins’ hiatus, Billy Corgan briefly formed this supergroup with math rock luminaries Dave Pajo (Slint) and Matt Sweeney (Chavez), Tool bassist Paz Lenchantin, and ex-Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. Their one and only album, Mary Star Of The Sea, arrived in 2003, the band splitting up seven months later.
The New Pornographers
As the melodic Canadian indie rockers started to take off in the mid 00s, several core members were already making inroads individually, particularly AC Newman (previously of Zumpano), Neko Case and Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer). Newman released two well-received solo records, while Case and Bejar have enjoyed considerable success on their own, to the point that both only occasionally tour with the band.
Monsters Of Folk
There’s unquestionably a hint of irony in the name, but Monsters Of Folk was a collaboration between four genuine stars of mid 00s indie folk (and one Americana cult hero). The band featured Conor Oberst and Mike Moggis (both of Bright Eyes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), singer/songwriter M Ward, with Centro-matic frontman Will Johnson on drums.
Prophets Of Rage
If there was ever a year to bring together some of the loudest revolutionary voices across rap and metal, it was 2016. Performing under a banner that declared “Make America Rage Again”, Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford (all of Rage Against The Machine) joined forces with DJ Lord and Chuck D of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill for the most righteous supergroup of all time. The band released one album and one EP before splitting up to pave the way for the Rage Against The Machine reunion.
Seems 2016 was quite the catalyst for bringing together big names with big ideas. The environmentally minded quintet had started off life in 2014 as Super-Earth but entered the studio in 2016 with a line-up to die for. Their debut album featured Krist Novoselic (Nirvana) on bass, Peter Buck (R.E.M.) on guitar, Corin Tucker (Sleater Kinney) on guitar and vocals, Kurt Bloch (Young Fresh Fellows) on guitar, Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5) on keys and Bill Rieflin (Ministry) on drums.
Boygenius sprang out of a series of intersecting tours involving kindred spirits Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker, three hugely talented songwriters with a special talent for crafting heartbreaking indie folk. The trio decided to join together for a critically acclaimed EP that arrived in 2018, hot on the heels of breakthrough albums for all three members.
Not to be outdone by the grizzled old fellas, country superstars Maren Morris, Brandi Carlisle, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby updated the concept for a new era. The quartet made their debut at Loretta Lynn’s birthday party and won a Grammy in 2021 for Best Country Song for ‘Crowded Table’.