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Monday, February 23, 2009

Chickenfoot & A Brief History of Supergroups

Supergroup is the title given to a group of established musicians who form a band and collaborate on an album, or even a song. Typically, the projects last as long as 2 or 3 albums before the artists return to their previous situation but the music spawned by these collaborations is typically greater than the sum of its parts. Here are a few of the most well-known supergroups.

The newest group to follow this trend is Chickenfoot, a collaboration of Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony of Van Halen fame joined by drummer Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and guitar virtuoso Joe "Satch" Satriani. While their first project is not due out until April, my early prediction is that this album will be a huge success, perhaps the best rock album of the year. As a longtime Van Halen fan, mostly during Hagar's era, I've been very pleased to see Sammy and Michael remain bandmates and friends in the aftermath of rock's most notorious breakup. They tour together regularly and Michael has become an almost permanent fixture of Sammy's lineup. Cabo Wabo, the bar that Sammy purchased from Van Halen after the group opened it together in the late 80's, sees its share of guest performers during Sammy's birthday bash and New Year's Eve shows. Chad Smith is among the regular guests that come to jam with Sammy and his band, The Waboritas. While The Wabos remain Sammy's official band, he definitely enjoys collaborating with many artists like Smith, along with Kenny Chesney, Chad Kroeger of Nickelback and more.

Chad Smith is one hell of a drummer and a perfect fit for the energy of this group. The funk influence he brings from the Chili Peppers sound will add a new dimension to the guitar-driven rock that we're used to hearing from Sammy and Joe Satriani. Hearing Joe perform as part of a group will be an interesting transition to witness as he is known for guitar instrumentals. A short-lived supergroup which was an early form of Chickenfoot, known as Planet US, included Hagar and Anthony with Neal Schon and Deen Castronovo from Journey; Satriani was to be included in the Planet Us lineup after Slash declined the offer to join. Hagar previously worked with Schon on his solo albums and on the single album released by Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve, known as HSAS in 1984.

Before Chickenfoot, there have been a number of noteworthy supergroups. The most recent example was Audioslave, which consisted of Rage Against The Machine with Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell in place of original member Zach De La Rocha. Audioslave recorded three albums, toured extensively, and made history as the first American rock band to play in Cuba. Their music boasted the typical ferocity of the RATM sound with a more melodic vocal approach provided by Cornell, in place of the rap-style delivery of De La Rocha. Their self-titled debut was brilliant from start to finish, followed by unworthy followup album "Out Of Exile". The band finished strong with "Revelations" before ending their relationship and Rage went on to reconcile with their original singer in time to headline the Coachella Music Festival for a one-time reunion.

Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum of Guns N Roses formed Velvet Revolver in 2002 with singer Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots. They went on to record two albums and tour before Weiland's behavior led to his return to STP while the others continue looking for a new frontman.

Formed as a tribute to the late Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone, Temple Of The Dog joined key members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam for one album. Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron of Soundgarden, along with Mike McCready, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam recorded an album that epitomizes the Seattle sound that was dominating the radio at the time. The sound is very guitar-driven but incredibly melodic at the same time, mainly in part to the poetic delivery of singer Chris Cornell. Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder joined Cornell on the radio hit "Hunger Strike", but the album boasts a number of strong tracks, many of which received heavy rotation. This album is a must-have for any fan of Pearl Jam or Soundgarden, or any fan of good rock music.

Less of a supergroup and more of an incredibly dynamic duo, Coverdale/Page recorded one amazing album. Of course the duo was Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Whitesnake frontman David Coverdale. Coverdale's vocals were eerily similar to Robert Plant on the album and the guitar playing was some of Page's best blues-rock riffs. The album mixed electric and acoustic guitars with Coverdale's rustic and blues-laden vocals effortlessly and remains one of my favorite rock albums ever released.

Damn Yankees, one of my favorite supergroups, released their double-platinum selling self-titled debut in 1990. The group was formed by Jack Blades of Night Ranger and Tommy Shaw of Styx, along with Ted Nugent and drummer/painter Michael Cartellone. Their hit "High Enough", a rock ballad from the debut album, was Nugent's only #1 single to date despite a long and successful solo career leading up to joining Damn Yankees. The second album also went platinum with lead single and title track "Don't Tread" but the album mostly relied on ballads as the band departed from its bluesy guitar rock from the first release. They only recorded the two albums before Nugent revived his solo career leaving Shaw and Blades to record their own album later.

The earliest example of a supergroup I can think of came in the form of the Traveling Wilburys, made up of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and George Harrison. The collaboration was known as a "happy accident" starting with a meal between Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne. The group came together at Bob Dylan's home studio to record a b-side for the single release of Harrison's "This Is Love". Tom Petty's involvement came by chance as Harrison had left his guitar at Petty's house. The band decided that the resulting song, "Handle With Care", was too good to be released as "single filler" and a full album was recorded and released in 1998 just before Orbison's death. The album, "Volume 1" was a surprise hit of the year, earning a Grammy for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group. A second album was recorded and released two years later, titled "Volume 3" as a joke by George Harrison and was the last album of new material released by the band.

For me, the most intriguing aspect of a supergroup is the chance to see performers collaborate with others and create music that they may have never thought to attempt before. The best supergroups utilize each member's key strengths to create true collaborations, and I think that is what we can expect from Chickenfoot. Sammy Hagar has likened the strength of their music to that of Led Zeppelin simply stating "it's that good" while Michael Anthony says that hearing Satriani play as part of a band and collaborating with the other members will amaze people. There is no telling if this will be a "one-off" project, meaning it will only generate one album before the members return to their solo career or band. To hear a sample of what to expect from the Chickenfoot album coming in April, visit their webpage at

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