It’s supergroup week at Cover Me!
What’s a supergroup, you ask? Well, it’s a bit of a fuzzy concept, but the idea is that a supergroup is a musical endeavor that is made up of folks who have previously established their musical prowess in other contexts. It’s the opposite of when groups split up to go solo. Supergroups provide an interesting way to track the networks of musicians, and they also lend some insight into the creative motivations of musicians who have already struck it big but are looking for a change of pace. Sometimes famous solo musicians join forces; other times bands break up and reform new ones. We’ll see both combinations throughout the week. Today we start off with super supergroup orchestrator Eric Clapton and his multiple (if short-lived) collaborations with friends.
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – Ramblin’ On My Mind (Robert Johnson cover)
Although John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers wasn’t a supergroup itself, its collection of members over time, augmenting the core lineup, went on to form prominent bands themselves (members of Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones, among others). After Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds (they were becoming too pop-focused, and he wanted to play the blues), he joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. In this cover of the Robert Johnson blues classic, the laid-back swagger of “Ramblin’ On My Mind” is particularly emphasized by the interaction between piano and guitar. Even when playing together, they have their own distinctive signature; neither overpowers the other. This cover was also Clapton’s first solo vocal recording, his first step in showing that he was more than just a guitarist.
Shortly after he joined the Bluesbreakers, Clapton collaborated with a pre-Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page on some songs credited to the Immediate All-Stars. He was already setting a precedent for collaborating with a wide variety of talented folks who would go on to form even bigger musical endeavors.
Cream – Born Under a Bad Sign (Albert King cover)
Cream, often heralded as the first supergroup, was made up of Ginger Baker (formerly of blues bands Blues Incorporated and the Graham Bond Organisation), Jack Bruce (formerly of Graham Bond Organisation and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers), and Eric Clapton. Bruce knew Baker; Clapton knew Bruce from his brief time with the Bluesbreakers. The band only lasted a few years (Baker and Bruce had a tense relationship in the past, and that relationship stayed, well, tense). This cover of “Born Under a Bad Sign” is a product of another musical network, the label Atco Records. Albert King and Cream were both represented by them, and Cream was asked to give King’s song a boost. Cream’s version lets the electric guitar run wild; the wails are the most prominent feature of the song whereas King’s original has more of a big-band framing.
Blind Faith – Under My Thumb (The Rolling Stones cover)
After Cream broke up, Clapton and Baker went on to another supergroup, Blind Faith, this time with Ric Grech (formerly of Family and Traffic) and Steve Winwood (formerly of the Spencer Davis Group and Traffic). Winwood and Clapton just were jamming one day, and the seed for Blind Faith was planted. The group lasted an even shorter time than Cream, but all members save Clapton went on to form another super group, Ginger Baker’s Air Force. Blind Faith’s version of “Under My Thumb” is a little more groovy than rock heavy. The jam band interlude seals that assertion. Speaking of the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger was briefly in a supergroup, SuperHeavy, with Damian Marley, A.R. Rahman, Dave Steward, and Joss Stone.
Delaney & Bonnie & Friends – Tutti Frutti / The Girl Can’t Help It / Long Tall Sally / Jenny Jenny (Little Richard cover)
Delaney & Bonnie opened for Blind Faith, and Clapton spent more and more time with them during the tour. After Blind Faith broke up, soon after they got started, Clapton joined Delaney & Bonnie & Friends in a supporting role. George Harrison even joined the party for the UK touring. Here they perform a medley of Little Richard covers that you could imagine would be really fun to see live. There are plenty of jamming interludes for the “friends” to show off. Maybe at this point we call Delaney & Bonnie & Friends a supergroup, or maybe we see it as another networking opportunity that would help Clapton form his next supergroup.
Derek and the Dominos – Little Wing (The Jimi Hendrix Experience cover)
After Blind Faith and a brief stint with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Clapton went on to form Derek and the Dominos with Jim Gordon (previously a session drummer and in the backing band of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends), Carl Radle (previously of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends), and Bobby Whitlock (previously of Sam & Dave, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, and Delaney & Bonnie & Friends). Clapton intended “Little Wing” to be a tribute to a living legend, but soon after Derek and the Dominos recorded their cover, Jimi Hendrix passed away. (By the way, Hendrix had at one point tried to form a supergroup himself, with Miles Davis and Paul McCartney.) Amidst other hardships, the group broke up, and Eric Clapton ended up going solo after this final supergroup. The Derek and the Dominos version of “Little Wing” is a pretty faithful rendition. Perhaps it’s just a tad bit more laidback than the original, with slightly drawn-out drum interludes.