The Special Sauce Of Supergroups: ‘One Plus One Equals Three’

Queen The Rapsody Tour
Adam Lambert + Queen take the stage at Accor Arena in Paris on July 13, 2022.
Photo by Paul Charbit / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images

Whether we’re talking about superheroes, supermodels, superstars or supersize fries at McDonald’s (RIP), it’s clear these are no ordinary mortals or snacks. And the same goes for supergroups – bands deemed worthy of the title are assumed to be exceptional because of the members’ prior accomplishments and the thrill of the combined star power.

There’s some debate about what a supergroup means but for the purpose of this article, let’s go with a music group made up of members who first made a name for themselves as solo artists or in other well-known groups.

“I think it’s a little bit silly but totally fine. I think we didn’t want ‘side project’ to be what people called it because that feels diminutive,” Lucy Dacus says of the indie rock trio boygenius – made up of Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker – being referred to as a supergroup (see cover story here).

Baker adds, “It does seem like it’s a loaded moniker to put on a project, because you’re nominally associating it with, like, The Yardbirds. … I think of us just as a band. … I just think of us as a capital-b Band and that’s my favorite part of being in it.”

Of course, rather than being a supergroup made up of already famous musicians, the English rock band The Yardbirds served as a launching pad for the careers of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, with Beck becoming the guitar hero known as Jeff Beck, Page forming Led Zeppelin and Clapton going on to launch the supergroups Cream and Blind Faith.

Many music lovers point to Traveling Wilburys as the utmost supergroup with the phenomenal grouping of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty.

Petty explained in the 2005 book “Conversations with Tom Petty,” by Paul Zollo, that the members wanted to create something light that warmed the heart: “We wanted to make something good in a world that seemed to get uglier and uglier and meaner and meaner. The Wilburys was this nice friendly thing. And I’m really proud that I was part of it. Because I do think that it brought a little sunshine into the world.”

The only bummer about the Wilburys is that they never actually traveled, with two studio albums to their name and not a single tour.

The 1960s saw plenty of rock supergroups pop up including Cream; Blind Faith; and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young) with later decades boasting Tin Machine, Temple Of The Dog and Foo Fighters but the collaborations extend far beyond the genre including classical with The Three Tenors, hip-hop’s Run The Jewels and Prophets Of Rage, EDM’s Swedish House Mafia and country’s Pistol Annies and The Highwomen (with the group’s Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires paying homage to The Highwaymen featuring Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson).

“People love seeing something new and different. When you can see your favorite artist playing with someone they’ve never played before – more than just one song, a set of it – it’s very special,” says independent music entrepreneur Peter Shapiro, founder of Dayglo Ventures, who helped bring together special combination of musicians as executive producer of seven Jammy Awards shows.

Shapiro is behind another type of supergroup of sorts, getting the surviving members of the Grateful Dead – Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann – to reunite for the 2015 series of “Fare Thee Well” shows at Santa Clara’s Levi Stadium and Chicago’s Soldier Field along with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and keyboard players Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti.

A few months after the “Fare Thee Well” shows, John Mayer took the stage at New York’s Madison Square Garden with Weir, Hart and Kreutzmann along with Chimenti and multi-instrumentalist Oteil Burbridge for the debut of Dead & Company. The band has been touring ever since, including the 2022 trek ranking No. 45 on Pollstar’s Year End Top Tours Worldwide Chart with $45.9 million grossed. Dead & Company’s final tour begins May 19 at the Kia Forum in Inglewood, California.

Pairing Mayer with members of the Grateful Dead has helped introduce the band’s music to a younger audience.

“One plus one, it’s three – that’s the goal of a supergroup … adding this all together [there’s] just a little extra special sauce,” Shapiro says.

CAA’s Chris Dalston, agent for Queen + Adam Lambert, explains that to him, “a supergroup is a collection of great musicians that come together for a specific project” – and that the group featuring Lambert and Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor joined together over a period of time and is more “of a collection of superstars than a supergroup.”

Dalston came onboard as the agent for Queen at the end of the Paul Rodgers era when nobody knew if Queen would tour again.

However their collaboration is labeled, fans have embraced Queen + Adam Lambert with Dalston noting, “Adam is a superb frontman and at the start of the show he says that he himself was a Freddie fan and while he will never be replaced, he will do his best so that you enjoy the show. It’s a brilliant move that is both genuine and accurate. I have been around the band for many years and the respect for each other is incredible and heartfelt.”
Queen + Adam Lambert ranked No. 47 on Pollstar’s 2022 Top Tours Worldwide chart with a gross of $44.7 million. The band returns to the road this fall as “The Rhapsody Tour” continues, starting with two nights at the CFG Bank Arena in Baltimore Oct. 4-5.