Support Staff: 10 Of Pop History's Greatest Backing Bands
Being behind the scenes is what most musicians who don't write songs or sing expect of their lives once they start seriously playing. A career backing someone up can be extremely rewarding, particularly if you are part of a transcendent group of musicians that goes from simply backing up an artist into its own entity.
Over the years, a number of formidable stand-alone groups of musicians have emerged from the shadows of their superstar front men and women. Some of them are identified almost entirely with a single artist; some came together for a brief but magical period of time. Whatever the case, they went beyond simply a bunch of hired guns to a presence that gained a life of its own.
Here are 10 examples.
The Most Dangerous Band in the World
In the early (pre-CBS) years of Late Night With David Letterman, a core group of talented musicians including Will Lee (bass), Anton Fig (drums) and Sid McGinnis (guitar) -- the first year featured Hiram Bullock on guitar and Steve Jordan on drums -- were hired to work with music director Paul Shaffer in what would become one of the most coveted gigs in music.
Every night, not only did this group of killer session musicians play great music on a popular late-night television show, but they got to back up some of the world's finest artists. They are still a bunch of great musicians, but the magic seemed to fade a bit after they left NBC and added a horn section. The video above is a guest appearance by original guitarist Bullock and frequent sit-in saxophone player David Sanborn.
Sting's Bring On the Night Band
Whatever you think of Sting and his music, when he decided to go solo, he assembled one of the most talented groups of musicians ever to take on pop. A veritable who's who list of young jazz musicians, it was the antithesis of the Police and maybe that was the point.
Featuring Darryl Jones (bass - Miles Davis), Omar Hakim (drums - Weather Report), Brandford Marsalis (saxophone - Art Blakey) and the late Kenny Kirkland (keyboards - Dizzy Gillespie), the band recorded Sting's first solo release Dream of the Blue Turtles and the live album Bring On the Night.
The entire formation of the band was chronicled in the documentary named after the live record. Sting would move on to play with a number of other brilliant musicians, but there was never a better assemblage of talent behind him than this band. Skip to 3:30 on the video above and see what I mean.
The John Mayer Trio
When someone told me that John Mayer had done a blues rock record, I scoffed. I didn't hate his early records, but they were ineffectual at best and I didn't even know he had real chops as a guitarist. When I saw the rhythm section credits, I gave it a listen and was shocked to hear something with that level of groove coming from Mayer.
This may be more of a back up rhythm section than a band since Mayer is the guitarist, but when that includes legendary pop and r&b drummer Steve Jordan as well as one of the great underrated bass players of the last 20 years, Pino Palladino (he now fills John Entwistle's considerable shoes in the Who), it demands respect.