11.20.2014

The Christian Music Supergroup

The release of Steve Taylor & the Perfect Foil's new album Goliath has got me thinking of an interesting phenomenon in the music world: SUPERGROUPS


For those that don't know these are bands that consist of members gathered from other bands or solo acts that have found significant success elsewhere. In other words, they consist of already famous or highly accomplished musicians whose very forming as a band draws attention to itself due the the high profiles of its members. As an example, Crosby, Stills, and Nash became a supergroup when Neil Young joined them to become CSNY. A few recent examples would be Them Crooked Vultures, Monsters of Folk, Broken Bells and Atoms For Peace. Essentially these are the kinds of groups that when they form, people are often left saying "I can't believe all those people formed a band together. It's going to be incredible."

This is exactly what I said when I heard Steve Taylor had formed a new band and was putting out a new album. After I got over the initial shock that he was finally putting out a new record (after over 20 years!), I then moved on to the shock of who exactly was in his band. For starters, there's Peter Furler (drums) who was the founder, drummer, lead singer, and chief songwriter of Newsboys (with whom Steve Taylor had been a long time co-writer and producer for). Then there was Jimmy Abegg (guitars), who not only is an artist in his own right, but has played for such renown acts as Charlie Peacock and Rich Mullins (as a member of the Ragamuffin Band). Finally there was John Mark Painter (bass, horns, everything else), the gratuitously multi-instrumentalist and one half of the woefully short-lived band Fleming & John. Despite the fact that all the guys in the band have primarily subsisted within the Christian music industry throughout their careers (with the exception perhaps of Painter), as soon as I heard they had gotten together I thought "That right there is a genuINE bonafide SUPERGROUP!" Every single member of The Perfect foil is a virtuoso of their craft even if none of them are household names to the general public.

And this got me thinking: What other "Christian" supergroups have existed before?

There are plenty of examples in the mainstream music industry but what about within the realm of CCM? Once I got to thinking about it I came up with a lot of them and thought it would be fun to share the list.

Supergroups are somewhat notorious for actually being not that good. There's a built-in letdown to the very concept. In our heads we add together the greatness of 4 great rock bands and think whatever they come up with will be mind-blowing cutting edge stuff, but what we don't realize is the original bands we've come to love the most and who've created the most compelling music over the years have a synergy together that often can't be matched by simply adding together the separate parts of those bands. In other words, when it comes to the most revered bands throughout history the unique bonds those particular musicians and songwriters have together are what made them great in the first place and not the quantitative sum of their parts. You can take a member from Radiohead, Queen, Arcade Fire, and The Talking Heads and put them in a band but if they don't have any chemistry, good luck in making music people want to listen to.

Analysis aside, here's my list of SUPERGROUPS that have come out of CCM, that is, the Christian music industry:


Chagall Guevara
Since we started out talking about Steve Taylor, let's talk about his little 1-album band that has achieved frothing-at-the-mouth cult-like status over the years. A gloriously naive attempt (in retrospect) by a bunch of CCM industry veterans to break into the secular music industry by making "revolutionary art", the band, besides Taylor, consisted of Mike Mead (drums), Dave Perkins (guitars), Lynn Nichols (guitars), and Wade Jaynes, all of whom were well known as Nashville session players and producers, having featured prominently on a number of Phil Keaggy records. Perkins and Nichols went on to form a semi-supergroup, called Passafist.

Here's their one and only video, of the song "Violent Blue:





Since I mentioned that Chagall Guevara was basically Phil Keaggy's studio/touring band, let's talk about some more Phil Keaggy related supergroups. The web is wide.

Keaggy, King, Dente
Keaggy, King, and Dente were an actual bonafide 1 album supergroup, from their original intention all the way down to their musical collaboration. The 3 main members of the band were/are all renowned as songwriters and guitar players (Phil Keaggy, the elder master statesman, Wes King an established solo artist, and Scott Dente, the other half of the husband and wife duo Out of the Grey). The result is a whole lot of fun rock music with lots of chunky guitar work. You can tell the guys were enjoying themselves trying to outdo each other in the studio, in a humble Christianly sort of way, of course.

Kennedy, Kirkpatrick, Madiera and Sprague
This is another literal supergroup formed specifically to do a one-off special album called Coming From Somewhere Else. All four members of the band (Gordon Kennedy, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Phil Madiera, and Billy Sprague) are all incredibly well-known both as Nashville studio/touring musicians and behind the scenes songwriters for prominent pop acts. The concept of the album, which is mostly excellent, is they would come together to record a bunch of songs made famous by other artists, songs they rarely ever received credit for in the public eye. I'll let you figure out who did what for whom, but the list of people they have written for over the years includes Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Garth Brooks, Susan Ashton, Eric Clapton, Phil Keaggy, Gary Chapman, Sandi Patti, and PFR.


Honorable Mention: Dogs of Peace
Speaking of PFR, let's talk about Dogs of Peace, which contains Jimmy Lee Sloas, a renowned producer and bass player, and Gordon Kennedy, who was in the group mentioned above. Sloas produced and played on PFR's early records and Kennedy wrote and played on some of the songs. Though only releasing one album together in the 90's, they are supposedly finishing up a new album any minute now. The band also contained Blair Masters and John Hammond who are themselves renowned Nashville composers/musicians/producers/etc.


Michael Card and John Michael Talbot
Michael Card and John Michael Talbot are longtime Christian folk musicians, known as consummate songwriters and, at least in the case of Talbot, incredible guitarists (I highly recommend you listen to Talbots early albums to hear his skill at work). The two did a proper album together with Brother to Brother in 1996 and reunited for one song (and also with Phil Keaggy!) on 1999's Cave of the Heart.


Ashton Becker Dente: 
The sole female group I could think of
In 1994 three of CCM's most prominent female singers recorded their own album together (Along the Road) under the moniker Ashton Becker Dente. Personally, it's been years since I've heard these songs, but from what I remember this was an excellent folk/country tinged album, especially the single "Taking My Time". And again, many of the same players and songwriters listed in the groups above also contributed to this album.



Honorable Mention: How the West Was Won—featuring Phil Keaggy, 2nd Chapter of Acts, and their backing band, known as "a band called David"
In our final Phil Keaggy releated selection let's zero in on 1977's Phil Keaggy and 2nd Chapter of Acts triple LP live album How the West Was Won, where they would trade off accompanying the other groups songs. While not an official band, the fact that the music is a coming together of two CCM superpowers, definitely sends this album into the supergroup category.


DCTalk: a supergroup in reverse
What an odd history the members of DC Talk have erected for themselves in the years since disbanding. It's actually rather hard to tell where the supergroup lies: is it Michael Tait's re-imagined incarnation of Newsboys, Kevin Max's resurrection of Audio Adrenaline, or DC Talk itself which contained Toby Mac, who's had a hugely successful solo career? For me, the only supergroup here is the original Two Honks and a Negro, the legendary Toby, Mike, and Kevin.



Honorable mention: Zilch/Sonicflood—DC Talk's backing band
While we're focused on DC Talk it's worth mentioning Zilch, a short-lived but fun side project or should I say spinoff from the band. Basically, the guys in DC Talk's touring band decided to form their own band and they ended up recording one quirky power-pop/rock album together (Plantinum), before their record label steered them into becoming a "worship" band. They changed their name to Sonicflood and went on to release a massively successful praise and worship album. Zilch, however, somewhat fits into the supergroup eschalon because of it's members: singer/guitarist Mark Lee Townsend has been in several bands over the years and is an accomplished producer (notably for Relient K). Bass player Otto "Sugar Bear" Price is just a plain old amazing bass player (he produces as well). Keyboardist Jason Halbert has played keys on numerous records over the years, including composing/producing/recording for Kelly Clarkson.  Oh, and did I mention these guys played for DC Talk for basically a decade? 

Way back in the late 90's I actually saw Zilch perform. They came to Peoria, IL for the annual area wide "See You At The Pole" concert. Looking back, it was a great concert, and yet bizarre to see these guys who were used to backing CCM's biggest band.

The Lost Dogs
The Lost Dogs are another genuine supergroup. Though each band these guys represent are not exactly my favorite, musically speaking, Lost Dogs really has a monster lineup, consisting of Terry Scott Taylor (Daniel Amos), Michael Roe (The 77's), and Steve Hindalong and Derri Daugherty (both of The Choir). Gene Eugene (Adam Again and The Swirling Eddies, the latter of which could be an honorable mention supergroup) was also in the band before he passed away in the year 2000. Of all the supergroups on this list Lost Dogs have been the most enduring, recording 10 or so albums together since forming in the early 90's. For some "Christian" music fans this band in the ultimate "Christian" music supergroup.


Rich Mullins and the Ragamuffins
I would be remiss to not mention my favorite "Christian" supergroup, Rich Mullins' backing band, the Ragamuffins or The Ragamuffin Band as they are sometimes known. Now, the most established version of this band contained Rick Elias, Mark Robertson, Jimmy Abegg, and Aaron Smith, who went on to record an album sans Mullins after his death. I'm not going to get into what all those guys did individually as musicians, but you should look them up if you don't know who they are. Throughout the years, Mullins' band also contained a rotating number of other renowned members, including David Strasser (or "Beaker") who co-wrote many songs with Mullins, Billy Crocket, Lee Lundgren, Phil Madeira, and later on Mitch McVicker, Eric Hauck, Michael Aukofer, and Cobra Joe from This Train

Honorable Mention: Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God and annual Christmas tour
In 2004 Andrew Peterson released his acclaimed Behold the Lamb of God Advent/Christmas album. The album itself features a who's who of Christian musicians but every year since then Andy has taken the album on tour with a great backing band, culminating in a final performance at the Ryman Auditorium. Among others, the band has consisted of Bebo Norman, Jill Phillips, Andy Gullahorn, Andrew Osenga, Ben Shive, Gabe Scott, Cason Cooley, Todd Bragg, and Garret Buell over the years. Though not a proper band in and of itself, they definitely deserve the supergroup status.



Honorable mentions: 
Worship artists as supergroups:
Those who listen to "worship" music may not realize what they're hearing is a result of the collaborations between different types of supergroups. Allow me to explain.



Vineyard/Jesus Culture/Bethel Music/Hillsong and others
Many of the most popular and enduring worship albums are live albums consisting of huge teams of musicians and songwriters. Vineyard somewhat set the standard for this on their albums from the 90's Live From London and Hungry, which included songs from such well-renowned song leaders and writers as Brian Doerksen, Brenton Brown, Kathryn Scott, Vicky Beeching, Marie Barnett (of course there were many other similarly formed albums in the Winds of Worship series, which contained songwriters and leaders like Kevin Prosch, Andy Park, and David Ruis). Hillsong continued on with this type of event album which are highly collaborative and often recorded over a number of live sessions.

Songwriting collaborators: Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Jonas Myrin, Martin Smith, Reuben Morgan, Matt Maher, etc
You'll notice, if you look closely at a number of contemporary worship songs, that the artist known for making the song the most popular is not the sole songwriter. Take "Our God" for instance, which is basically known as a Chris Tomlin song but was co-written with Matt Redman, Jonas Myrin (a longtime co-writer with Redman), and Jesse Reeves (a longtime member of Tomlin's band). That's a supergroup right there if you ask me. And you'll find similar collaborations going on in many other worship songs if you look at the fine print. 

One Sonic Society
This worship band consists of a noted songwriter and solo act (Jason Ingram), two former members of Delirious (Stu Garrard and Jon Thatcher, who is no longer in the band), and a drummer from Hillsong UNITED (Paul Mabury).


NOTE: This is a working list and all qualifying suggestions will be added

___________________________________________________
Related Articles:
Steve Taylor Helped Me Grow Up
PostHumous Record Review: This Train's The Emperor's New Band and Mimes of the Old West
Why I Cringe Everytime Someone Says "I hate Christian music"


6 comments:

Nick said...

Crosby, Stills, & Nash were already a supergroup before Neil Young joined. All three were in huge bands - David Crosby in the Byrds, Stephen Stills in Buffalo Springfield, and Graham Nash in the Hollies.

Jake T said...

Wow--I didn't know Passafist was a thing! I just thought it was something weird that Kevin Max dreamed up so he could do the weirdest (and by far, the best) song on the Petra tribute album, Never Say Dinosaur.

Chris Marchand said...

Nick, you're absolutely right. Thanks for the comment.

Jake, I didn't know either until I looked into it at the sockheaven.net site.

Anonymous said...

King James should surely get a mention.

Nathan Garcia said...

Stavesacre, would qualify, I'd say. Maybe not specifically CCM, when members of the Crucified (easily one of the most respected Christian punk/hardcore of the late 80s early 90s) joins forces with members of Focused, the Blamed (and later Scaterd Few... another Pioneering Christian punk band) I think it's cause to notice. They've put out some great albums.

SammyBoy said...

One of the first supergroups can't be considered "CCM", but the Southern Gospel group The Imperials were originally a supergroup of already accomplished and immensely popular Southern Gospel guys from different SG groups. For many years, they repeatedly reformed around a couple of mainstays (Jim Murray and Armond Morales), bringing in other accomplished solo and group artists to round out the group (Sherman Andrus, Terry Blackwood, Russ Taff, Paul Smith).