Supergroup

Having once written a 26,000-word essay about the greatest classic progressive rock album ever, I know a thing or three about supergroups, since they tend to run rampant in the incestuous English progressive rock community. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were one of the first of the species during the glory years of prog, bringing players from The Nice, King Crimson and Atomic Rooster together to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. Drummer Bill Bruford played with prog titans Yes, King Crimson, and Genesis, before forming his own prog supergroup, U.K., with Eddie Jobson (Roxy Music, Curved Air), Allan Holdworth (Soft Machine, Gong) and John Wetton (Family, King Crimson, Roxy Music, Uriah Heep). One could argue, too, that the classic era of prog actually ended when the prog rock supergroup Asia (featuring Wetton, Steve Howe and Geoff Downes from Yes, and Carl Palmer from the aforementioned ELP) broke big at the top of the pop charts with the decidedly straightforward and non-technical Heat of the Moment.”

Interestingly enough, supergroups like these continue to thrive, some three decades later, with the original members of Asia recently having released what I would judge as their best album ever, XXX (for the record: it’s probably a bad idea to do a Google search for “Asia XXX,” especially on a work computer), and the utterly unexpected and wonderful A Life Within a Day having just been issued by Squackett, featuring Yes bassist Chris Squire and former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. But there’s another supergroup that’s rocking my world most thoroughly this week, featuring longtime David Bowie music director and current Cure lead guitarist Reeves Gabrels, bassist Graham Maby (Joe Jackson, They Might Be Giants, Natalie Merchant, Marshall Crenshaw, etc.), drummer Anton Fig from David Letterman’s “World’s Most Dangerous Band” (as well as KISS and Frehley’s Comet), and singer-keyboardist Jed Davis, hailing from from scenic downtown Albany, New York.

The name of this stellar supergroup? Uhhhhh . . . Jed Davis, and his band.

Jed’s new record with Reeves, Graham and Anton is the tour-de-force Small Sacrifices Must Be Made. It features an awesome cover image of Otto Lilienthal, who has been moving me since I was but a little tiny aviation geek, long appreciating the fact that Otto had to die so that the Wrights could fly. I’ve been listening to the exceptionally prolific Mister Davis since the mid-1990s and I’d rate this new album among his finest recorded offerings to date, which is saying something, if you know his amazing musical back story. Suffice to say that in 1999, 23 artists from around the country covered his songs on the awesome Everybody Wants to Be Like Jed compilation on J-Bird Records. You don’t get a tribute album unless you’ve got chops that move people.

Me talking to Jed at Dreamland Studios, with Chuck Rainey, Jerry Marotta and Sheridan Riley in background. Photo by Bryan Thomas.

The last time I saw Jed in person was when he was tracking a session at Woodstock’s Dreamland Studios with his prior supergroup, Sevendys, which featured bassist Chuck Rainey (who, among zillions of other things, held the bottom down on Steely Dan’s Royal Scam and Aja, which makes him a hero’s hero in my book), percussionist Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel, Hall and Oates, and many others) and Sheridan Riley and Avi Zahner-Isenberg from the explosive Avi Buffalo. While I was there, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Sebastian popped by to bring us all Italian food and to play a guest spot on one of Sevendys’ songs. It was crazy cool, needless to say.

I honestly lose track, sometimes, of all of the amazing supergroups that Jed has organized and directed over the past 20 years, but suffice to say that he is the only human being I know who can lay claim to both fronting the Ramones and directing Jessica Simpson’s band during a Donald Trump-sponsored reality television event. His band Hanslick Rebellion delivered what I consider to be the best live album I have ever heard. The last live concert I saw him play was with Jeebus, which featured the Hanslick Rebellion’s mighty front line, supplemented by the aforementioned Reeves Gabrels and Jeff Buckley/Rufus Wainwright drummer Matt Johnson. It was truly stellar.

Jed Davis is easily one of the finest American songwriters of the past half century. I say that without a shred of hyperbole, having witnessed the power of his words and melodies onstage and on-stereo time and time again, and having watched scores of amazing musicians — famous and not-so-famous alike — lining up to work with him, because the material he creates for them to play is just so . . . damn . . . GOOD!!!!

Small Sacrifices Must Be Made is a supergroup super album that deserves your attention, so I’m recommending that you go ahead and click on the image of Otto below and go grab this baby, because until you hear from Jed what happens when you ride the party bus, or what’s contained in the “Secret Prestrictions from the Past” notebook then, well, your life is just going to be lacking in ways that it needn’t be. Get on it.

About J. Eric Smith
Executive Director, Salisbury House Foundation.

One Response to Supergroup

  1. I finally bought and gave this a spin last night. Premature evaluation is that I absolutely adored it.

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