While we like to focus on the person with the famous name standing at the front of the stage, the most successful artists will tell you they are nothing without the people around them. No matter how great a player, singer, or entertainer, the greatness of anyone’s music comes from the collective effort of a few very talented, very in sync individuals. In essence, no man is an island.
In this article, we’re taking a closer look at those musical soldiers doing their best to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band
In 1973 when Bruce was about to record his debut album, he put together a group of musicians to back him. The original lineup consisted of Danny Federici (organ/accordion), Vini Lopez (drums), David Sancious (keyboards) and Garry Tallent (bass/tuba). Those guys would become known as The E Street Band—a reference to Sancious’ house on E Street in Belmar, N.J. where the band rehearsed.
The E Street Band has gone through numerous changes and iterations through its long tenure. It’s included Max Weinberg who went on to late night notoriety, and Steve Van Zandt, who later became a successful actor on The Sopranos and other film/television projects. Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine even filled in on an Australian tour in 2013-14. Through all the years, only Garry Tallent has remained a constant, in addition to Bruce himself. Nonetheless, the E Street Band has always been an incredibly solid backbone for The Boss. And in a particularly poetic chapter of their saga, Bruce Springsteen inducted The E Street Band into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.
Bobby Marley and The Wailers
As the quintessential reggae band behind the quintessential reggae artist, the roots of the The Wailers began in the early ’60s. From 1963 through the early ’70s, Bob Marley was a member of The Wailers, with two other legendary musicians and Rastafarians, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh. After the original Wailers disbanded in 1974, each of these three would go on to be well-regarded and prominent artists in their own right, though The Wailer moniker stayed with Bob Marley’s backing band.
Bursting with soulful reggae style, the original Wailers featured gorgeous backing vocals from “I Three,” separate percussion and drums from Carly Barrett and Seeco Patterson respectively, and organ and keyboards from Way Lindo and Natty Winter. From the mid-’70s until the end of Bob’s life, The Wailers’ timeless, chill vibes were the foundation of Bob Marley’s recording and touring. After Bob’s untimely passing in 1981, bassist Aston “Familyman” Barrett continued to lead The Wailers onward on their musical journey, honoring Bob’s request to live on through music. Today, you can still see The Wailers perform live, with a lineup that spans generations and music comprised of decades of inspirational reggae.
Joan Jett and The Blackhearts
Rock n’ Roll’s original bad girl, Joan Jett, has fronted her famous band since the early ’80s, with a captivating medusa stare and punk attitude. After her first group, The Runaways, disbanded, Joan wasted no time in finding another outfit that could suit her tenacious sound. Jett recruited Ricky Byrd on guitar, Gary Ryan on bass, and the late Lee Crystal on drums. The group also encompassed Kenny Laguna as a songwriter and producer.
The Blackhearts recorded their first album together in 1982, with a title that needs no introduction – I love Rock ‘n Roll. The single was a major hit, landing at No. 7 on the Billboard charts and giving rise to an iconic black & white music video. While some members have come and gone over the years, Joan’s incredible talent remains at the soul of the blackhearts, along with help from Kenny Laguna.
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
One of the most iconic bands in American classic rock, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers endeared audiences non-stop for well over 40 years, until Tom’s passing in 2017. The Heartbreakers’ accessible sound was a fine mixture of classic rock guitar, folk song writing, and nostalgic Americana subject matter. While Tom was always at the helm, his trusted band remained steady and reliable throughout their tenure in the music world.
Petty began the crux of his career when he moved from Gainesville, Florida, to Los Angeles in the mid-’70s. With him at the genesis was guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Trench, both from his former band Mudcrutch. Two other Gainesville-ites rounded out The Heartbreakers—Ron Blair on bass and Stan Lynch on drums. The group began by putting out a solidly-built debut record, but America didn’t take to them right away. So The Heartbreakers traveled to London, where success began to greet them. Of course, the states soon followed suit. “Breakdown” hit the top 40 a bit over a year after the record was released.
The lineup of the Heartbreakers was relatively consistent up until Petty’s passing, with Mike Campbell and Benmont Trench still in the fray, and only a few rotations on the other instruments over the years. Bassist Howie Epstein was with the band from 1981 until his passing in 2003 and drummer Steve Ferrone was in the band since 1994. Before Petty’s passing, the band had every intention of keeping the journey alive, recording more and going on tour. Since Tom’s passing, the remaining members are committed to doing everything they can to honor the man that made them The Heartbreakers.
Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention
Not just a catchy line from the infamous song “Smoke on the Water,” Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention were pioneers of progressive rock. Never afraid to experiment with odd time signatures, riffs, and compositions, Frank’s backing band was faithfully experimental right along with the maestro himself. The initial iteration of The Mothers included Ray Collins, Roy Estrada, and Jimmy Carl Black. The lineup released their debut double album Freak Out! in 1966. They followed with Absolutely Free in 1967. The original lineup of The Mothers disbanded after releasing Uncle Meat in 1969.
Frank would revive The Mothers in 1970, with a very different lineup. Over the next few decades, The Mothers, in all its forms, would find niche success and acclaim with their unique brand of music. From wild tour incidents to film scores, Frank Zappa and The Mothers gave the music world plenty to hold onto. The last Mothers’ album, Bongo Fury, came out in 1975, though in 1993, Frank released Ahead of Their Time—a collection of previously recorded tracks by the original Mothers of Invention. Though Frank passed later that year, his legacy and that of The Mothers of Invention, is carried on by his son.