Some bands are so legendary their names have been written into music folklore, but even our musical icons can’t always go it alone. Some need, or perhaps just want, a supremely talented band at their side to take just a little bit of that pressure off.
Keeping up with artists like Bowie and Prince, however, isn’t the easiest thing to do, and demands a backing band just as talented and incredible to watch as the one in the spotlight – and this is where some of the most skilled musicians in the world come together to make a name of their own.
We’re looking at some of the most impressive and well-known backing bands who deserve as much love and respect as their star attractions.
The New Power Generation
Prince was a musical enigma, full of talent and charisma, and always one who loved working with an array of hugely talented musicians – even helping to push their own careers along on the side. Going solo after the dissolution of his first backing band, The Revolution, Prince soon realised he needed a gang of musicians by his side again, and formed the brilliant sequel.
The New Power Generation appeared on some of his most famous albums, including the enigmatically-titled Love Symbol Album (the one with the symbol on the cover), and played on hits like ‘Cream’, ‘Gett Off’, and ‘Sexy MF’. They were also the band who played on Prince’s final album before his death, Hit n Run: Phase Two, and now fly the flag for Prince’s entire discography with their live show.
Prince’s New Power Generation even had their own anthem
The Wailers originally began as a regular band between Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, and Bob Marley in the early ’60s, but after years of playing the Jamaican music scene, soon began to acquire some international recognition. By the early ’70s, Bob Marley had become the group’s leader and adopted them as his backing band.
With a knack for crafting some of the finest reggae tunes ever crafted, The Wailers deservedly take the place as one of the great backing bands of all time.
When Bob Dylan needed some musicians for a US tour in 1965, he recruited a group of Canadian musicians as his band. Following a couple of successful tours, and a series of recordings known as The Basement Tapes, the band decided to go off on their own and do their own thing. But what do they call themselves?
Having been previously billed as Bob Dylan and the Band, the group adopted the slightly tongue-in-cheek moniker of The Band. The name served them well though, and Levon Helm and co. embarked upon a ‘solo’ career that would see them release numerous albums, perform countless tunes, and even inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. Not bad for a backing band, eh?
Forming in 1963 as Danny & The Memories, this group soon evolved into The Rockets, who happened to run into Neil Young while he was still with Buffalo Springfield. in 1969, The Rockets met up with Neil Young again, who was this time looking for a new band to jam with. Months later, Neil Young released his second studio record, the fantastic Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, which featured the newly-renamed Crazy Horse as the backing band.
Over the years, Neil Young and Crazy Horse would frequently collaborate, with both artists releasing albums without the other infrequently. Sadly, despite holding a vast amount of talent, Crazy Horse have never seen the same level of fame without Neil Young as they should. Regardless, their influence was far-reaching, with one of their songs even being quoted by Kurt Cobain in his suicide note.
The Mothers Of Invention
The Mothers Of Invention first formed back in 1964 as a way for a group of experimental musicians to get together and jam. Following some in-fighting, the soon-to-be-legendary Frank Zappa was bought in as bandleader. Almost instantly, Zappa’s eclectic influence and style managed to unite the group into providing some of the most experimental and avant-garde music ever heard by anyone.
As the years went by, The Mothers Of Invention had sporadic periods of inactivity, eventually breaking up in 1975. While Frank Zappa would go on to have a solo career which would see him become one of the most prolific musicians, diehard fans will never forget just where he got his start.
The Bad Seeds
Arguably one of the most famous backing bands to come from Australia, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds are also one of the most beloved. Formed in Melbourne in 1983 after the dissolution of Cave’s former band, The Birthday Party, The Bad Seeds were made up of Cave’s contemporaries, and has consisted of members from bands as varied and eclectic as Magazine, Dirty Three, The Saints, Einstürzende Neubauten, and The Triffids.
While the lineup of The Bad Seeds has remained relatively consistent over the last few decades, the group has always been a living and breathing entity, evolving as needed to fit the sound and approach of their current albums and touring schedule.
The E Street Band
Easily one of the better-known backing bands of all time, Bruce Springsteen‘s E Street Band are another one of those groups whose members are so prolific and talented that almost every member has their own solo career in one way or another. Backing Springsteen since his 1972 debut, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., the group weren’t formally named until 1974, just in time for Springsteen’s breakthrough record, Born To Run.
Backing Bruce Springsteen relatively consistently ever since (save for a few years, and albums such as the breathtaking Nebraska), The E Street Band have since become known as one of the greatest backing bands ever, with almost all of its members being in high demand for session work with some of music’s biggest names. Bruce Springsteen sure knows how to pick ’em.
Originally formed as The Drifters, The Shadows were created for the sole purpose of being the backing band of English singer Cliff Richard. After ten years in this role, the group split up, but decided to reform another five years later, making them one of the first backing bands to become famous in their own right.
Spending the vast majority of their career performing instrumental numbers, The Shadows have remained highly influential due to their impact on almost every genre of guitar music, with bandleader Hank Marvin frequently cited as one of the greatest guitarists ever.
A few years back, the rock music world was shaken with the news of Tom Petty’s death. A consummate musician, much of Tom Petty’s professional life saw him as the frontman for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Forming in 1976, the group would go on to be one of the most famous members of the ‘blue-collar rock’ movement that sprung up in the ’70s.
With countless singles and albums between them, Tom Petty also went solo on a few occasions, with members of the group helping to provide session musician work, as well as helping to produce the records, proving that The Heartbreakers were less of a band, and more of a family.
The Spiders From Mars
The Spiders From Mars might not be one of the best-known backing bands, but they definitely have the distinction of being one of the most talented. Formed as David Bowie’s backing band for his Hunky Dory, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, and Aladdin Sane albums, the group consisted of the likes of Mick Ronson and Trevor Bolder.
While the group didn’t last for too long, they released a self-titled album in 1976, but without Mick Ronson in the fold this time around, they lacked the star power that their previous lineup did.