Fantasy Band Battle: Our Writers Create and Dissect Five Very Different Groups
If you could put together your dream rock and roll group, which musicians would you choose? We posed that question to our staff, and they created five very different fantasy bands.
The rules were simple: We took turns choosing any musician, living or dead, from any genre, in a five-round draft. But once somebody was picked, they were no longer available for anybody else. Plus, nobody could pick two members from the same band. Once the selections were made, we had each reporter discuss their band, the pitfalls they could encounter and which songs or albums they would like to hear them record. Then we took turns ranking and dissecting each other's fantasy bands.
1. Who’s in your band, and in what order did you pick them?
Rob Smith: My band, which I call Vertigo Wave (because my first choice, R.O.B. Speedwagon is already somewhat taken), consists of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell on vocals, Slash on lead guitar, Bobby Chouinard (of Billy Squier’s band) on drums, Deep Purple’s Jon Lord on keyboards and Marco Mendoza of every other hard rock band of the last 15 years on bass. I picked them in this order because I foolishly thought someone else in the group might want Cornell or Slash, and because I knew none of them would consider the final three because they weren’t Beatles or R&B session musicians.
Michael Gallucci: Bassist James Jamerson, guitarist Duane Allman, keyboardist Al Kooper, drummer Gene Chrisman and singer Harry Nilsson.
Dave Lifton: I chose Bruce Springsteen (vocals, guitar, songwriting), followed by Mike Campbell (guitar), Jim Keltner (drums), Carol Kaye (bass) and Barry Beckett (keyboards).
Matthew Wilkening: Prince (whatever), John Bonham (drums), Eddie Van Halen (guitar, keyboards), the Melvins' Buzz Osbourne (guitar / vocals), and Pepper Keenan from Corrosion of Conformity and Down (guitar / vocals, maybe bass).
Nick DeRiso: Freddie Mercury (vocals), Eric Clapton (guitar, vocals), Paul McCartney (bass, vocals), Stewart Copeland (drums), Gregg Allman (keyboards, vocals) – in that order.
2. What made you choose this collection of musicians?
Smith: I wanted to make an arena rock juggernaut, so I needed someone with a voice that could fill those big spaces, and Cornell was the obvious candidate. Same with the guitar; Slash is a fine soloist and a riff-master with few peers. In Chouinard, I have the American John Bonham at my disposal (which begs the question, why didn’t I choose the British John Bonham, a.k.a., John Bonham? My answer is simple: the British John Bonham did many amazing things, but he didn’t record “The Stroke.” And I love “The Stroke.”). I needed a very Jon Lord-ish keyboard player, so I picked Jon Lord by a mustache whisker over Don Airey, who’s currently in Deep Purple playing Lord’s stuff, AND who also played with Ozzy Osbourne. And Mendoza is a versatile musician and a rock singer himself, and I needed background vocals that could stand with Cornell’s lead. I think this group, were they all alive, could actually be in a band together and be really good.
Gallucci: I'm going for a band of versatile pros who can swing through genres -- rock, soul, pop -- with ease. So I picked guys, for the most part, capable of this. Most of them were session musicians -- Jamerson was the anchor at Motown's house band, Kooper has recorded with everyone from Bob Dylan to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Chrisman's playing on Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" may be the best drum song ever -- not in the least bit showy, but every one of his fills stands out.
Lifton: Bruce Springsteen got a lot of flack for the musicians he chose when he fired the E Street Band and recorded and toured with studio pros. So I wanted to create a group that could have done a much better job in their place. As a nod to the dismissive name given to the group he put together for that tour, I'm calling them the New Other Band.
These musicians earned their reputation because, first and foremost, they support the song. Campbell's such a master of tone and economy that he can give Bruce whatever he needs. Plus, he can contribute to the songwriting and trade guitar lines onstage. Kaye and Keltner, L.A. studio pros of different eras, would make a killer rhythm section, and Beckett's there to add some country-soul into the mix. Maybe this approach, favoring taste, came at the expense of some instrumental flash, but my only regret is that I realized late that I don't have anybody to sing backup and/or play a horn.
Wilkening: It's the greatest drummer in rock history, the main creative and songwriting forces from three of my favorite hard rock bands, and Prince, the most uniquely and amazingly talented musician of my lifetime. Even though he was drafted first, the key here would be for Prince to take a back seat and truly let the other guys pull him out of his normal sounds and methods. Every few years you'd get word that he was really making a full-on rock guitar record, but with the possible exception of The Undertaker, it never really left pop music behind enough for the metalhead in me. He wouldn't have much choice, with this group.
DeRiso: I managed this draft like a modern-day pro club – based on the best player still on the board. I wasn't necessarily trying for a certain sound, though the additions of Clapton and Allman give the new-found group a soulful lean.
3. What pitfalls could your band encounter?
Smith: Well … the fact that three of the guys are dead does put a damper on things. Cornell and Slash worked together previously, so they should have an easy rapport, and they’ll both dig Chouinard once they hear him play and realize who he is. Mendoza has played in enough bands that you think he either gets along really well with other musicians, or he really doesn’t get along very well with other musicians. The odd man out here is Lord, who was older than these guys by a good bit and maybe a little reticent to bond with them. But he’d tell some awesome stories.
Gallucci: Nilsson was a notorious drinker (not to mention stage shy), so for those presumed times he's unable to perform, I'd bring in some of my backups, including Dusty Springfield, Steve Winwood and David Bowie.
Lifton: Campbell has been such a great collaborator with Petty and his other projects that the notoriously controlling Springsteen might shut him out of the songwriting process and take the bulk of the solos. My guess is that, as a hired gun, he'd suppress his frustration and do what's best for the project, but he wouldn't like it too much. And let's not forget Bruce's habit of cheating on his wife with women in the band...
Wilkening: Prince sitting in the corner all day and then recording a double album of soul ballads overnight while the rest of the band was asleep. Too many alpha dogs? Incompatible styles? We don't have a full-time bass player, although Keenan auditioned for that spot in Metallica and Prince could absolutely handle that too. So yeah, a lot could go wrong. But we're supposed to be fantasizing, right?
DeRiso: Though they were never known as blues guys, there's nothing that Freddie Mercury can't sing, and not much that Stewart Copeland and Paul McCartney can't play. I think McCartney would be fine with Mercury's more overt Broadway-ish leanings, but I'm not sure about some of the other guys.
4. Which famous song or album would you most like to hear your newly created band cover?
Smith: I want to hear this band play Deep Purple’s “Perfect Strangers.” I think that would kill. Other potential covers might include Zeppelin’s “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid” and “Communication Breakdown,” Soundgarden’s “Pretty Noose,” and, because Cornell loved quirky covers, Badfinger/Nilsson’s “Without You,” done in the style of Nazareth’s “Love Hurts.”
Gallucci: Something from Dusty Springfield's classic Dusty in Memphis album -- the record I was thinking of when I put together this soulful band. You can go for "Son of a Preacher Man," which everyone knows, but I'm cool with "I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore" or "Breakfast in Bed" too.
Lifton: I'd love to hear them tackle the Southern soul standard "The Dark End of the Street' by Dan Penn and Chips Moman. After that, they should re-record the best songs on Human Touch and Lucky Town.
Wilkening: To follow the rules and pick a famous one, I guess Physical Graffiti. But that's not really the goal. Just to get acquainted the first thing I'd want them to dig into is "So Much Left Behind" by C.O.C., then maybe the Melvins' "A History of Drunks." Prince and Bonham on "Everybody Wants Some!!" would be pretty nuts. And mostly I'd want new material, with everybody taking their turns up front, Traveling Wilburys style.
DeRiso: The Beatles' White Album. It's as stylistically diverse as they are. A good challenge.
5. Rank the other four bands in order of how interested you’d be in hearing their work.
Smith: Michael and Dave took a similar tack as I did and picked musicians who are/were uniformly excellent and a mix of alpha dogs and subordinate players. Matthew picked Pepper Keenan, ostensibly on bass -- I wish I’da thought of that (but Prince and Van Halen in the same band? Only at a Hall of Fame jam session. In Heaven). Nick’s band has too many four-star generals; not a lieutenant to be found. That’d be a big ol’ racket.
Gallucci: Nick and Dave's bands come closest to my interests, combining some well-known names with some great musicians who can handle almost anything thrown at them. Rob and Matthew's bands would probably sound better onstage than in the studio, though I'm pretty certain Matthew's would make the weirdest album of all our fantasy groups, no question.
Lifton: I love that Michael and I seemed to take the same approach, and picking Harry Nilsson -- in the last round no less! -- was a stroke of genius. I hate Michael. Nick's has the instrumental firepower I lack, but I don't hear McCartney and Copeland locking in the way a rhythm section should. I'm pretty sure legendary A&R man John Kalodner created Rob's band in 1988. Seriously, though. They should gel nicely together, but I don't have much of an interest in listening to it. I get what Matthew's trying to do, this heavy-hitting groove thing with lots of guitars on top. But there's no light or nuance at all.
Wilkening: Michael's group sounds fantastic, and is the surest bet for an awesome show and album out of the five groups chosen here. Nick's is also full of great people but I'm not as sure how well they'd gel. Lifton does an admirable job putting Springsteen in a fresh setting but I'm not confident it would really result in anything all that new. I admire Rob's focused and off-the-beaten path vision, but even if it clicked in every way possible I doubt that group would be speaking my language.
DeRiso: 1. Michael's group of deeply authentic players intrigues me, though his Duane Allman pick changed the entire direction of my group. Not cool, man.
2. Matthew's eclectic group of performers is almost as weird as mine, so his might easily move up to No. 1, depending on how they gelled.
3. If we're just talking stadium shows, Dave's anthemic act would definitely be the one.
4. Rob's hard-rock guys sound solid, but – and this is nobody's fault, of course – I was never a huge Chris Cornell fan.