Forty-six years ago this week, British blues-rockers Cream unveiled their debut album, Fresh Cream, one of the most deeply influential rock and roll records of all time.
The original supergroup, the band was intended to unite the "cream" of the late-'60s British blues scene, featuring Eric Clapton on guitar, Ginger Baker on drums and Jack Bruce on bass. Each was already a rock star in his own right across the pond, and the release of Fresh Cream helped mightily to shove the genre in a thunderous new direction.
Though thoroughly steeped in the blues, Fresh Cream (and the material that would follow) was heavier and more psychedelic than Robert Johnson's most hellish nightmares. Powered by Baker's explosive pounding and the most deafening amplifiers of the day, Cream pioneered a stomping, virtuosic and unabashedly loud version of rock that would go on to inform the histrionic wailing of early metal bands including Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.
It wasn't just volume that set Fresh Cream apart, though. Cream was envisioned as an egalitarian collaboration, and the band's inventiveness was nonetheless fueled in large part by the spirit of competition between its members -- not to mention the endless quarreling between Baker and Bruce.
With each musician apparently convinced he was the band's leader (and star), Cream proved that three guys could produce an electric sound powerful enough to blow away practically everything that had come before. A new term -- "power trio" -- had to be coined to capture the triangulated crunch.
The first imitators appeared in a matter of months -- some of whom are rightly considered among the greatest rock bands of all time to this day. One guitar, one bass and one set of drums: Suddenly, musicians realized that was all that was needed to produce ear-shattering rock and roll. The same instrumentation that Cream deployed during its brief two-year run is still in use by leading practitioners of the genre, nearly 50 years later.
In honor of the original power trio's recorded debut, Rocks Off has compiled a comprehensive list of the most earth-shaking three-pieces ever to blow out an amp. Crack those knuckles and tease out that perm, because it's about to get loud in here.
10. King's X Call us homers if you must: King's X fucking rules. Houston's second most famous hard-rockin' trio never fit too neatly into one genre box or another - were they metal? Alternative? Fans didn't care. The music was too progressive, interesting and soulful to ignore, particularly on the band's masterpiece, 1989's Gretchen Goes to Nebraska.
9. Green Day Easily the snottiest three amigos on this list, Green Day hardly fits the mold of the traditional power trio - have these guys even heard of the blues? What they lack in convention, however, they more than make up for with outsized energy and poppy crunch (and eyeliner - lots and lots of it).
Still unpalatable to music snobs more than 23 years after the band's earliest indie releases, Green Day continues to wipe boogers on the notion that mainstream punk is an oxymoron.
8. Primus Primus' heavy, funky and downright weird sound kind of represents every bassist's wet dream: a nut-rattling power trio led from the low end. Bandleader Les Claypool's slap-happy bass lines barely leave room for one guitar, let alone two. Thanks to the group's overwhelming talent, they're able to make it work somehow - a fact reconfirmed in front of a big crowd at last year's Free Press Summer Fest.
7. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble Double Trouble - drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon - are sometimes dismissed as mere sidemen for Texas' primo guitar hero. As anybody who saw the group perform at Fitzgerald's back in the day could probably tell you, though, the spiritual connection between the trio went quite a bit deeper than that.
Built around the callous-shredding leads and plaintive vocals of the inimitable Stevie Ray, the band's one-of-a-kind sound still stands as the pinnacle of blues-rock perfection, widely imitated to this day by big touring acts and neighborhood bar bands all over the world.
6. Nirvana Kurt Cobain probably would've hated being grouped into the same category as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Green Day, but it's not like he stuck around to defend himself, so fuck it. Nirvana needed nothing more than Cobain's distressed guitar and vocals, Dave Grohl's pounding drums and Krist Novoselic's thudding bass to wipe out an entire generation's worth of rock excess from the mainstream, becoming MTV darlings and future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers in the process.
Back in the early '90s, the three of them packed more of a punch than the two guitarists, conga player and female brass section that Guns N' Roses was trotting out every night on tour.
5. Motorhead Anchored by the violent strumming and phlegmy vocals of one of rock and roll's greatest badasses, Motorhead has risen no shortage of hell with a variety of lineups over the past 37 years, but for our money, the best tunes were "cranked" out (get it?) by the classic trio of Lemmy on bass, "Fast" Eddie Clarke on guitar and Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor on skins.
Amphetamine-fueled stompers like "Ace of Spades" and "Overkill" were gnarly enough to earn the respect of punks who wouldn't have been caught dead listening to Judas Priest, and the modern version of the band continues to compel heads to bang hard long after each of those guys should've started drawing a pension.
4. Blue Cheer Before Black Sabbath first stumbled onto the devil's interval, Blue Cheer had already perfected the excruciatingly loud sound of acid-fried blues rock. The trio of Dickie Peterson, Leigh Stephens and Paul Whaley never quite found the massive success of the imitators who followed, but their punishing, psychedelic sound was inventive enough to help inspire heavy metal, punk, grunge and all your other favorite strains of sonic violence.
3. Rush For decades, Rush fans whined that their favorite trio of Canadian nerds never got their due, but with the group still drawing huge crowds and now headed for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it's increasingly hard to argue that they've been denied a place in the rock pantheon. In its longevity, Rush gets bonus points for wearing out a variety of musical styles over the years, from hard rock to prog and even '80s synth-pop. Amazing what you can achieve when you cram three rock virtuosos into the same band.
2. ZZ Top It's OK not to like ZZ Top. Just know that by shunning them, you're rejecting your musical birthright as a Houstonian. The little ol' band from Texas has every element of a classic power trio in spades: crushing blues riffs, an abundance of personality and a healthy does of WTF weirdness. If you can't get down to "Jesus Just Left Chicago," we can accept that. Just do us a favor and keep your mouth shut on the subject, Yankee.
1. The Jimi Hendrix Experience No sense beating around the bush: The Jimi Hendrix Experience was put together expressly to capitalize on the success of Cream. Mitch Mitchell, Noel Redding and the other guy quickly eclipsed their forebears, however, all thanks to the wholesale Stratocaster slaughter perpetrated by history's No. 1 guitar god.
They're pretty good. You should check 'em out.
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