Write Now: Power Trios Give Music A Different Definition
Maybe it’s the silence between the notes.
Maybe it’s not.
Maybe it’s the sonic space of the instruments.
Maybe it’s not.
For whatever the reason is, power trios have always caught my ear, and that’s why when they play, it’s sheer energy. Some of the best rock bands were and are trios.
I like quartets. My favorite band is The Beatles, and quintets are fine, too. Even bands with horn sections fill the air with music, but it’s the trinity that delivers the power.
With only bass, drums and guitar, these bands expose themselves. One member also has to double as a vocalist.
In a live setting each musician has to know his part or the audience will hear any and all mistakes.
That’s the boon of a power trio.
That’s the bane of a power trio.
Here are some of my favorite power trios.
Arguably Rush is the best power trio. Period. Rush surrounded intelligent lyrics with great music. If you ever had the chance of attending a Rush concert, then you know exactly what I am talking about. From the early 1970s until 2018, bassist Geddy Lee, drummer Neil Peart, and guitarist Alex Lifeson, composed some of the greatest progressive rock songs ever, and to hear them play live, you may think you were listening to a compact disc. Some bands sound better in a studio setting because they have the tools to make them sound better. In a live situation, those bands may falter a bit because they don’t have the same tools as in the studio. Not so for Rush. Because they were true musicians, they sounded just as good, if not better, live than their recorded songs. This is one of those bands that when you saw them, you wanted to take a break from being a musician. You either aspired to play at a level comparable to the three members or resign yourself to just being an awestruck fan. Either way was OK. It’s too band that Peart retired from drumming. The men from Canada really can play.
This power trio is the baseline (no pun intended) for all power trios. Cream was loud and raw, but they could play. With songs like “Sunshine of Your Love,” “White Room, “Badge,” and “I Feel Free,” Cream had the ears of the world listening between 1966 and 1968-69 and could also be known as the first supergroup because of musicianship of guitarist Eric Claption, bassist Jack Bruce, and drummer Ginger Baker. Too bad tensions within led to the band’s breakup.
In my opinion, the sound of The Police was a real departure from what was going on musically in the late 1970s. During that time, disco was at its peak, progressive rock was finding its home on the FM band, singer-songwriters were going strong, and pop music was becoming, well, more popular. Because they were aggressive, members of The Police had a different plan. When I first heard “Roxanne,” I thought it was a new wave/reggae song and not punk as some critics and musicologists have labeled the song. Along with lyrics, the song’s sparse arrangement let the song breathe. Sting’s high voice and simple bassline complimented his vocal phrasing which told the story of Roxanne. What made this band so endearing is what bassist Sting (Gordon Sumner), guitarist Andy Summers, and drummer Stewart Copeland left out of the arrangements. At times, the lack of music in places made The Police a hard act to follow melodically, rhythmically, and sonically. As the band progressed, so did its music as heard on “Synchronicity” released in 1983.
“Every Breath You Take,” had a lot of radio airplay as well as top video rotation on MTV. The Police broke up in 1986 and in 2007-2008 the band reunited and played a 30th reunion tour. Like Paul McCartney after the breakup of The Beatles, Sting has enjoyed a solid solo career in which some of his solo efforts rival what he produced with his old band. I had always like the name — The Police. And remember the band buttons that were sold in record stores? I had three Police buttons that were pictures of album covers that were sold in those record stores. “Reggatta de Blanc,” “Ghost in the Machine,” and “Synchronicity” were attached to a worn out jean jacket.
THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE
If Cream was the first power trio, then I think The Jimi Hendrix Experience was a close second. Another guitar god, Hendrix had a different vibe about him as the frontman which in turn gave the rest of the band, drummer Mitch Mitchell, and bassist Noel Redding, its groove. Yes this band was heavy and hard, but Hendrix’s guitar playing was second to none. Songs “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “All Along The Watchtower,” “Fire,” “Foxy Lady,” and “Little Wing” are as relevant today as they were when they were released back in the late 1960s. He is still revered as a guitar pioneer. Although he died at age 27, in 1970, guitarists still draw on his skills as an inspiration for their own. I wonder what his sound would be like today?
Another Canadian band, Triumph was popular from about 1977 until 1985. Guitar Rik Emmett soaring vocals and quintessential guitar skill brought the band to the forefront quickly. Drummer/vocalist Gil Moore and bassist Mike Levine kept the bottom end while Emmett pranced on his guitar. Remember “Magic Power,” a song about the power of music? It was radio mainstay in 1981-1982. Aside from having other radio-friendly hits “Hold On,” “Lay It on the Line,” “Fight The Good Fight,” “A World of Fantasy,” “Somebody’s Out There,” and “Never Surrender,” Emmett penned awesome instrumentals to show his musical prowess. Songs that come to mind are “Midsummer’s Daydream,” “A Minor Prelude,” and “Time Cannon” which is just vocals.
Some readers may disagree with my selections, and that’s OK because everyone is entitled to their own opinions. There are other popular trios that include Motorhead, Muse, Nirvana, Green Day, ZZ Top, King’s X, Primus, and Emerson, Lake And Palmer.