rock trios part 3

Eight more for the road: 30 rock trios across seven decades

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Part 3 of our series profiling rock trios adds a little more variety and brings our total to 30 all-time great threesomes.

In our first two installments, we looked at 22 all-time great rock trios who helped establish the legacy of the three-piece format: the bare-bone, nowhere-to-hide arrangement of musicians that has set the standard for punk rock, progressive rock, and everything in between. Of course there is a multitude left on the cutting room floor, but here are the final eight bands who made the cut to round out our look at 30 all-time great rock trios.


Robin Trower: rock triosRobin Trower Band
Southend-on-Sea, Essex
1973-present
 
Following his five-year run as the guitarist in Procol Harum (“A Whiter Shade of Pale”), Robin Trower set out on his own to better showcase his guitar and songwriting skills, launching a power trio that included James Dewar (bass, vocal) and Reg Isidore (drums) – with Bill Lordan taking over on drums soon after the band’s formation. While Trower’s guitar work, which often drew comparison to Jimi Hendrix, was the focal point of the band, Dewar’s soulful vocals drew comparisons to Paul Rodgers and Joe Cocker, while Larodan’s drums also drew comparisons to Mitch Mitchell and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. With 21 studio albums and 10 live albums to its credit, The Robin Trower Band continues to release albums, with 2016’s Where Are You Going To continuing the trio format, with Livingstone Brown in place of Dewar (who died in 2002) and Chris Taggart, who has played with Trower since 2012.


concrete blonde: rock triosConcrete Blonde
Los Angeles, California
1982-1995 / 2001-2004 / 2010-2012
 
Centered around the distinctive and powerful voice of Johnette Napolitano, Concrete Blonde released nine studio albums in a 30-year span, including 1990’s Bloodletting, which marked the band’s popular apex with the out-of-nowhere hit, “Joey.” That lineup featured Napolitano (bass, vocals), band co-founder James Mankey (guitar), and Paul Thompson (drums). Originally named Dream 6, I.R.S label-mate and R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe suggested the name change to Concrete Blonde.


primus: rock triosPrimus
El Sobrante, CA
1984-present
 
The original members of Primus included Les Claypool (bass, vocals), Todd Huth (guitar), and Vince “Perm” Parker (drums), but it was Claypool, Larry “Ler” LaLonde (guitar), and Tim “Herb” Alexander (drums) who launched the band with the first official release, Suck On This through the band’s breakthrough gold records, 1991’s Sailing the Seas of Cheese and 1993’s Pork Salad. The band’s musical focus has always been Claypool’s genre-defying, logic-defying, abstractionist approach to his instrument, with Alexander finding a way to propel the music and LaLonde stretching into ambient soloing. The fact that the band was able to make a name for itself in mainstream music is proof that formulaic music isn’t the only thing the listening public craves. Steeped in Claypool’s offbeat sense of humor, Primus has always been cheerfully odd, and has managed to carve a niche for itself in the process. Jay Lane (drums) and
Bryan “Brain” Mantia have also played drums for the band, with the latest release being 2014’s Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble, a re-imagination of 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory


prong: rock triosProng
New York, NY
1986-present
 
Guitarist/vocalist – and former CBGB soundman – Tommy Victor is the only member to endure the span of Prong’s existence, which began and continues as a trio, though there have been four-piece incarnations along the way. The trio that was signed to Epic for the band’s third release was the original lineup, including Mike Kirkland (bass) and Ted Parsons (drums). In 1991, Troy Gregory joined on bass for Prove You Wrong which included the single “Unconditional” and saw the band getting more attention from outlets like MTV’s “Headbangers Ball.” After that release, Prong’s lineup changed repeatedly, but the focus on urban metal never wavered, and the band is credited with influencing notables including Nine Inch Nails and Korn.


morphine: rock triosMorphine
Cambridge, Massachusetts
1989-1999
 
Featuring Mark Sandman (bass, vocals), Dana Colley (alto & tenor sax, vocals), and Jerome Deupree (drums), Morphine took a distinctively different approach to the trio format, bypassing the standard guitar/keyboard lead instrument and relying on a laid-back, two-string bass approach coated with saxophone and fronted by Sandman’s deep crooning vocal style. Dubbed as “low rock” by the band, the group was able to establish a loyal cult following but were unable to break through to the mainstream in the US. Still, in 1997, DreamWorks Records signed the band, releasing Like Swimming in 1997. Two years later, Sandman collapsed onstage, dying of a heart attack at the age of 46, and ending the band’s run.


MxPx: rock triosMxPx
Bremerton, WA
1992-present
 
Forming while the band was still too young to drive, Christian punk rockers MxPx has nine studio albums, four EPs, four compilation albums, a live album, and 20 singles to its credit, with a number of releases making their way to the Billboard charts. Band lore includes the fact that the group’s name was originally Magnified Plaid, but poor handwriting on an early promo poster made the abbreviation M.P. look like MxPx, which then became the name of the band. Leaning less on Christian themes and more on those about growing up in skate punk culture, current members are Mike Herrera (Bass, vocal), Tom Wisniewski (guitar, vocal), and Yuri Ruley (drums), with Wisniewski joining in 1994 after original guitarist Andy Husted exited the group.


placebo: rock triosPlacebo
London, England
1994-present
 
Playing up an androgynous image and boasting an international composition (Scottish/American, Swedish, English), Placebo’s melodramatic alternative rock was a quick hit, finding the band opening for the like of the U2, Weezer, and the Sex Pistols after it’s first release in 1996. Brian Molko (guitar, vocal) and Stefan Olsdal have endured through the band’s history, with drummers Robert Schultzberg (1994-1996), Steve Hewitt (1996-2007), and Steve Forrest (2007-2015) lending their talents along the way. The band’s second album, 1998’s Without You I’m Nothing scored the band a hit in the US with “Pure Morning,” but the group’s success abroad has always eclipsed its fortunes in the US. With a big dose of glam in the mix, Placebo attracted the attention of David Bowie early on, landing an invitation to play his 50th birthday bash in NYC and collaborating with him in 1999. The band also scored screen time in Velvet Goldmine, 1998’s dystopian homage to Bowie, Iggy Pop, and the glam scene of the early ’70s.


alkaline trio: rock triosAlkaline Trio
McHenry, Illinois
1996-present
 
Punk rock Alkaline Trio includes Matt Skiba (guitar, vocal), Dan Andriano (bass, vocal), and Derek Grant (drums), who have made up the band since 2003. Skiba originally formed the band with bassist Rob Doran and drummer Glenn Porter, though it was Andriano who recorded bass on the group’s 1998 debut Goddamnit!. Each release seems to increase the band’s popularity, with 2003’s Good Mourning marking grant’s recording debut with the band, and 2013’s My Shame Is true continuing the critical and popular growth of the band.


30 all-time great rock trios

jimi hendrix: 13 rock triosJimi Hendrix Experience (Pt. 1)
1966-1968
London, England

cream: 13 rock triosCream (Pt. 1)
1966-1969
London, England

rush: 13 rock triosRush (Pt. 1)
Toronto, Canada
1968-present

zz top: 13 rock triosZZ Top (Pt. 1)
Houston, TX
1969-present

Grand Funk Railroad: rock trioGrand Funk Railroad (Pt. 2)
Flint, Michigan
1969-1988

genesis: 13 rock triosGenesis (Pt. 1)
1969-2007
Surrey, England

elp: 13 rock triosEmerson, Lake & Palmer (Pt. 1)
1970-1979 / 1991-1994
London, England

Robin Trower: rock triosRobin Trower (Pt. 3)
Southend-on-Sea, Essex
1973-present

Triumph: rock trioTriumph (Pt. 2)
Toronto, Canada
1975-1995

motorhead: 13 rock triosMotörhead (Pt. 1)
London, England
1975-2016

the police: 13 rock triosThe Police (Pt. 1)
London, England
1977-1986

husker du: rock trioHüsker Dü (Pt. 2)
1979-1987
Minneapolis, MN

srv: rock trioStevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble (Pt. 2)
1979-1989
Austin, TX

stray cats: rock trioStray Cats (Pt. 2)
1979-1992
Massapequa, New York

meat puppets: rock trioMeat Puppets (Pt. 2)
Phoenix, Arizona
1980-present

concrete bonde: rock triosConcrete Blonde (Pt. 3)
Los Angeles, California
1982-1995 / 2001-2004 / 2010-2012

primus: rock triosPrimus (Pt. 3)
El Sobrante, CA
1984-present

King's X: rock triosKing’s X (Pt. 1)
Springfield, Missouri
1986-present

prong: rock triosProng (Pt. 3)
New York, NY
1986-present

gren day: 13 rock triosGreen Day (Pt. 1)
1986-present
Berkeley, California

nirvana: 13 rock triosNirvana (Pt. 1)
Aberdeen, WA
1987-1994

dinosaur jr: rock trioDinosaur Jr. (Pt. 2)
1987-present
Amherst, Massachusetts

morphine: rock triosMorphine (Pt. 3)
Cambridge, Massachusetts
1989-1999

jon spencer: rock trioThe Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (Pt. 2)
New York City
1991-present

blink 182: rock trioBlink-182 (Pt. 2)
1992-present
Poway, California

MxPx: rock triosMxPx (Pt. 3)
Bremerton, WA
1992-present

ben folds: 13 rock triosBen Folds Five (Pt. 1)
1993-2000 / 2011-2013
Chapel Hill, NC

placebo: rock triosPlacebo (Pt. 3)
London, England
1994-present

alkaline trio: rock triosAlkaline Trio (Pt. 3)
McHenry, Illinois
1996-present

muse: 13 rock triosMuse (Pt.1)
Teignmouth, Devon, England
1997-present


Part 1: Thirteen rock trios that changed music
Part 2: Nine (more) tantalizing rock trios

Check out our Spotify Playlist for more from our list of influential rock trios.

 

 

Info was sourced from various outlets online, including AllMusic and Wikipedia.

 

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3 thoughts on “Eight more for the road: 30 rock trios across seven decades

  1. Well, I think this list is just fine as is, although it seems slanted more toward so-called classic rock tastes. There were and are many awesome trios. From my collection, I’m glad to see The Police and Concrete Blonde (featuring the brilliant James Mankey, whose guitar solos were far more soulful and musical than what most others did at that time) on this list. I could also mention Doves, Sebadoh, Medicine, Saint Etienne, and especially Kitchens of Distinction (check out “Elephantine,” but ignore the stupid video). These deserve honorable mention, and having made an impact in their own ways, are worth checking out as well.

  2. Still a TOTAL fail for not even mentioning the Johnny Burnette Rock & Roll Trio that predates any of the bands mentioned.
    And you laud your historical perspective, pishaww

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