Top 9 Rock Journeymen

Top 9 Rock Journeymen

Today’s list features a look at the top pop and rock musicians who have had played with numerous successful artists and groups over their career.

#9. Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald
During the 1970s and 1980s, Michael McDonald’s voice could be heard up front or backing in scores of pop hits and rock classics. Along the way, he was a part-time player in Steely Dan, a lead vocalist for The Doobie Brothers, collaborated with artists such as Christopher Cross, Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, Toto and Van Halen, before finally launching a long and successful solo career in 1982.

“Takin’ it to the Streets” by The Doobie Brothers:

Aja by Steely Dan album review
Gaucho by Steely Dan album review

#8. Steve Howe

Steve Howe
Performing since his early teens, Steve Howe first joined the sixties pop band The Syndicats in 1964 and later turned down opportunities to join the groups Jethro Tull and The Nice before finally becoming lead guitarist of Yes in 1971. Over the decades he would depart from and reunite with Yes, and in between these reunions he was also a member of Tomorrow, Asia, GTR and Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe as well as having released multiple solo albums. In 2007, he founded the jazz-oriented Steve Howe Trio.

“And You and I” by Yes:

The Yes Album by Yes album review
Fragile by Yes album review
Asia debut album review

#7. Billy Preston

Billy Preston

Starting off as a teenage prodigy on keyboards, Billy Preston backed artists such as Little Richard, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles and also became a top session man in the 1960s. He was first introduced to the Beatles while performing in Hamburg in 1962 and was later invited to work on several songs during the session for Let It Be. In the 1970s, Preston achieved even greater fame as a solo artist as well as composed some top hits for other artists of the era.

“Summertime” by Billy Preston:

Let It Be by The Beatles album review

#6. David Coverdale

David Coverdale
Following the sudden departure of lead vocalist Ian Gillan during the height of the band’s popularity in 1973, Deep Purple brought on a young David Coverdale to front the band for three albums during the mid seventies. When the group disbanded, Coverdale launched a solo career which eventually morphed into the the band Whitesnake, which had phenomenal during the 1980s. In the early 1990s, Coverdale collaborated with legendary guitarist Jimmy Page to form the duo, Coverdale-Page.

“Burn” by Deep Purple:

Slide It In by Whitesnake album review
Whitesnake self-titled album review
Coverdale-Page album review

#5. Paul Rogers

Paul Rodgers
Labeled by fans as simply “The Voice”, Paul Rodgers has had an incredibly long and fruitful career fronting top-level rock bands. In the late sixties and early seventies, Rodgers found his first bit of fame as vocalist for the band Free. He then co-founded Bad Company, which had nearly a decade of consistent success into the early 1980s. Next came the super-groups The Firm in the late 1980s and The Law in the early 1990s. After several years as a solo artist, Rodgers joined up with the legendary band Queen in 2004, which produced several successful tours and a live album.

“All Right Now” by Free:

Bad Company debut album review
Straight Shooter by Bad Company album review
The Free album review

#4. Joe Walsh

Joe Walsh
In between an incredibly long and fruitful solo career, Joe Walsh has been a member of four very successful rock bands. He first found fame with the James Gang, starting in 1969. In the early 1970s, Walsh founded Barnstorm with long time collaborator Joe Vitale, and had more success before being invited to join the Eagles in 1976. Here, Walsh was involved with the group’s two most successful studio albums prior to the Eagles’ initial breakup in 1981. Walsh was also a member of The Party Boys and Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, later in his career.

“Walk Away” by The James Gang:

Yer Album by The James Gang album review
Hotel California by The Eagles album review
But Seriously Folks by Joe Walsh album review
The Long Run by The Eagles album review
Ordinary Average Guy by Joe Walsh album review

#3. Dave Grohl

Dave Grohl
In the modern day, Dave Grohl is the undisputed king of the “journeymen”, as his career intersects with some of the more important landmarks of the past quarter century. At age 17, he joined the hardcore punk band Scream and during a concert tour with that band he had a chance encounter with Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana. Grohl joined that group as drummer in 1990 and was present for their incredible rise through the early 1990s. After Cobain’s suicide in 1994, Grohl composed and recorded solo material in a project which would eventually be called Foo Fighters with Grohl moving to guitarist and lead vocalist. Since their debut in 1995, Foo Fighters have become one of the more successful rock bands with 8 studio albums selling over 30 million copies worldwide. Still, Grohl has been involved with various other projects, most notably as the drummer of the rock super-group Them Crooked Vultures and he has done work with contemporaries such as Paul McCartney, Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails, David Bowie, Slash, Iggy Pop, Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

“Times Like These” by Foo Fighters:
Nevermind by Nirvana album review
In Utero by Nirvana album review
Foo Fighters debut album review
Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace by Foo Fighters album review
Them Crooked Vultures debut album review

#2. Steve Winwood

Steve Winwood
Steve Winwood is not only a multi-instrumentalist but also a musician who performs various genres ranging from rock, to folk to jazz to blue-eyed soul. Far beyond his instrumental mastery which includes guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, and other string instruments, Winwood is most famous for his distinctive voice. This voice was first heard as the 17-year-old front man of The Spencer Davis Group in 1965. Winwood then joined Eric Clapton’s short-lived Powerhouse group before co-founding Traffic in 1967 and sharing vocalist duties with Dave Mason. After two successful albums, Traffic disbanded and Winwood worked on Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland before reuniting with Clapton to form the super group Blind Faith. Next, he began work on a solo album which evolved into a second incarnation of Traffic which found further success through the early 1970s. Winwood did finally launch a successful solo career in 1977, with several major hit songs and albums through the 1980s and remained an active recording and touring musician into the 21st century.

“Dear Mr. Fantasy” by Traffic:

Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix Experience album review
Blind Faith debut album review
John Barleycorn Must Die by Traffic album review
Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys by Traffic album review
Back In the High Life by Steve Winwood review

#1. Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton
While each member of this list has merit, there is no doubt that Eric Clapton is the king of rock’s journeymen. He is unique as a three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist and as a member of two groups, and is uniformly regarded as one of the most influential blues-based lead guitarists. Clapton joined blues-based band The Yardbirds in 1963, but the huge success of their 1964 hit “For Your Love” inevitably drew that group towards more pop-oriented music and Clapton left to join John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers in 1965. The following year, after a very short duration of the group The Powerhouse along with Steve Winwood, Clapton was approached by jazz-influenced drummer Ginger Baker and bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce to form Cream, the first of many super-groups he would be involved in during his career. Although only active for less than three years, Cream was an immediate success and established the template for the hard rock power trio which would be replicated for decades to come. In 1969, Clapton, Baker, and Winwood joined Ric Grech to form the psychedelic/art rock group Blind Faith, a group that released one legendary album. This pattern continued with short, single-album-release stints with Delaney And Bonnie & Friends and Derek and the Dominos, the later of which joined Clapton with keyboardist Bobby Whitlock and guitarist Duane Allman. In the 1970s, Clapton launched a very long and successful solo career which (as of 2016) has spawned over 30 studio and live albums and made Clapton the recipient of 18 Grammy Awards. Through all this, Clapton has continued to collaborate with other top notch artists in the 21st century, including albums with B.B. King in 2000 and J.J. Cale in 2006.

“Change the World” by Eric Clapton:

For Your Love by The Yardbirds album review
Fresh Cream by Cream album review
Disraeli Gears by Cream album review
Wheels of Fire by Cream album review
Blind Faith debut album review
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos album review
461 Ocean Blvd. by Eric Clapton album review
Slowhand by Eric Clapton album review
Journeyman by Eric Clapton album review

Honorable Mentions

Here are a few more “journeymen” artists who barely missed making our list:

Jimmy Page
Ginger Baker
Ansley Dunbar
Ronnie James Dio
Ringo Starr
Jeff Lynne
Robert Plant

With this subjective list we’ve doubtlessly left out scores of artists who may have deserved consideration for this list. Please give us your comments below and tell us where you agree and disagree.


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