(135 points, five first-place votes; see the complete list)
No other band in Knoxville’s storied rock history has come closer to achieving true rock ’n’ roll star power than Superdrag. The group never really had to pay their proverbial dues—they were stars from their first show. While the cognoscenti of the grunge era purported to “keep it real” with their meticulously shredded clothes and artfully greasy hair bird-nested just so, Superdrag leapt out of the garage and became, with the exception of drummer Don Coffey Jr., sunglasses-at-night kinda guys. The thing is, these boys weren’t playing. They knew they were going to be big, so why act any differently? Everybody else knew, too. And they looked really good.
But there was much, much more to the band than the requisite factors of sex and sass. Superdrag auteur John Davis was one of those guys who makes other musicians green with envy: He instantly mastered any instrument he touched, wrote songs like Brian Wilson or Alex Chilton, and was in possession of an angelic voice that sweetened his band’s sometimes aggro pop sound perfectly.
So it was no surprise that the band packed every Knoxville dive they played from day one. Superdrag blindsided a Knoxville scene that was, at the time, experiencing something of a lull. Their ascendancy ushered in a new era for the local music community.
The band released a handful of records for the Darla label and, in what seemed like no time flat, was signed by Elektra Records. Their major label debut, Regretfully Yours, featured the sort-of radio hit “Sucked Out,” a song that unfortunately foretold the group’s fortune. The sophomore Elektra record, Head Trip in Every Key, was the group’s recorded pinnacle, a “serious” record that took the band’s power-pop formula one step further into the realm of Big Star or even The Beatles.
After two albums, the band was dropped from Elektra. Soon thereafter, bassist and fashion plate Tom Pappas left the band, a move that portended Superdrag’s secondary era. Superdrag Mark II released two fine albums and went on several high-profile tours, but the band’s initial luster seemed on the wane. So, after a few years of hard work, substance abuse, little progress in terms of notoriety or money-making, and Davis’ abrupt Christian conversion, the band called it quits.
Of course, no band that achieves even the slightest hint of fame is ever really over. Superdrag is back, with its original lineup, and their new album, Industry Giants, is slated for a March release. The band is still a big draw in Knoxville, and has a rabid fan base across the country and internationally. It’s practically impossible for a band to recreate the fire and fury of its early days. But I’m betting these guys still have a lot to say.