A power trio is a rock and roll band format having a lineup of guitar, bass and drums, leaving out the rhythm guitar or keyboard that are used in other rock music to fill out the sound with chords. While one or more band members sing, power trios emphasize instrumental performance and overall impact over vocals and lyrics.
The rise of the power trio in the 1960s was made possible in part by developments in amplifier technology that greatly enhanced the volume of the electric guitar and bass. Particularly, the advent of electric bass guitar defined the bottom end and filled in the gaps. Since the bass could also now be louder, the rest of the band could also play at higher volumes, without fear of being unable to hear the bass. This allowed a three-person band to have the same sonic impact as a large band but left far more room for improvisation and creativity, unencumbered by the need for detailed arrangements. As with the organ trio, a 1960s-era soul jazz group centered around the amplified Hammond organ, a three-piece group could fill a large bar or club with a big sound for a much lower price than a large rock and roll band. A power trio, at least in its blues-rock incarnation, is also generally held to have developed out of Chicago-style blues bands such as Muddy Waters' trio.
In addition to technology improvements the other impetus for the power trio was the virtuosity of guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Rory Gallagher who could essentially cover both the rhythm and lead guitar roles in a live performance. The first and prototypical power trio was the band Cream consisting of Eric Clapton on guitar, Jack Bruce on bass/vocals, and Ginger Baker on drums. Other influential 1960s-era blues-rock/hard rock power trio bands were The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Blue Cheer, Grand Funk Railroad The James Gang featuring Joe Walsh, and Taste. Well-known 1970s-era power trios include the Canadian progressive rock group Rush, the American band ZZ Top, the British heavy metal band Motörhead, and the Robin Trower band. The band Emerson Lake and Palmer while replacing the guitarist for a keyboardist is usually considered as a power trio as Emerson fulfills the rhythm and lead playing on the keyboards that would fall on the guitarist, while the bassist Greg Lake is the vocalist.
After the 1970s the phrase Power Trio tended to be stretched to accommodate just about any band with a guitar, bass, and drums. From New Wave groups like The Police to grunge band Nirvana, alternative band The Presidents of the United States of America, and pop-punk bands such as Green Day and Blink-182.
- Organ trio: a three-person soul jazz or jam band group centered around the Hammond organ
- Power duo: two-piece rock band often described as a power trio without the bassist
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