In many ways, English trio Cream was a direct reflection of the
era during which it so briefly took flight. The latter half of the
1960s ushered into popular music a multitude of
new sounds, new faces and new themes that would capably guide the
recording industry through the remainder of the twentieth century.
Cream represented both the commercial and creative promise of
heavier, improvisational rock and roll in the decades to come.
The mid-Sixties London rock scene had brought together
two-thirds of guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and
drummer Ginger Baker in various pairings, and by 1966, Clapton and
Baker had arrived at a resolution to form a band together.
Clapton's first suggestion for a bassist was Bruce -- Baker's
then-current Graham Bond Organization bandmate. Despite their dicey
personal relationship, Baker accepted Bruce for the new trio, and
(on the strength of their collective star power in the UK at the
time) Cream quickly landed a record deal.
The group's debut album appeared on both sides of the Atlantic
around New Year's, 1967. DubbedFresh Cream, its track listing
vacillated between amped-up versions of traditional American blues
numbers (of the ilk for which Clapton had been known from his days
in both The Yardbirds and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers) and heavy jazz foundations upon which
all three players could liberally explore.
For American radio,Fresh Creamwas the first real introduction to
Eric Clapton -- who was already a giant star in England. Not
surprisingly, US stations mainly favored the LPs bluesy side.
"Spoonful," "Rollin' And Tumblin'" and the brisk-paced "I'm So
Glad" received considerable attention. Baker's drum solo, "Toad,"
would portend a waiting spotlight for the legion of showy rock
drummers looming on the horizon. The lone American single, "I Feel
Free," was reminiscent of soundtrack fare from the spaghetti
Westerns and experimental coffee-house films of the day; it sold
relatively poorly. Ultimately, however,Fresh Cream-- with its
spacious reverbed production sensibility -- was merely a primer for
much bigger statements to come.
The trio spent most of 1967 both touring and building its second
album. Their writing process was directly impacted by the Flower
Power, Summer Of Love atmosphere pervading both London and America
that year, and Disraeli Gearsis but one of many countercultural
epistles to that fabled moment in history. From the album cover to
the swirling stereo sound effects, Gearswas drenched in acid
through and through, relegating the blues tunes to the figurative
back-seat. Clapton took his wah-wah pedal to a mythical seashore
for "Tales Of Brave Ulysses," and then to bed with a bizarre
mistress in "SWLABR;" both songs dripped with psychedelic
The bluesiest bits ("Outside Woman Blues" and the single
"Strange Brew") were also the safest -- with "...Brew" conforming
to the blues in progression only and Bruce's mid-section basslines
presaging golden-age Geezer Butler.Disraeli Gears' immortal
contribution, of course, would be the moody Rapunzel adaptation
"Sunshine Of Your Love." An icon of the 1960s, its signature riff
heralded Eric Clapton's arrival alongside Jimi Hendrix at
the forefront of the six-string universe. Perhaps the song's
greatest impact was its simultanously signature solos and
power-riffs. If the formula for a great hard song had merely
existed before, "Sunshine Of Your Love" essentially perfected
In the wake of their second LP's monstrous reception, Cream
enjoyed its zenith in 1968. Constantly touring and recording led to
the issuance of that summer's double-disc set,Wheels Of Fire. The
second record of the set captured various live performances in San
Francisco that March, the most famous of which would become
Clapton's blazing interpretation of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads."
A dynamic roller coaster ride from start to finish, "Crossroads"
became one of the most famous live recordings of all time on rock
radio; in its day it had a similar effect on the rock and roll
audience that Edward Van Halen's "Eruption" would weild ten years
On the studio disc, Top Ten single "White Room" proved a worthy
brother for "Sunshine Of Your Love." Similar in attitude to "I Feel
Free," "White Room" expanded positively upon where its predecessor
had left off, incorporating a more effective use of stop-start
dynamism. The album's blues vehicles gleefully bastardized the
genre: "Politician" combined a downer tempo ("resting" on a very
well-worn key and one-four-five progression) with a middle-finger
message; "Born Under A Bad Sign" lamented bad luck with a
Even before the release of Wheels Of Fire, Baker and Bruce's
intermittent feuding had ratcheted into high gear, and all three
members had decided to lay down the project at the conclusion of
their late 1968 tour, tellingly billed as a farewell tour. As an
encore, the trio squeezed out a fourth and final album release,
1969's Goodbye. Somewhat appropriately, the only memorable track
from the phoned-in effort was the Clapton-George Harrison co-penned
"Badge." This final single highlighted Bruce's piano chops,
juxtaposed against a descending Clapton lick (driven by a Leslie
speaker, a la Jon Lord of Deep Purple) that would appear in
near-pristine form less than a couple of years later on a popular
For a band that had barely lasted two years, Cream had pushed
out four albums (one of which became the first million-selling
double-album in music history) and crafted a visionary catalog of
material that would impact generations of rock acts to come. Although
Baker and Bruce never came close to equalling their accomplishments
in Cream following the band's demise, Clapton moved on to Blind
Faith, Derek And The Dominoes and a stellar solo career.
Yet it was Cream that had served to introduce Clapton to an
American rock audience increasingly hungry for loud and powerful
guitars. The trio reunited twice -- in 1993 for their Rock And Roll
Hall Of Fame induction, and in 2005 for two multi-night stands at
New York's Madison Square Garden and London's Royal Albert Hall --
and in so doing gave successive generations the rare opportunity to
personally witness a rereading of one of the genre's earliest
chapters. Shortly after the final run of shows had concluded, the
members had pronounced the band to be permanently done.
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