Cream

Pre-dating the iconic JIMI HENDRIX by a matter of months, god-caste lead guitarist Eric Clapton and his seasoned power-rhythmists Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker (aka CREAM) were the toast of the capital and the world during their transient tenure in the mid to late 60s. From supergroup to superstardom, CREAM concocted a heady brew of psychedelic pop-blues, proto-hard rock and showmanship – the volatile and visceral trio laid the foundation for a raft of rock acts to come, while all three had their own subsequent solo agenda.

Instigated by London-based Clapton and sticksman Baker while driving home from a JOHN MAYALL/BLUESBREAKERS gig, it was suggested by the ex-YARDBIRDS guitarist that they should enlist his friend and old sparring partner of Ginger’s, Jack Bruce, an accomplished singer/bassist whom Baker had shared a stage with (as part of the GRAHAM BOND ORGANISATION) rather than a close friendship; the drummer had once threatened Bruce with a knife. Personal hostilities put to one side and with a professional prudence (with Eric at times as mediator), CREAM were borne out of necessity; their initial gigs coming by way of appearances at the Twisted Wheel and at the Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival, 29th and 31st July 1966 respectively.

This fine pedigree of talent and dexterity led to producer Robert Stigwood signing them to his newly-founded independent Reaction imprint. CREAM’s initial 45 `Wrapping Paper’ gave them their first of several tearaway UK Top 40 hits; a scatty pop song that didn’t inspire the critics or their producer who thought it best not to include the Jack Bruce/Pete Brown ditty on their forthcoming LP. To end the year and spurred on by the accompanying, all-improved `I Feel Free’ nearly reaching Top 10 status, the trio delivered their first album, FRESH CREAM {*7}. Marked out by the conspicuous absence of the said psychedelic classic (until its US release for Atco Records the following month), its moody Bruce-penned B-side `N.S.U.’ opened proceedings. While the singer’s wife Janet Godfrey co-contributed two songs, `Sleepy Time Time’ and bubblegum-blues beaut `Sweet Wine’ – the latter not with Bruce, but Baker! (who added his own `Toad’ jam to the pot) – there was room for trad instrumental, `Cat’s Squirrel’ (`Wrapping Paper’s flip) and four giant blues covers stemming from ROBERT JOHNSON (`Four Until Late’; sung by E.C.), MUDDY WATERS (`Rollin’ And Tumblin’’), SKIP JAMES (`I’m So Glad’) and WILLIE DIXON (`Spoonful’); the latter unavailable on the US version.

Over the course of the next six months, CREAM became increasingly influenced by the pioneering psychedelic blues of JIMI HENDRIX, whom they’d been introduced to in ‘66. This comparison was much in evidence on the group’s next Top 20 entry, `Strange Brew’, a slow-burning slice of sinister blues-rock written and sung by Eric and co-penned with producer Felix Pappalardi and Gail Collins, the husband-and-wife team who were also solely responsible for `World Of Pain’ track from CREAM’s sophomore transatlantic Top 5 offering DISRAELI GEARS (1967) {*9}. Comprising the similarly-rewarding, evergreen classic `Sunshine Of Your Love’ (a belatedly-issued Top 30 hit in Britain), and Bruce-Brown cuts `Dance The Night Away’, `Take It Back and the fuzz freak-out `SWLABR’, the long-player was up there with the best blues-rock records of all-time. But for a weak Ginger snap (`Blue Condition’) sung by the drummer himself and crafty Clapton’s self-indulgent arrangement of ye olde `Mother’s Lament’ and/or Arthur Reynolds’ `Outside Woman Blues’, “Disraeli…” was near-perfect, with further evidence through gems like `Tales Of Brave Ulysses’ (dually penned by the frontmen and the LP’s artist Martin Sharp!) and Jack’s lovelorn `We’re Going Wrong’.

A sort of oddity at the time and lifted from the soundtrack to The Savage Seven movie, `Anyone For Tennis’ was a minor hit for the trio the following June, its Ginger Baker/Mike Taylor-penned B-side (one of three compositions by the pair – pianist Taylor died early in ’69) at least complementing their ambitious double half-studio/half-live set WHEELS OF FIRE (1968) {*8}. A US chart-topper (UK Top 3) and platinum-selling work, the New York studio sides were headed by a handful of huge Bruce/Brown songs, `White Room’ (another classic hit), the doom-laden `Politician’, `As You Said’ and `Deserted Cities Of The Heart’; a couple of covers made up the numbers by way of BOOKER T’s (and William Bell’s) `Born Under A Bad Sign’ and the HOWLIN’ WOLF-infused `Sitting On Top Of The World’. Recorded in San Francisco split between venues at Winterland and The Fillmore West, disc two was a taster of CREAM’s live experience through long, drawn-out renditions of `Spoonful’ and Ginger’s solo showcase `Toad’, while `Crossroads’ and Bruce’s `Traintime’ were also on the right tracks – so to speak. To regain a bit of commercial and critical credence, the album was duly split into its two, aforementioned sets, hitting the confused charts simultaneously.

Much to shock and awe of their legion of fans, CREAM decided to go out on top, courtesy of a farewell tour of the States that November, culminating in a legendary sell-out show on the 26th at the Royal Albert Hall. With the aforementioned `White Room’ finally delivered into the UK Top 30, Polydor Records squeezed out a rush-released swansong set, GOODBYE (1969) {*5}. While it hit its peak position in the States (No.2 in Britain), it fell foul of many pundits for its shortened-“Wheels Of Fire”-styled track formula – and it only just clocked in at half an hour! Written by the solo CLAPTON and GEORGE HARRISON, UK Top 20 hit `Badge’, became a fitting epitaph to one of classic rock’s great outfits. All went on to high-profile solo careers, the most obvious being CLAPTON with his extracurricular BLIND FAITH and DEREK AND THE DOMINOES; BRUCE and BAKER would continue their battles – but from a safe distance.

Like almost every other major 60s/70s rock act, CREAM finally succumbed to re-formation temptation in 2005, announcing a four-night spring residence at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the same place they signed off over 37 years earlier. A commemorative double-set, ROYAL ALBERT HALL: LONDON MAY 2-3-5-6 2005 {*6} (featuring all the usual suspects), was duly released; a cheaper alternative to the outrageously priced tickets that were touted during this period.


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