Cream were a 1960s British rock band consisting of bassist/co-lead vocalist Jack Bruce, guitarist/co-vocalist Eric Clapton, and drummer Ginger Baker. They were celebrated as the first great power trio and supergroup of rock. Their sound was characterised by a hybrid of blues, hard rock and psychedelic rock. Cream combined Clapton's blues guitar playing with the powerful voice and intense basslines of Jack Bruce and the jazz-influenced drumming of Ginger Baker. They have sold over 35 million albums worldwide. Wheels of Fire was the world's first platinum-selling double album.
Cream's music included songs based on traditional blues such as "Crossroads" and "Spoonful", and modern blues such as "Born Under a Bad Sign", as well as more eccentric songs such as "Strange Brew", "Tales of Brave Ulysses" and "Toad". Cream's biggest hits were "I Feel Free" (UK, #11), "Sunshine of Your Love" (US, #5), "White Room" (US, #6), "Crossroads" (US, #28), and "Badge".
Cream, together with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, made a significant impact upon the popular music of the time, providing a heavy yet technically proficient musical theme that foreshadowed the emergence of bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and The Jeff Beck Group in the late 1960s. The band's live performances influenced progressive rock acts such as Rush, jam bands such as The Allman Brothers Band, Grateful Dead and Phish, and heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath.
Cream were ranked #16 on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.
In 1966, Clapton met Baker, then the leader of the Graham Bond Organisation, which at one point featured Jack Bruce on bass, harmonica and piano. Baker, too, felt stifled in the GBO, and had grown tired of Graham Bond's drug addictions and bouts of mental instability. "I had always liked Ginger", explained Clapton. "Ginger had come to see me play with John Mayall. After the gig he drove me back to London in his Rover. I was very impressed with his car and driving. He was telling me that he wanted to start a band, and I had been thinking about it too." Each was impressed with the other's playing abilities, prompting Baker to ask Clapton to join his new, then-unnamed group. Clapton immediately agreed, on the condition that Baker hire Jack Bruce as the group's bassist; according to Clapton, when he made the suggestion, Baker almost crashed the car.
Clapton had met Bruce when the bassist/vocalist did a short stint with the Bluesbreakers in March 1966; the two had also worked together as part of a one-shot band called Powerhouse (which also included Steve Winwood and Paul Jones). Impressed with Bruce's vocals and technical prowess, Clapton had wanted to work with him on an ongoing basis.
What Clapton did not know was that while Bruce was in Bond's band, he and Baker had been notorious for their quarreling. While both were excellent jazz musicians and respected each other's skills, the confines of the GBO had proved too small for their egos. Their volatile relationship included on-stage fights and the sabotage of one another's instruments. After Baker fired Bruce from the band, Bruce continued to arrive for gigs; ultimately, Bruce was driven away from the band after Baker threatened him at knifepoint.
Nevertheless, Baker and Bruce were able to put aside their differences for the good of Baker's new trio, which he envisioned as collaborative, with each of the members contributing to music and lyrics. The band was named "Cream", as Clapton, Bruce, and Baker were already considered the "cream of the crop" amongst blues and jazz musicians in the exploding British music scene. Before deciding upon "Cream", the band considered calling themselves "Sweet 'n' Sour Rock 'n' Roll". Of the trio, Clapton had the biggest reputation in England; however, he was all but unknown in the United States. He left The Yardbirds before "For Your Love" hit the American Top Ten.
Cream made their unofficial debut at the Twisted Wheel on 29 July 1966. Their official debut came two nights later at the Sixth Annual Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival. Being new and with few original songs to their credit, Cream performed spirited blues reworkings that thrilled the large crowd and earned them a warm reception. In October, they also got a chance to jam with Jimi Hendrix, who had recently arrived in London. Hendrix was a fan of Clapton's music, and wanted a chance to play with him onstage. Hendrix was introduced to Cream through Chas Chandler, the bassist of The Animals, who was Hendrix's manager.
It was during the early organization that they decided Bruce would serve as the group's lead vocalist. While Clapton was shy about singing, he occasionally harmonized with Bruce and, in time, took lead vocals on some notable Cream tunes including "Four Until Late, "Strange Brew, "Crossroads, and "Badge
The early Cream bootlegs show that the band had not developed their signature jamming capabilities. These recordings capture a much tighter band showcasing more songs. All of the songs are reasonably short five-minute versions of "N.S.U.", "Sweet Wine" and "Toad". But a mere two months later, the setlist had been shortened with the songs now much longer.
Although the album is considered one of Cream's finest efforts, it is not well represented in Cream's live sets. Although they consistently played "Tales of Brave Ulysses" and "Sunshine of Your Love", a setlist consisting of several songs from Disraeli Gears was quickly dropped from the set in mid-1967, favouring longer blues jams instead of short pop songs. Only "We're Going Wrong" saw some occasional play time in their live sets. In fact, at their 2005 reunion shows, Cream only played three songs from Disraeli Gears: "Outside Woman Blues," "We're Going Wrong," and "Sunshine of Your Love."
In late 1967, they incorporated more jamming time in their repertoire, some songs stretching out to 20 minutes. According to Jack Bruce, they were obliged to play 20-minute jams or the audience would angrily ask for their money back. Long drawn-out jams in songs like "Spoonful", "N.S.U." and "Sweet Wine" became live favorites. Nonetheless, songs like "Sunshine of Your Love", "Crossroads", and "Tales of Brave Ulysses" remained reasonably short.
The album's second disc featured three live recordings from the Winterland Ballroom and one from the Fillmore. Eric Clapton's solo in "Crossroads" has made it to the top 20 in multiple "greatest guitar solo" lists. The 16-minute "Spoonful", from their March Winterland show, became their most epic song and a concert favourite. Ginger Baker's "Toad" is now widely-regarded as one of the greatest live drum solos in rock history.
After the completion of Wheels of Fire in mid-1968, the band members had had enough and wanted to go their separate ways. As Baker would state in a 2006 interview with Music Mart magazine, "It just got to the point where Eric said to me: 'I've had enough of this,' and I said so have I. I couldn't stand it. The last year with Cream was just agony. It's damaged my hearing permanently, and today I've still got a hearing problem because of the sheer volume throughout the last year of Cream. But it didn't start off like that. In 1966, it was great. It was really a wonderful experience musically, and it just went into the realms of stupid." Also, Bruce and Baker's combustible relationship proved even worse as a result of the strain put upon the band by non-stop touring, forcing Clapton to play the perpetual role of peacekeeper.
Clapton had also fallen under the spell of Bob Dylan's former backing group, now known as The Band, and their debut album, Music from Big Pink, which proved to be a welcome breath of fresh air in comparison to the incense and psychedelia that had informed Cream. Furthermore, he had read a scathing Cream review in Rolling Stone magazine, a publication he had much admired, where the reviewer, Jon Landau, called him a "master of the blues cliché." It was in the wake of that article that Clapton wanted to end Cream and pursue a different musical direction.
At the beginning of their farewell tour on 4 October 1968, in Oakland, nearly the entire set consisted of songs from Wheels of Fire: "White Room", "Politician", "Crossroads", "Spoonful", "Deserted Cities of the Heart", and "Passing the Time" taking place of "Toad" for a drum solo. "Passing the Time" and "Deserted Cities" were quickly removed from the setlist and replaced by "Sitting on Top of the World" and "Toad".
Cream's "farewell tour" consisted of 22 shows at 19 venues in the United States between 4 October and 4 November 1968, and two final farewell concerts at the Royal Albert Hall on 26 November 1968. Initially another double album was planned, comprising live material from this tour plus new studio tracks, but a single album, Goodbye was released instead with three live tracks taken from their performance at The Forum in Los Angeles on 19 October 1968, and three studio tracks, one written by each of the band members. The final United States gig was at the Rhode Island Auditorium, 4 November 1968. The two Royal Albert Hall concerts were filmed for a BBC documentary and released on video (and later DVD) as Farewell Concert. Both shows were sold out and attracted more attention than any other Cream concert, but their performance was regarded by many as below standard. Baker himself said of the concerts: "It wasn’t a good gig ... Cream was better than that ... We knew it was all over. We knew we were just finishing it off, getting it over with." Cream's live performances were already declining. In an interview from Cream: Classic Artists, Ginger Baker himself agreed that the band was getting worse by the minute.
From its creation, Cream was faced with some fundamental problems that would later lead to its dissolution in November 1968. The rivalry between Bruce and Baker created tensions in the band. Clapton also felt that the members of the band did not listen to each other enough. Clapton once told a story that when Cream were playing in a concert, he stopped playing and neither Baker nor Bruce noticed. Cream decided that it would break up in May of 1968 during a tour of the US. Later, in July, an official announcement was made that the band would break up after a farewell tour of the United States and after playing two concerts in London. Cream finished its tour of the United States with a 4 November concert in Rhode Island and performed in the UK for the last time in London on 25 and 26 November.
The performance spurred rumours of a reunion tour. Bruce and Baker went so far as to say in later interviews that they were, indeed, interested in touring as Cream. A formal reunion did not take place immediately, however, and Clapton continued to pursue solo projects, as did Bruce and Baker, although the two did work together again in the mid-1990s as two-thirds of a power trio, BBM, with Gary Moore.
In 2004, it was officially announced that Cream would finally reunite for a series of four shows, on 2, 3, 5, and 6 May 2005 at the Royal Albert Hall in London, the venue of their final concerts in 1968. Even more surprising was that the reunion came at Clapton's request: although the three musicians chose not to speak publicly about the shows, Clapton would later state that he had become more "generous" in regard to his past, and that the physical health of Bruce and Baker was a major factor: Bruce had recently undergone a liver transplant for liver cancer, and had almost lost his life, while Baker had severe arthritis.
Tickets for all four shows sold out in under an hour. Touts were soon charging outrageous prices for what became one of the hardest-to-get tickets in rock and roll history. The performances were recorded for a live CD and DVD. Among those in attendance were Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, Steve Winwood, Roger Waters, Brian May of Queen, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and also Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman, formerly of the Rolling Stones. The reunion marked the first time the band had played "Badge" and "Pressed Rat and Warthog" live.
The Royal Albert Hall reunion proved a success on both a personal and financial level, inspiring the reformed band to bring their reunion to the United States. For reasons unknown, Cream chose to play at only one venue, Madison Square Garden in New York City, from 24-26 October 2005. The shows were marred by some controversy in regard to tickets: the show's promoters had made a deal with credit card company American Express to make tickets available to American Express customers only in an unprecedented week-long pre-sale. Again, touts charged high prices for tickets; nevertheless, the shows were a financial success and received critical praise.
Fans of Cream hoped for a full-scale tour, but a statement from Cream's publicist days after the last performance put the nail in that particular coffin, when it was announced that Cream would not tour the United States. In an interview with Jack Bruce in the December 2005 issue of Bass Player magazine, Bruce hinted that he would like to see Cream continue in one way or another, possibly in the form of a new album, but that a tour was out of the question: "It would be quite a challenge to try to create music that would stand up to the classic songs. I've got a few ideas already — in fact, I wrote a song yesterday that I think would work. I just don't know if it will happen, because we all feel the band is so special we don't want to do it that often, if we go on. We've had offers you wouldn't believe — I didn't believe — for long world tours, and it's tempting. But none of us wants to accept because it would take away from the rarity and special nature of getting together. I'd like to do it every now and again and just play somewhere, but we could do an album amidst that, and I'm going to suggest it."
Blind Faith came about immediately after the demise of Cream following an attempt by Clapton to recruit Steve Winwood into the band in the hope that he would help act as a buffer between Bruce and Baker. However, Cream broke up before Winwood had the chance to consider the offer.
Inspired by more song-based acts, particularly The Band, Clapton went on to perform much different, less improvisational material with Delaney & Bonnie, Derek and the Dominos and in his own long and varied solo career.
Jack Bruce began a varied and successful solo career with the 1969 release of Songs for a Tailor.
Ginger Baker formed a jazz-fusion ensemble out of the ashes of Blind Faith, Ginger Baker's Air Force, which featured Winwood, Blind Faith bassist Rick Grech, Graham Bond on sax, and Denny Laine of the Moody Blues, among others.
However, this story was rebutted by both Clapton and Baker, first by Clapton in a Times article from April 2006. The article stated that when asked about Cream, Clapton said: "'No. Not for me. We did it and it was fun. But life is too short I've got lots of other things I would rather do, including staying at home with my kids.' The thing about that band, he says, was that it was all to do with its limits. 'Here were three people who were essentially in disagreement with each other. You latched on to those rare moments of cohesion and made the most of them. But they were rare. It was an experiment.'"
In an interview regarding the release of a DVD of Blind Faith's 1969 performance in Hyde Park, Baker commented to the United Kingdom-based magazine Music Mart about his unwillingness to continue the Cream reunion. These comments were far more specific and explosive than Clapton's; his reasons stemmed from Jack Bruce's behaviour at the Madison Square Garden performances: "When he's Dr. Jekyll, he's fine... It's when he's Mr. Hyde that he's not. And I'm afraid he's still the same. I tell you this - there won't ever be any more Cream gigs, because he did Mr. Hyde in New York last year."
When asked to elaborate, Baker replied: "Oh, he shouted at me on stage, he turned his bass up so loud that he deafened me on the first gig. What he does is that he apologises and apologises, but I'm afraid, to do it on a Cream reunion gig, that was the end. He killed the magic, and New York was like 1968... It was just a get through the gig, get the money sort of deal. I was absolutely amazed. I mean, he demonstrated why he got the sack from Graham Bond and why Cream didn't last very long on stage in New York. I didn't want to do it in the first place simply because of how Jack was. I have worked with him several times since Cream, and I promised myself that I would never work with him again. When Eric first came up with the idea, I said no, and then he phoned me up and eventually convinced me to do it. I was on my best behaviour and I did everything I could to make things go as smooth as possible, and I was really pleasant to Jack."
Clapton would later expand on his reasons for ending the reunion: Baker's response to Bruce's attitude on the first night of the New York shows. Believing that the two would never see eye-to-eye almost forty years after the break-up of Cream, he chose to return to the path of solo artist. Surprisingly, despite the negative comments from Baker regarding Madison Square Garden, Jack Bruce told Detroit's WCSX radio station in May 2007 that there are plans for a Cream reunion later in the year: "There is some talk about us getting together later this year, which I can't really say too much about. But it's not a commercial thing ... but we may get together for something."
It was later revealed that the potential performance was to be a set at the November, 2007 London tribute to Ahmet Ertegün. The band decided against it, as was confirmed by Bruce in a letter to the editor of the Jack Bruce fanzine, The Cuicoland Express dated 26 September 2007:
The headlining act for the O2 Arena Ertegun tribute show (postponed to December 2007) turned out to be another reunited English hard-rock act, Led Zeppelin. So while the band members are talking again, no Cream reunions are planned for the near future.