Cream Biography

Probably the most famous trio in the history of rock music, Cream comprised Jack Bruce (John Symon Asher, 14 May 1943, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland; bass/vocals), Eric Clapton (b. Eric Patrick Clapp, 30 March 1945, Ripley, Surrey, England; guitar) and Ginger Baker (b. Peter Baker, 19 August 1939, Lewisham, London, England; drums). In their two and a half years together, Cream made such an impression on fans, critics and musicians as to make them one of the most influential bands since the Beatles.

They formed in July 1966 at the height of swinging London during the 60s and were soon thrust into a non-stop turbulent arena, hungry for new and interesting music after the Merseybeat boom had quelled. Cream were promoted in the music press as a pop band, with Clapton from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Bruce from Graham Bond and briefly Manfred Mann, and Baker from the Graham Bond Organisation via Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. Baker and Bruce had originally played together in John Burch’s octet in 1962. Cream’s debut single, ‘Wrapping Paper’, was a comparatively weird pop song, and made the lower reaches of the charts on the strength of its insistent appeal. This was a paradox to their great strength of jamming and improvisation; each member was already a proven master of their chosen instrument. Their follow-up single, ‘I Feel Free’, unleashed such energy that it could only be matched by Jimi Hendrix. The debut album Fresh Cream confirmed the promise: this band were not what they seemed, another colourful pop act singing songs of tangerine bicycles. With a mixture of blues standards and exciting originals, the album became a record that every credible music fan should own. It reached number 6 in the UK charts. The following year, Disraeli Gears, with its distinctive dayglo cover, went even higher, and firmly established Cream in the USA, where they spent most of their touring life. This superb album showed a marked progression from their first, in particular, in the high standard of songwriting from Jack Bruce and his lyricist partner, former beat poet Pete Brown (b. 25 December 1940, Ashtead, Surrey, England). Landmark songs such as ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’, ‘Strange Brew’ and ‘SWLABR’ were performed with precision.

Already rumours of a split prevailed as news filtered back from America of fights and arguments between Baker and Bruce. Meanwhile, their live performances did not reflect the music already released from studio sessions. The long improvisational pieces, based around fairly simple blues structures, were often astounding. Each member had a least one party piece during concerts, Bruce with his frantic harmonica solo on ‘Traintime’, Baker with his trademark drum solo on ‘Toad’, and Clapton with his strident vocal and fantastic guitar solo on ‘Crossroads’. One disc of 1968’s magnificent two-record set, Wheels Of Fire, captured Cream live, at their inventive and exploratory best. Just a month after its release, while it sat on top of the US charts, the trio announced they would disband at the end of the year following two final concerts. The famous Royal Albert Hall farewell concerts were captured on film. The posthumous Goodbye reached number 1 in the UK charts and number 2 in the USA, while even some later live scrapings from the bottom of the barrel enjoyed chart success. Clapton and Baker were soon reunited in Blind Faith while Bruce established a solo career. Clapton would go on to become one of rock’s leading artists during the 70s and 80s.

The three members of Cream came together in 1993 for an emotional one-off performance at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame awards in New York, before the CD age finally recognized their contribution in 1997, with the release of an excellent 4-CD box set, Those Were The Days. Two CDs from the studio and two from the stage wrap up this brief career, with no stone left unturned. In addition to all of their previously issued material there is the unreleased ‘Lawdy Mama’, which Bruce claims features the wrongly recorded original bass line of ‘Strange Brew’. Another gem is a demo of the Bruce/Brown diamond, ‘The Weird Of Hermiston’, which later appeared on Bruce’s debut solo album, Songs For A Tailor. This collection reaffirmed Cream’s greatness, as three extraordinary musicians fusing their musical personalities together as a unit.

The band’s most famous album, Disraeli Gears, was reissued in 2004 as rumours of another reunion were heard. Confirmation followed that Cream would re-form for four nights only at the venue of their farewell concert in 1968. Tickets for their Albert Hall concerts sold out within two hours, and a few hours later were being resold at ridiculous prices over the Internet. Their Madison Square Garden gigs later in the year (24-26 October) created a similar demand. Cream came and went almost in the blink of an eye but left an indelible mark on rock music, as clearly demonstrated by their continuing selling power and influence.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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