CREAM BRITAIN’S FIRST AND BEST SUPERGROUP?
Cream-Britain’s First and Best Supergroup.
It was in July 1966, when Britain’s first supergroup, Cream was born. Eric Clapton who was regarded as the greatest British blues guitarist of his generation, was looking beyond life with John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers. That was the group Eric Clapton had joined after his departure from The Yarbirds.
By July 1966, Eric Clapton was in his second spell with John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers. He originally joined in April 1965 and was a Bluesbreaker until August 1965. Three months later, Eric Clapton returned to the fold in November 1965. For the next eight months, Eric Clapton was a Bluesbreaker. During this period, John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers recorded their classic album Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton in April 1966.
Three months later, and Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton was released by Decca on the 22nd July 1966. Critical acclaim accompanied what’s regarded as a British blues classic. It reached number six in the UK charts. This should’ve been a reason to celebrate. However, Eric Clapton was neither happy nor feeling fulfilled musically.
Instead, he felt constrained musically. Eric Clapton was unable to stretch his legs within John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers. There was certainly no room for invention. This was frustrating for Eric Clapton. So much so, that he was even considering forming his own band. However, Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton had just been released and looked like being the band’s most successful album. For Eric Clapton, his nascent career was at a crossroads.
To take his mind off his problems, Eric Clapton decided to go and see blues guitarist Buddy Guy in concert. That night, Buddy Guy took to the stage with a trio. When Eric Clapton saw the trio live, he was so impressed that he decided to form a new band. They would also be a trio, Cream.
Having made the decision to leave John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton began looking for musicians to join his band. He knew drummer Ginger Baker, who was a member The Graham Bond Organisation. Ginger Baker was tiring of Graham Bond’s drug addiction and bouts of instability. So much so, that he was considering his future.
When Eric Clapton approached Ginger Baker about joining his trio, the answer was yes. However, there was a catch. Eric Clapton had to agree to hire The Graham Bond Organisation’s bassist Jack Bruce.
Eric Clapton already knew Jack Bruce and played alongside him on two occasions. The first came in November 1965 when Jack Bruce sat in with John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers during November 1965. More recently, Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce were part of Steve Winwood’s band Powerhouse, which also featured Paul Jones. During the two sessions, Eric Clapton had been impressed by Jack Bruce proficiency and prowess as a bassist. Jack Bruce who had previously enjoyed working with Eric Clapton, agreed to join the band. However, he was surprised that Ginger Baker had recommended him to Eric Clapton.
During their time with The Graham Bond Organisation, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce had a volatile relationship. The two members of the rhythm section were known to argue onstage. Sometimes, things got so bad that they traded blows. However, that was the past. Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce agreed to put their differences aside. A musical truce was declared. Suddenly, there was peace in our time. All for the good of the new group.
With the lineup complete, the nascent band set about establishing the ground rules. They envisaged that songs would be collaborations, with each member playing a part in writing the lyrics and music. Next on the agenda was a name for the group. It didn’t take long for them to come up with the name Cream. The music press had been describing the new band as the: “cream of the crop” of British musicians. Cream was essentially the first British supergroup. They were about to make what was their unofficial debut.
This took place on the 29th of July 1966, at the Twisted Wheel nightclub in Manchester. That night, it was hosting the Sixth Annual Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival. Cream were special guests, and in absence of new material, ran through a set of blues covers. Little did those in the audience realise that they had just witnessed history being made.
Just three months later, in October 1966, Cream took to the stage with another legend of sixties music, Jimi Hendrix. He was a fan of Eric Clapton’s was keen to jam with his new band on his arrival of London. Little did anyone realise that by the end of the sixties, both Cream and Jimi Hendrix would’ve become two of the biggest names of the late-sixties music scene.
Later in 1966, Cream were still experimenting musically. They had yet to decide who would be the group’s lead vocalist. Eric Clapton’s shyness meant he was reluctant to take charge of the lead vocals. Instead, Jack Bruce became Cream’s lead vocalist. However, during Cream’s lifetime, Eric Clapton would add harmonies and the lead vocal on a number of tracks.This included a track on Cream’s debut album Fresh Cream.
Almost straight away, work began on Cream’s debut album, which later became Fresh Cream. It featured ten songs. They were a mixture of new songs and cover versions.
The new songs included Jack Bruce’s N.S.U. and Dreaming. He cowrote Sleepy Time Time with his first wife and songwriting partner Janet Godfrey. She cowrote Sweet Wine with Ginger Baker, who wrote the instrumental Toad. Other songs included a cover of song Cat’s Squirrel, which was arranged by Cream and a quartet of blues classics.
This included Willie Dixon’s Spoonful. Cream decided to cover Robert Johnson’s From Four Until Late which Eric Clapton arranged. It was joined by Rollin’ and Tumblin’ which Muddy Waters penned using his real name, McKinley Morganfield. The final blues classic was Skip James’ I’m So Glad. These songs were recorded over a three month period.
Recording of Fresh Cream took place between July and October 1966 at two separate studios in London. Some sessions took at Rayrik Studios, while others took place at Ryemuse Studios. Drummer Ginger Baker joined bassist Jack Bruce in the rhythm section. He also played harmonica, piano and took charge of seven of the eight lead vocals. Guitarist Eric Clapton added the lead vocal on Four Until Late. Meanwhile, Robert Stigwood produced what would later became Fresh Cream. It was completed by October 1966.
The release of Fresh Cream was scheduled for the 9th of December 1966. Before that, Cream released their debut single Wrapping Paper in October 1966 . It was penned by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown, but didn’t feature on Fresh Cream. Wrapping Paper showcased a psychedelic pop sound that Cream returned to. This proved popular and reached thirty-four in the UK charts. Things were looking good for Cream.
Nearer the release of Fresh Cream, critics had their say on the nascent supergroup’s debut album. Nearly every critic lavished praise and plaudits on Fresh Cream. They were won over by an album that ranged from blues rock to psychedelia and a much more hard rocking sound. Cream’s debut was an eclectic and accomplished album. Especially the psychedelic sound of N.S.U, the bluesy Sleepy Time and the Jack Bruce penned ballad Dreaming. Four Until Late shakes off his shyness and makes his debut on lead vocal on the cover Robert Johnson’s Four Till Late. However, one of Cream’s finest moments on Fresh Cream was their reinvention of I’m So Glad. It’s transformed into something that Skip James could never have envisaged. Given the critical reaction to Fresh Cream, it seemed that the future looked bright for Cream.
They prepared to release Fresh Cream on the 9th of December 1966 on Robert Stigwood’s new independent record label, Reaction Records. The same day, Cream released their sophomore single, I Feel Free. Just like their debut single, it didn’t feature on Fresh Cream. Despite that, I Feel Free reached number eleven in the UK and fifty-three in Australia. Meanwhile, Fresh Cream reached number six in the UK, ten in Australia and twenty in France. This resulted in Fresh Cream being certified gold in Britain and France. The success continued when Fresh Cream was released in America.
The American version of Fresh Cream was released by Atco. It featured a slightly different track listing. I Feel Free opened the album, with the British version of Fresh Cream following. This proved popular among American record buyers. Fresh Cream eventually reached thirty-nine in the US Billboard 200 and was certified gold. For Cream, this meant that their debut album Fresh Cream had been certified gold in three different continents. Critics wondered how they could they followup such a successful album? Cream returned with a classic album, Disraeli Gears.
Following the success of Fresh Cream, Cream headed out on tour. In March they landed in America, to play their first American tour. They were part of a package tour, and were booked to play nine dates at the Brooklyn Fox Theater in New York.
Each day, Cream played three times. However, the early concerts weren’t well received. DJ turned promoter Murray the K wasn’t impressed. He placed Cream at the bottom of the bill. Towards the end of the run, they were reduced to playing just one song during each set. The New York part of their American tour had been a disaster. They wouldn’t forget Murray the K in a hurry.
Having returned home from their American tour, Cream’s thoughts turned to their sophomore album. They had been writing what later became Disraeli Gears for some time.
When Cream was formed, the plan had been for the band to collaborate on songs. Alas, none of the eleven tracks on Disraeli Gears were written by the three members of Cream. They arranged the traditional song, Mother’s Lament. Sometimes, the members of Cream wrote alone. Jack Bruce wrote We’re Going Wrong and Ginger Baker penned We’re Going Wrong. Mostly, the members of Cream wrote alone or formed songwriting partnerships with other musicians and songwriters.
Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton cowrote Sunshine Of Your Love with Pete Brown. It would become one of their known songs. So would Strange Brew, which Eric Clapton wrote with Felix Pappalardi Gail Collins penned. Meanwhile,Jack Bruce wrote Dance the Night Away, SWLABR and Take It Back with Pete Brown. Eric Clapton wrote just the one song. This was Tales of Brave Ulysses with Martin Sharp. However, Eric Clapton arranged Arthur Reynolds’ Outside Woman Blues. It was one of just three covers on Disraeli Gears. Another was World Of Pain, which the Felix Pappalardi and Gail Collins songwriting partnership wrote. Just like the rest of Disraeli Gears, it was recorded in New York, during May 1967.
The prestigious surroundings of Atlantic Studios, New York were where Cream began work on Disraeli Gears. This time around, Felix Pappalardi had replaced ‘musical impresario’ Robert Stigwood. Twenty-seven year old was a classically trained musician who having turned his back on classical music, became a successful singer, songwriter, bassist and producer. One of his biggest projects was producing Disraeli Gears. It was a much more complex album than Fresh Cream.
Ginger Baker played drums and percussionist and joined his cohort, bassist Jack Bruce in the rhythm section. Jack Bruce also played harmonica, piano and took charge of seven of the eight lead vocals. Eric Clapton switched between lead guitar, rhythm guitar and twelve-string guitar. He also added the lead vocal on Strange Brew, World of Pain and Outside Woman Blues. It seemed that Eric Clapton was well on his way to overcoming his shyness, as Cream changed direction musically.
Critics realised this when they received their promotional copies of Disraeli Gears. It took its name from a malapropism which alluded to the former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Eric Clapton had been taking about buying a racing bike during a car journey. Mick Turner who was driving the car responded that it should have: “Disraeli Gears” when he meant derailleur gears. That malapropism gave birth to tittle of the album critics were holding. When they listened to Disraeli Gears, they soon realised that Cream were moving away from the blues’ roots.
That was apart from on the cover of Blind Boy Reynolds’ Outside Woman Blues and Take it Back. It had been inspired by American students burning their draft cards. These were the only bluesy tracks on Disraeli Gears. Mostly, Cream moved towards psychedelia on Disraeli Gears. Tracks like Strange Brew, Sunshine Of Your Love, Dance The Night Away, Tales Of Brave Ulysses and We’re Going Wrong found Cream embracing psychedelia on an album that stood head and shoulders above the competition. Critic acclaim accompanied the release of Disraeli Gears.
On 2nd November 1967, Cream released their sophomore album Disraeli Gears. In Britain, Disraeli Gears reached number six and was certified platinum. Meanwhile, Disraeli Gears reached number two in France and twenty in Norway. Halfway round the world, Disraeli Gears reached number one in Australia and was certified platinum. However, Disraeli Gears was a huge success across North America. It reached number ten in Canada and number four in America. By then, Disraeli Gears had sold over a million copies. This resulted in Cream receiving their first platinum disc in America. However, that wasn’t the end of the success for Cream.
They released Sunshine Of Your Love as a single in January 1968. It reached seventeen in the UK, eighteen in Australia, three in Canada and five in the US Billboard 100. This resulted in Sunshine Of Your Love being certified gold in Britain, Australia and America. After just two albums, Cream were one of the biggest bands in the world. They were keen to build on this success, and began work on their third album, Wheels Of Fire.
Wheels Of Fire.
For their third album Wheels Of Fire, Cream decided to release a double album. This was no ordinary album. The first album was recorded in the studio, while the second disc was entitled Live At The Fillmore. Wheels Of Fire was an ambitious project for one of the most successful bands in the world.
Some of the tracks that became part of disc one of Wheels Of Fire had already been recorded. Others were still to be recorded. A total of nine tracks were chosen.
This included White Room, As You Said, Politician and Deserted Cities of the Heart which were penned by the Jack Bruce and Pete Brown songwriting partnership. Ginger Baker formed a songwriting partnership with Mike Taylor, and cowrote Passing The Time, Pressed Rat and Warthog and Those Were The Days. They were joined by two cover versions, Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon’s Sitting on Top of the World and Booker T. Jones and William Bell’s Born Under A Bad Sign. These nine songs were recorded between July 1967 and June 1968.
The Wheels Of Fire sessions took place at a variety of studios. This included the IBC Studios during July and August 1967. From there, Cream headed Atlantic Studios, New York. They spent January and February of 1968 recording at the famous studios. Later in 1968, Cream returned to Atlantic Studios, New York during June 1968. During the various sessions, Cream used a myriad of instruments.
Each member of Cream had expanded their musical arsenal. Ginger Baker played drums and percussionist. He also added bells, glockenspiel, timpani and add the spoken word part on Pressed Rat and Warthog. Bassist Jack Bruce played acoustic guitar, calliope, cello, harmonic and recorder. Jack Bruce took charge of the lead vocals. Meanwhile, Eric Clapton laid down the guitar parts. Augmenting Cream, was Felix Pappalard, who played organ pedals, Swiss hand bells, tonette, trumpet and the viola. This left just Live At The Fillmore to be recorded.
Despite being entitled Live At The Fillmore, only Toad was recorded at the Filmore in San Francisco on 7th March 1968. However, Toad is transformed and becomes a sixteen minute epic where Cream stretch their legs and improvise. At last, Eric Clapton had the freedom he missed so much during his last spell with John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers. After the show at the Filmore, Cream headed to another venue in San Francisco, Winterland.
Just like at the Filmore, Cream were due to play two shows each night. On first show of 8th of March 1968, Cream’s set included Traintime a Jack Bruce composition. It made it onto Live At The Fillmore. Two nights later, Cream played two more shows at Winterland. During the first show, Cream covered Robert Johnson’s Crossroad and Willie Dixon’s Spoonful. Eric Clapton’s takes charge of the vocal on Crossroads. Later in the set, Cream cover and transform Willie Dixon’s Spoonful. Cream enjoy the opportunity to improvise and take the song in new directions over a sixteen minute period. This was a tantalising taste of Cream live.
Critics agreed when they received their copies of Wheels Of Fire. They were won over by what was an ambitious double album of studio and live recordings. Cream seemed to be maturing as a band. Especially live, where they enjoyed deconstructing and reconstructing songs. That was the case with Spoonful and Toad, which featured Cream at their best live. Critical acclaim preceded the release of Wheels Of Fire
Wheels Of Fire was released during July 1968, and quickly became Cream’s most successful album. It reached number three in the UK, two in France, fifteen in Germany and sixteen in Norway. In Australia, Canada and America, Wheels Of Fire reached number one. This resulted in Wheels Of Fire being certified platinum in Australia, America and British. For Cream this should’ve been a reason to celebrate.
Sadly, all wasn’t well within Cream. It hadn’t been for some time. Musically, the three members of Cream were no longer on the same page. Eric Clapton was now interested in the music that Bob Dylan was producing. He also cast envious glances at Bob Dylan’s former backing band, The Band. He was interested in their music, and the way that it was heading. Meanwhile, the truce Eric Clapton had been brokered between Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker was over. Their arguing was putting pressure on the very future of Cream. It was almost inevitable that the three members of Cream would decide to call it a day.
What had hastened the demise of Cream was when Eric Clapton read a review of Cream in the contrarian publication, Rolling Stone. The reviewer in what was nothing more than a hatchet job of review, resorted to name calling. Cream the reviewer said were a: “master of the blues cliché.” When Eric Clapton read the review, he decided that it was the end of road for Cream.
They embarked upon a Farewell Tour that began in Oakland on 4th October 1968. The tour ended fifteen days later at the Forum, Los Angeles, on the 19th of October 1969. That show was recorded, and became part of of Cream’s final album, Goodbye Cream.
For their fourth and final album, the three members of Cream returned to London to record three tracks at IBC Studios in London. This included Badge, which Eric Clapton wrote with Beatle George Harrison. Doing That Scrapyard Thing was penned by the Jack Bruce and Pete Brown songwriting partnership. It had been a source of successful song’s during Cream’s lifetime. Ginger Baker contributed What a Bringdown. This meant that each of the members of of Cream wrote new song on their swan-song.
Joining Cream at IBC Studios, was producer Felix Pappalardi. When recording Badge, Doing That Scrapyard Thing and What a Bringdown at IBC Studios, keyboards were used extensively. This was a first. Cream were innovating to the end. Cream also used a Leslie speaker on Badge and Doing That Scrapyard Thing. This added to the psychedelic sound of both tracks. The three tracks that were recorded at IBC Studios became half of Goodbye.
The rest of Cream consisted of a trio of live tracks. They had been recorded at the Forum, in Los Angeles, on the 19th of October 1969. Skip James’ I’m So Glad, Jack Bruce and Pete Brown’s Politician and Walter Vinson and and Lonnie Chatmon’s Sitting on Top of the World featured Cream at their very best.
So much so, that when critics heard Goodbye, they hailed the live tracks as better as those on Wheels Of Fire. This was a glimpse of what Cream were capable of producing live. Similarly, the three songs recorded at IBC Studios were regarded as groundbreaking, and saw Cream reinventing their music. Badge critics said, was the standout track, and without doubt one Cream’s finest hours. It looked as if Cream were about to bow out at the top.
By the time Goodbye was released in March 1969, Cream had been dissolved. They played a farewell concert at the Royal Albert Hall, in London. Despite this, Goodbye reached number one in the UK, three in France, nine in Germany and seven in Norway. In Australia, Goodbye reached number six. Meanwhile, Goodbye reached number five in Canada and number two in America. This resulted in Goodbye being certified platinum in the UK and gold in America and Australia. Cream bowed out at the top, with their fourth albums in just under three years.
Each of these albums were released to critical acclaim and went on to sell in vast quantities. Cream’s four albums were certified gold and platinum on three continents. Britain’s first supergroup became one of the country’s most successful bands. Cream sold over fifteen million copies of Fresh Cream, Disraeli Gears and Wheels Of Fire and Goodbye. That’s why, nowadays, Cream are regarded as rock royalty.
They were also the first British supergroup. Other followed in Cream’s wake. However, Cream achieved more than most in just under three years. Each of their albums found Cream’s music evolving as they continued to create groundbreaking music. This ranged from blues rock to hard rock and psychedelia. The quartet of albums Cream’s released between December 1966 and March 1969 are a reminder of the first, and many say best British supergroup, Cream.
Cream-Britain’s First and Best Supergroup.