Release Date: 10th July 2020.
Nowadays, the British rock group Cream are regarded as the world’s first ever supergroup. They were founded in the summer of 1966, and split-up in November 1968, having released four albums that sold over fifteen million copies worldwide. This included their critically acclaimed sophomore album Disraeli Gears, which was released in November 1967 and hailed a classic by critics. By then, Cream had come a long way in a short space of time.
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. That was when he left the band for the first time.
In November 1965, Eric Clapton returned to the fold and for the next eight months he was back with the Bluesbreakers. 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 ‘ 2nd; July 1966. Critical acclaim accompanied what’s regarded as a British blues classic. It reached number six in the UK charts and 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 and he found this was frustrating. So much so, that he was even considering forming his own band. However, the Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton had just been released and looked like being the band’s most successful album. Despite that, Eric Clapton’s 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 was a special guest, 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 and 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 was still experimenting musically, and 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 Pete Brown. Meanwhile, Jack Bruce wrote Dance the Night Away, SWLABR and Take It Back with Pete Brown. Eric Clapton and Martin Sharp wrote Tales of Brave Ulysses. These songs were joined by a couple of cover versions.
This included Arthur Reynolds’ Outside Woman Blues which was arranged by Eric Clapton. The other cover versions was World Of Pain, which was penned byFelix Pappalardi and Gail Collins songwriting partnership wrote. Just like the rest of Disraeli Gears, it was recorded in New York, during May 1967.
Recording of Disraeli Gears took place at Atlantic Studios, New York. This time around, Cream was joined by a new producer, with Felix Pappalardi replaced ‘musical impresario’ Robert Stigwood. The 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. However, Disraeli Gears was one of the biggest projects of his career, and 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 was 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 was one of the biggest bands in the world.
Following Disraeli Gears, Cream would rebased just two more albums. This included their third and final studio album Wheels Of Fire, which was released on the ‘9th’ of August 1968 and became world’s first platinum-selling double album. By then, all wasn’t well within the band.
Cream’s manager Robert Stigwood announced they were disbanding in November 1968. They had just completed recording their swansong Goodbye Cream a month earlier in October 1968. It featured three tracks recorded in the studio and another three which were recorded live. When Goodbye Cream was released in February 1969 and topped the British charts and reached number two in America. It was the end of an era for Cream.
They sold over fifteen million copies of Fresh Cream, Disraeli Gears and Wheels Of Fire and Goodbye. That is why nowadays, Cream are regarded as rock royalty. Cream were also the first British supergroup. Soon, others followed in Cream’s wake but never came close to replicating the commercial success and critical acclaim that Cream enjoyed. They were in a league of their own.
Each of the albums they released found Cream’s music evolving as they continued to create groundbreaking music. This includes on their sophomore Disraeli Gears where they fuse blues rock, hard rock and psychedelia to createa timeless classic that belongs in every self respecting record collection.