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Music / Cream

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Left to right: Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce.

"Cream never really played that much blues. I think we aimed to start a revolution in musical thought. We set out to change the world, to upset people, and to shock them... Our aim was to get so far away from the original line that you're playing something that's never been heard before."

Cream was an extremely influential British rock band active from 1966 to 1969, reuniting a few times since. Cream was made up of Eric Clapton (guitar and vocals), Ginger Baker (drums), and Jack Bruce (lead vocals and bass). All three musicians were already well known in the English rock scene at the time, thus making Cream one of the first supergroups and the first to be referred as such. During their three years of existence, they released four albums, all of which reached the top 6 of the UK Albums Chart.

Cream basically popularised and helped codify Psychedelic Rock and brought Blues Rock into the mainstream with songs based on both traditional blues (such as "Crossroads" and "Spoonful") and modern blues. Cream also popularised the use of the wah-wah pedal.

The band was also known for its live performances. The members often incorporated jams into their songs, with some reaching to 16 minutes (such as "Spoonful" and "Toad"); this made them favourites around the world. They were at their time the number one biggest live act. Clapton's guitar solos were (and are) considered some of the best ever.

Fresh Cream, the band's first album, consisted of cover versions of blues standards ("Spoonful", "Rollin' and Tumblin'", "Four Until Late", "I'm So Glad"), original songs written by the band and collaborators ("I Feel Free", "N.S.U.", "Sleepy Time Time", "Dreaming", "Sweet Wine"), a rearrangement of the traditional song "Cat's Squirrel" and the drum solo showcase "Toad". Cream's sophomore effort Disraeli Gears is considered the album that defined the band's style of mixed rock and blues; some of Cream's biggest hits, such as "Sunshine of Your Love" and "Strange Brew," appeared on the album. Disraeli Gears is also noted for Martin Sharp's psychedelic cover art.

Wheels of Fire was Cream's third album and their first double album, the first disc with studio tracks and the second with live tracks performed in San Francisco. It topped the American charts and became the world's first platinum-selling double album. With this album, the band shifted from blues to Progressive Rock, using classical instruments and rare time signatures.

Shortly before Wheels of Fire was finished, the members of Cream wanted to go their separate ways. The already-present animosity between Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce reached a high point, and Clapton had to act as peacekeeper. Soon, all three members did not listen to each other much while performing, with Clapton frequently recalling a concert where he actually stopped playing at one point but neither Baker nor Bruce noticed. Clapton was also influenced to break up the band after a scathing review of one of their concerts in Rolling Stone, where Jon Landau dismissed him as a "master of the blues cliché", and after becoming captivated by The Band's debut Music From Big Pink. Cream made an official announcement in July 1968 that they would break up soon after another tour and album. The band did a farewell tour in late 1968, and their final album, Goodbye, was released in 1969.

Upon the demise of Cream, Eric Clapton had stints with several different bands before embarking on an extremely successful solo career; the other two members have been successful, but less so. The line-up reunited briefly at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 upon their induction and then again for a handful of reunion concerts in 2005. Jack Bruce died from liver disease on 25 October 2014, at the age of 71, which ended any chance of further Cream reunions. Ginger Baker died five years later, on 6 October 2019, aged 80, leaving Clapton the sole surviving member.

Cream's influence has extended far, from progressive rock bands such as Rush to jam bands such as The Grateful Dead to heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath. VH1 and Rolling Stone have both called Cream one of the best bands of all time. Most of all, one of their number one fans was of course Jimi Hendrix, who came to England in hope of meeting Eric Clapton, his idol.

Principal Members (Founding members in bold):

  • Ginger Baker - drums, percussion, occasional lead vocals, bells, glockenspiel, timpani, cowbells (1966-1968, 1993, 2005, died 2019)
  • Jack Bruce - bass, lead vocals, harmonica, piano, cello, guitar, calliope, recorder, organ (1966-1968, 1993, 2005, died 2014)
  • Eric Clapton - guitar, lead vocals (1966-1968, 1993, 2005)

Studio Discography:

  • 1966 - Fresh Cream note 
  • 1967 - Disraeli Gears
  • 1968 - Wheels of Fire note 
  • 1969 - Goodbye note 

Live Discography:

  • 1968 - Wheels of Fire note 
  • 1969 - Goodbye note 
  • 1970 - Live Cream
  • 1972 - Live Cream Volume II
  • 2003 - BBC Sessions
  • 2006 - Royal Albert Hall London May 2-3-5-6, 2005

Non-album singles:

  • 1966 - "Wrapping Paper" note  / "Cat's Squirrel"
  • 1966 - "I Feel Free" note  / "N.S.U." note 
  • 1968 - "Anyone For Tennis" / "Pressed Rat And Warthog"

This band provides examples of:

  • A Cappella: The beginning of "I Feel Free."
  • All Drummers Are Animals: Ginger Baker is often seen as being this, particularly after the release of the Beware of Mr. Baker film.
  • Ax-Crazy: Ginger Baker. To put this into perspective - him threatening Jack Bruce with a knife was just another incident.
  • Badass Boast: The band's name.
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: Jack Bruce (5'6") was the little guy, Eric Clapton (5'9") was average and Ginger Baker (6'4") was the big guy.
  • Blues Rock: If not the Trope Codifier, then certainly the most important Genre Popularizer.
  • Briefer Than They Think: Despite being a hugely influential band and having released four albums, Cream lasted just over two years: from July 1966 to November 1968.
  • British Rock Star: To their many American fans.
  • Can't Take Criticism: A negative review of a concert published in Rolling Stone magazine apparently caused Clapton such distress that he fainted in a restaurant after he read it. It was one of the reasons the band split. While this might seem ridiculously thin-skinned, it's worth noting that Clapton was so deeply affected by the review because it expressed all the doubts he himself had been having about Cream's music, particularly after listening to the Band's Music From Big Pink.note 
  • Cover Version: Side two of Fresh Cream, almost the entire live discs of Wheels of Fire and Goodbye, and parts of Disraeli Gears. Worth noting is they would often rearrange them.
  • Distinct Double Album: Wheels of Fire with its studio half and its live half. Upon its release, the album was available as a double or as two individually-packaged single albums.
  • Epic Rocking: These were the guys who started it! To Ending Fatigue levels, in fact. Which was due to a severe Gone Horribly Right: at their first concerts, they didn't have a big repertoire so they'd stretch out by jamming. Pretty soon the only reason people came to their shows was to hear their jamming. Eddie Van Halen once referred to their style by saying "they had this quality of falling down the stairs and landing on their feet." It did for them in the end: they were booked into a touring schedule that would have been tough enough even for bands that weren't having to jam every night, but Cream did have to, and Eric Clapton got exhausted by the pressure (and his constantly feuding bandmates.)
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Eric Clapton had four distinct hairstyles during the two years the group was extant—seemingly one for each album the band released.
    • The Fresh Cream era (July 1966 to February 1967) — moptop with sideburns.
    • The Disraeli Gears era (March to September 1967) — bouffant permed hairstyle in imitation of Hendrix and Dylan.
    • The Wheels of Fire era (October 1967 to June 1968) — the perm grows out and Clapton sports a mustache.
    • The Goodbye era (July to November 1968) — shorter hair, no mustache.
  • Fiery Redhead: Ginger Baker, full stop. Watch any video of him in action and you'll see some of the most wild and aggressive drumming in history. Also applies to him offstage as he was notoriously difficult to work with due to his confrontational attitude. He could also be violent at times, if the story about him threatening Jack Bruce with a knife is anything to go by. Baker himself blamed his attitude on his Irish ancestry.
  • Freudian Trio: Id (Baker), Superego (Bruce), and Ego (Clapton).
  • Generation Xerox: Clapton's nephew Will Johns, Bruce's son Malcolm, and Baker's son Kofi have started a group called Music of Cream in which they play their elders' songs. And according to an article in Goldmine magazine, that's not the only similarity.
    Kofi Baker: My dad never got along with Jack Bruce and, somehow, me and Malcolm have that same thing going on. Now it's affecting Will, the same way it affected his Uncle Eric. It's kinda weird.
  • Genre Mashup: They incorporated elements of jazz, blues, psychedelia, and elements of classical and world music in a manner that had never before been tried in rock music. This was due in part to their differing musical backgrounds—both Baker and Bruce had been in jazz bands, but Baker was very interested in African drum music, while Bruce brought elements of classical, pop and English, Irish, and Scottish folk music, and Clapton rose to fame playing Chicago blues.
  • Gratuitous Panning: The stereo mix of Fresh Cream has this to such an extent that some fans find it nearly unlistenable. For the entire album, all of the backing tracks—drums, bass, and rhythm guitar—are hard-panned to the right speaker. While Disraeli Gears improves on this, the drums still tend to be isolated in one side of the stereo image for much of the album.
  • I Am the Band:
    • Averted, as all the members were considered to be equally important as they were all masters of their respective instruments (this was why they were called "Cream"—as in "the cream of the crop"). However, many younger fans just discovering the band tend to see Clapton as this due to his having had by far the most commercially successful post-Cream career. Ironically, Clapton has said that in the band's heyday, since he was the youngest, least assertive, and most sensitive member, he was often steamrolled by Baker and Bruce. In fact, the emotional stress caused by their arguing (more than once, he was reduced to tears by their verbally vicious spats) was one of the things that caused him to decide to split.
    • Interestingly, Ahmet Ertegun, the record executive who signed Cream in America, also saw Clapton as being this, as he thought that Clapton was the most distinctive and conventionally good-looking member of the band (Bruce, who had been the main vocalist up to then, recalled that he was told "You're not the lead singer. Eric is going to be the lead singer and you guys are just the backing group"). Several songs written by Jack Bruce, such as "Weird of Hermiston," "The Clearout," and "Hey Now Princess," were dismissed by Ertegun as "psychedelic hogwash" in favor of bluesy songs for Clapton to sing. This resulted in Disraeli Gears being a more vocally democratic album, but Bruce was exceedingly disgruntled by the entire situation.
  • Iconic Item:
    • Eric Clapton's psychedelic Gibson SG, named "the Fool" after the Dutch art collective that painted it.
    • Baker's drum kit and Bruce's Fender VI six-string bass were painted in the same fashion, at the behest of manager Robert Stigwood who wanted to psychedelicize the band's look. Bruce in particular hated the result and famously switched to the then-new Gibson EB-3 bass, which coincidentally was shaped like Clapton's SG.
  • Import Filter: Both ways. Cream had many American influences like Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf (in fact, they were much more into these people than Americans were). And Cream were VERY popular in America.
  • Insistent Terminology: Ginger Baker never considered himself a rock drummer, instead insisting that he be referred to as a jazz drummer. In later years, he also accepted being called "a drummer" without reference to genre.
  • International Pop Song English: Most of the band's songs feature this to some extent, with Bruce in particular working to conceal tinges of his native Scotland (with the exception of a few lines in "Doing That Scrapyard Thing"); however, it is strongly averted for any song sung (or spoken) by Ginger Baker, whose natural Cockney accent is always clearly apparent.
  • Jerkass: Ginger developed quite a reputation for this, especially after the release of Beware of Mr. Baker. Particularly notorious is a scene in which he hits filmmaker Jay Bulger with his walking stick, breaking his nose.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Despite his many, many issues with Jack Bruce, it was quite clear that Ginger Baker was hit pretty hard by his death, storming out of a sub-par tribute performance and publicly expressing his condolences.
  • Last Note Hilarity: "Outside Woman Blues" is sung entirely by Clapton—until the very last three notes, which Jack Bruce hums a cappella.
  • Lead Bassist: Jack Bruce was a Type A and a Type B. When Cream were recording most of their material he was by far the best-known member of the band, and he was also their lead vocalist as well as by far the largest contributor in terms of original songs. Also somewhat averted, though, as Clapton's fame has obviously overshadowed his these days, and Ginger Baker has gotten quite a lot of exposure since the band's break-up as well. Then again, in a power trio as influential as Cream and consisting of three virtuosos, they're all going to attract quite a lot of attention.
  • Lead Drummer: Ginger Baker provided one of the first examples in rock music, and he remains one of the most noteworthy. He's also managed to accrue enormous respect as a jazz drummer (and indeed, he came from a jazz background to begin with).
  • Living a Double Life: The members have all noted that Cream was a very different band in the studio than they were live. This is most clearly demonstrated on Wheels of Fire, with the live half being characteristic of their lengthy blues/jazz improvisations, and the studio half being experimental and progressive, with many other influences such as folk and classical music.
  • Loudness War: Baker and Bruce actually engaged in a live version, with Bruce loading the stage with newer and increasingly advanced amplifiers and Baker hitting the skins literally as hard as he could, both attempting to drown one another out. The loudness was so intense that at one concert Clapton simply stopped playing and Baker and Bruce carried on because they didn't notice.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: That huge, fuzzy bass tone Jack Bruce had? Complete accident. His EB-3 bass naturally sounded like that, since it had a huge, super-powerful pickup, producing a far more intense sound than the Fenders that were the standard studio recording fare up to that time. That distortion you hear? Not a deliberate choice—it's his bass pushing professional-grade amplifiers to their absolute limit.
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Badge." George Harrison wrote the song with Clapton and he and Clapton were writing different parts of the lyrics together, sitting opposite each other. Clapton was supposed to write the lyrics for the bridge but hadn't yet, so Harrison wrote on his own piece of paper "BRIDGE". Clapton looked at it, reading it upside-down, and said "What's 'Badge'?" They both thought it was so funny that it became the song's title.
  • Progressive Rock: Arguably one of the Trope Codifiers or Ur Examples, depending on your interpretation. Particularly on the studio half of Wheels of Fire.
  • Psychedelic Rock: Again, one of the Trope Codifiers. Disraeli Gears is typically ranked alongside such fare as Are You Experienced, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as one of the all-time essential psychedelic albums.
  • Put a Face on the Company: In the band's heyday, music papers looking for quotes from the members of Cream usually went straight to Clapton, because most journalists were terrified of Baker, and Bruce tended to be either quiet or rather disparaging of the technical abilities of other bands.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: The Beware of Mr. Baker documentary has this from Jack and Ginger. The ways they describe ostensibly the same events are hilariously different, with each blaming the other for making mistakes and/or inciting violence. It's even funnier because of the way the two are intercut with one another.
  • Renaissance Man: Ginger Baker. Aside from Cream, he was also an influential musician and record producer in Nigeria before he was literally run out by gun-toting soldiers, hung around political revolutionary Fela Kuti for years, became a semi-professional polo player, owned over thirty horses, became a critically acclaimed jazz drummer and had a full-length documentary made on him.
  • Rearrange the Song: "Crossroads", from Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues". That famous riff and those awesome guitar solos? Clapton's additions.
  • Rock Trio: Along with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, they popularized the format.
  • Self-Plagiarism: The distinctive descending chord progression from the verses of "White Room" is virtually identical to the one in "Tales of Brave Ulysses." (Which Clapton would claim he'd copped from The Lovin' Spoonful's 1966 hit "Summer In The City".)
  • Shrinking Violet: Clapton himself would tell you that he was this during the band's time together. Although, since his bandmates were a Violent Glaswegian and a Psycho Knife Nut, frequently at each others' throats, can you blame him?
  • Stage Names: Ginger Baker's real name is Peter. The nickname came from his bright red hair.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Clapton takes the lead on "Four Until Late", "Strange Brew", "Outside Woman Blues," "Anyone For Tennis," "Crossroads", and "Badge," and has joint lead vocals on "Sunshine of Your Love," "World of Pain," "Dance the Night Away," "I'm So Glad," and "What a Bringdown." Baker sings (sort of) "Blue Condition" and provides Spoken Word in Music on "Pressed Rat and Warthog." All three of them sing "Mother's Lament".
  • Supergroup: The Trope Namer. When Baker invited Clapton to form a band with him and Clapton said he'd do it if they got Bruce on bass, Clapton was unaware that Bruce and Baker had in fact had a feud running between them. This stemmed from the time they had played together in another band, where Baker had fired Bruce and threatened him with a knife (and later a broken drumstick). Surprisingly (and luckily), they put aside their differences in order to work with Clapton.
  • Technician Versus Performer: The band had Clapton (technician), Baker (performer), and Bruce (A mix of both).
  • Uncommon Time: Parts of "White Room" on Wheels of Fire are in 5/4 time, and "Those Were The Days" has some quirky rhythmic shifts, with bars of 3/4 and 5/4 along with 4/4 in the chorus. "Deserted Cities of the Heart" has patterns of two bars of 4/4, one of 3/4, and one of 4/4 in the verses.
  • Ur-Example: Of about seven different rock genres, arguably - seminal artists in genres as diverse as jam bands (Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead), Progressive Rock (Neil Peart of Rush), Thrash Metal (Lars Ulrich of Metallica), and Punk Rock (John Lydon of Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd.) have attested to Cream's influence, and Cream provide early examples of tendencies like improv, Epic Rocking, and Uncommon Time that later became de rigeur in various rock genres. Despite being together only two years, Cream ended up being one of the most influential acts of The '60s.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce damn near murdered one another a few hundred times, but still consistently praised the other's musical talents. When Jack Bruce passed away, Ginger Baker was surprisingly saddened about the whole affair.
  • Vocal Tag Team: Clapton and Bruce sometimes shared vocal duties and harmonized with one another.
  • Word Salad Lyrics:
    • "Doing That Scrapyard Thing", courtesy of Jack Bruce's regular lyricist Pete Brown. First verse:
      When I was young they gave me a mongrel piano,
      Spent all my time inventing the cup of tea.
      Writing your name in the sea,
      Banging my fav'rite head.
    • "Badge," from Eric Clapton and George Harrison:
      I told you not to wander 'round in the dark
      I told you 'bout the swans, that they live in the parknote 
      Then I told you 'bout our kid, now he's married to Mabel.
    • And of course "Pressed Rat and Warthog," by Ginger Baker:
      Pressed Rat and Warthog have closed down their shop
      They didn't want to, t'was all they had got
      Selling atonal apples and amplified heat
      And Pressed Rat's collection of dog legs and feet.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Ginger Baker wasn't shy to express his disdain for the Heavy Metal music Cream partially helped birth, saying, quipping that he would've "had an abortion" had he known that to be the case.