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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 English 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 its 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 or 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 and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and then again for a handful of reunion concerts in 2005. Jack Bruce died from liver disease on the 25th of October 2014, at the age of 71, which more or less ends any chance of further Cream reunions.

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)
  • 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:

  • All Drummers Are Animals: Ginger Baker is often seen as being this, particularly after the release of the Beware of Mr. Baker film.
  • British Rock Star: To their many American fans.
  • Blues Rock: If not the Trope Codifier, then certainly the most important Genre Popularizer.
  • Cool Old Guy: Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker.
  • 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.
  • Dream Team: The first super-group.
    • When Clapton recruited Bruce and Baker, he was unaware that the two 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. Surprisingly (and luckily), they put aside their differences in order to work with Clapton.
  • 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."
  • Gratuitous Panning: In most songs on Fresh Cream and Disraeli Gears, all the drums were on the right channel. In "I Feel Free," all the main instruments were on the right channel, the tambourine was on the left, and the vocals were in the middle. In "Mother's Lament," the reverb on the vocals was only on the right channel.
    • The stereo mix of Fresh Cream has this to such an extent that some fans find it unlistenable.
  • 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 was one of the things that caused him to decide to split.
    • Interestingly, Ahmet Ertegun, the record executive who signed Cream, 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 his 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 the most vocally democratic album the band recorded, but Bruce was very disgruntled by the entire situation.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass: Ginger has developed quite a reputation for this over the years, 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.
  • 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).
  • Loudness War: Baker and Bruce actually engaged in a live version, loading the stage with newer and increasingly advanced amplifiers, attempting to drown one another out. At one concert Clapton and Baker simply stopped playing and Bruce carried on because he didn't notice.
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: 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 pop and Scottish folk music, and Clapton rose to fame playing Chicago blues.
  • 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.
  • Psychedelic Rock: Again, one of the Trope Codifiers.
  • Rearrange the Song: "Crossroads", from Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues". Those awesome guitar solos? Clapton's additions.
  • Rock Trio: Along with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, they popularized the format.
  • 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," "Crossroads", and "Badge," and has joint lead vocals on "Sunshine of Your Love," "World of Pain," and "Dance the Night Away." Baker sings (sort of) "Blue Condition", provides Spoken Word in Music on "Pressed Rat and Warthog." All three of them sing "Mother's Lament".
  • Two-Hit Wonder: Averted in their time but today most casual listeners only know them for "Sunshine of Your Love" and "White Room."
  • 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.
  • 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"
      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.

Example of: