Cream, for better or worse, brought instrumental virtuosity to rock and roll. Rolling Stone once referred to them as “rock’s first true supergroup.” The first real power trio, Cream reestablished the link between rock and the blues, and their freewheeling improvisations took them into territory that was once the province of jazz musicians. By breaking the strictures of pop song forms and making instrumental solos the heart of their sound, they paved the way for Led Zeppelin and heavy metal bands that followed.
Though Cream found its greatest popularity in the United States, all three members had strong individual reputations in England before they decided to join forces. Jack Bruce was a classically trained cellist who took up jazz bass in his teens. He eventually earned a scholarship to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and began playing in a dance band to support himself. The academy, however, disapproved of its students playing jazz. “They found out,” Bruce told Musician correspondent Jim Macnie, “and said ’you either stop, or leave college.’ So I left college.”
Members included Ginger Baker (drums; born Peter Baker, August 19, 1939, in Lewisham, England), Jack Bruce (bass, Voclas; born May 14, 1943, in Lanarkshire, Scotland), and Eric Clapton (guitar; born March 30, 1945, in Ripley, England; son of Patricia Clapp; married Patti Boyd Harrison, March 27, 1979 [divorced, 1988]; children: [with Lori Del Santo] Conor [deceased]; attended Kingston College of Art).
Band formed by Baker in 1966; toured Europe and U.S., 1967-68; released debut album, Fresh Cream, Atco, 1967; disbanded, 1968.
Selected awards: Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1993.
In the early 1960s Bruce played in a series of traditional jazz, rhythm and blues, and jump blues groups. In 1965, while playing a recording session, he borrowed an electric bass. He recalled to Dan Hedges of Guitar Player, “[I] found that I … could get a completely different kind of thing out of it.”
By that time Bruce was working with Ginger Baker in the Graham Bond Organisation, a group that also included fusion guitarist John McLaughin. Baker also came from a jazz background and was particularly influenced by the avant-garde work of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. He had played in the house band at Ronnie Scott’s, London’s premier jazz club, and in Alexis Korner’s Blues, Inc., the band that gave birth to the British blues revival, before leaving to pursue a more progressive direction with Bond.
Guitarist Eric Clapton became a star with the Yardbirds, a band that won a following in England for their extended blues jams on stage and their exotic Eastern-tinged pop experimentation in the studio. Feeling that they had sold out by abandoning the blues for pop music, Clapton quit the band immediately after they recorded their first hit single. He then played in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers but left the group shortly after Bruce joined it.
In 1966 Baker, Bruce, and Clapton were all at loose ends in their careers. Baker and Bruce had been playing throughout London as a jazz rhythm section, but, as Bruce recalled it to Macnie, “We’d had a kind of falling out. [Baker] thought my bass playing was getting too busy.... I was trying to make the bass stand up there with the other instruments. Ginger didn’t agree with that. But when he went to Eric and said, ’Let’s form a band, ‘Eric said, ’Yeah, but you’ve got to have Jack in it; he’s the singer.’ So we went by Ginger’s little suburban pad and set up in his living room. And it was obvious from the start that there was a magical thing happening.”
The trio may have had magic, but they lacked material; rehearsals consisted mainly of blues jams. Bruce, the most experienced songwriter in the band, wrote a light pop tune for their first single, “Wrapping Paper.” It was the opposite of what everyone expected from three jazz/blues virtuosos, and it flopped. Cream’s next record, however, another Bruce composition, “I Feel Free,” made the British charts and set the band on their way to acclaim.
Cream didn’t really hit their stride until they toured the United States in 1967. Though their first album, Fresh Cream, had only moderate sales in America, they had a considerable word-of-mouth reputation among music fans in the growing “underground” scene. American fans seemed more receptive to experimental music, and it was during Cream’s stint at San Francisco’s Fillmore West in 1967, Bruce told MacNie, that the band “got into the more improvised thing.… The audience began shouting ’Just play!’ We were getting a bit bored just doing the tunes, actually, and were quite happy to open up.”
The new improvisational direction thrilled audiences, and Cream quickly became one of the hottest bands in rock. Time praised their “exultant technical mastery that surpasses anything yet heard in rock;” Newsweek noted “a new freedom of self-expression that, if not a step toward jazz, is running on a parallel course.” The first American tour was followed in short order by a new album, Disraeli Gears, and a hit single, “Sunshine of Your Love.”
Cream’s success as a recording band, however, only underscored the disparity between their live work and their efforts in the studio. They seemed almost to be two bands, and the critical response fell roughly into two camps: those who considered Cream’s live shows a harbinger of a new freedom in rock, but found their recorded output to suffer from mediocre songwriting, undistinguished vocals, and poor production; and those who judged the studio recordings interesting, if inconsistent, and felt the extended onstage jamming was merely self-indulgent. Clapton himself was ambivalent, commenting in Rolling Stone in 1967, “That’s where I want to be at: where I just don’t ever have to play anything but improvisation.” But in 1988 he told David Fricke in the same magazine, “Maybe we should not have been allowed that much luxury. We probably started burning out at that point. We were just going for the moon every time we played, instead of confining it and economizing.”
On their third album, Wheels of Fire, Cream tried to have the best of both worlds, recording one disc in the studio and one live at the Fillmore. Rolling Stone correspondent Jann Wenner dismissed the studio half of the project: “Cream is good at a number of things; unfortunately songwriting and recording are not among them.” Wenner went on to praise the live portion of Wheels of Fire, observing, “This is the kind of thing that people who have seen Cream perform walk away raving about and it’s good to at last have it on a record.” Even so, the studio disc featured “White Room,” one of Cream’s biggest hits, and the live sides included what Phil Hardy described in The Faber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music as “the excesses of Train Time’ and Toad”s seventeen minutes of drumming.”
By the time Wheels of Fire began to climb the charts, relationships among the members of Cream had soured. Musical disagreements, personality clashes, and egos—Bruce and Baker resented the fact that the public saw Cream as Clapton’s band, even though Bruce was the chief singer and songwriter and Baker’s drumming was a vital component of the sound—had created such tension that the three often stayed in separate hotels when on tour. In August of 1968 Clapton announced that Cream had lost its musical direction and were disbanding. They played their last concert on November 26 at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where a more enthusiastic audience then they had ever before found in their homeland shouted “God save the Cream!” as the trio left the stage.
Clapton and Baker stayed together for a year in the short-lived band Blind Faith, while Bruce went on to a successful, though lower profile, solo career, playing jazz with the Tony Williams Lifetime and Mose Allison and more blues-rock with West, Bruce, and Laing and BLT, as well as making a series of innovative solo albums. Baker eventually built a recording studio in Nigeria and recorded with Fela Kuti and other African musicians. He also formed the jazz-rock bands Ginger Baker’s Air Force and the Baker-Gurvitz Army. In 1989 Baker rejoined Bruce for an album, A Question of Time, and a brief tour. Clapton went on to form Derek and the Dominos and to build a career as one of rock’s senior superstars.
Short as its ascendancy was, Cream permanently changed the nature of rock and roll. Clapton defined the role of the guitar hero; Bruce brought the bass out of the shadows of the rhythm section, revealing its possibilities as a melodic instrument; and Baker introduced new levels of rhythmic complexity to rock percussion. Nineteen years after Cream’s farewell, Rolling Stone characterized the group as “essentially a jazz trio playing blues changes with rock muscle. Clapton, Bruce and Baker were liberating rock bands once and for all from the constraints of the Top Forty pop song.”
Fresh Cream, Atco, 1967, reissued, DCC Classics, 1992.
Disraeli Gears, Atco, 1967, reissued, MFSL, 1992.
Wheels of Fire, Atco, 1968, reissued, DCC Classics, 1992.
Goodbye, Atco, 1969.
The Best of Cream, Atco, 1969.
Live Cream, Atco, 1970.
Live Cream, Volume II, Atco, 1972.
Heavy Cream, Polydor, 1973.
The Best of Cream Live, Polydor, 1975.
Early Cream, Springboard, 1978.
Strange Brew: The Very Best of Cream, Polydor, 1983.
Solo releases by Jack Bruce; on Polydor Records, except where noted
Songs fora Taiíor, 1969.
Things We Like, 1970.
Harmony Row, 1971.
Out of the Storm, 1974.
How’s Tricks, 1977.
Tve Always Wanted to Do This, Epic, 1980.
A Question of Time, Epic, 1989.
Will Power, 1989.
Solo releases by Ginger Baker
Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Polydor, 1970.
Horses and Trees, Celluloid, 1986.
Middle Passage, Axiom, 1990.
Solo releases by Eric Clapton; on Polydor Records, except where noted
Backless, reissued, 1986.
No Reason to Cry, reissued, 1987.
E. C. Was Here, reissued, 1987.
Rainbow Concert, reissued, 1987.
There’s One in Every Crowd, reissued, 1987.
August, Warner Bros., 1987.
Time Pieces/Best of E. C, 1988.
Time Pieces II/Live in the Seventies, 1988.
24 Nights, Reprise, 1991.
Unplugged, Duck, 1992.
Behind the Sun, Warner Bros.
Money & Cigarettes, Warner Bros.
461 Ocean Boulevard.
Just One Night.
Hardy, Phil, The Faber Companion to Twentieth-Century Popular Music, Faber and Faber, 1990.
The Rolling Stone Interviews, edited by Jann Wenner, Straight Arrow, 1971.
Down Beat, March 1990; November 1990.
Guitar Player, June 1968; August 1975.
Musician, January 1988.
Newsweek, March 18, 1968.
Rolling Stone, November 9, 1967; January 12, 1968; July 20, 1968; April 5, 1969; June 4, 1987; August 23, 1988; October 17, 1991; February 4, 1993.
Time, October 27, 1967.
Cream , the original “power trio,” and perhaps the second most influential British group of the 1960s. MEMBERSHIP: Eric Clapton (real name, Eric Clapp), lead gtr., voc. (b. Rippley, Surrey, England, March 30, 1945); Jack Bruce, bs., kybd., har., voc. (b. Glasgow, Scotland, May 14, 1943); Peter “Ginger” Baker, drm., voc. (b. Lewisham, London, Aug. 19, 1939).
Cream was formed in June 1966 by lead guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce, and drummer Peter “Ginger” Baker. Clapton had previously played with the Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, whereas Baker had played with Alexis Korner and Graham Bond, and Bruce with Bond, Mayall, and Manfred Mann. Signed almost immediately by Atlantic Records, Cream’s first album, Fresh Cream, was issued in early 1967. Although the album contained little of the improvisation that characterized the group in performance, it included the British hit “I Feel Free,” written by Bruce and lyricist Peter Brown, and Baker’s “Toad,” as well as Muddy Waters’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and Skip James “I’m So Glad.”
Undeniably more exciting in concert than on records, Cream soon completed enormously successful tours of Great Britain and the United States. Produced by Felix Pappalardi, Disraeli Gears established Cream’s improvisational format. Rather that playing a song straight through, Clapton, Bruce, and Baker would set up the 748 basic “riff” to a song, then take off into individual improvisatory jams. The album consisted of standard blues fare plus original songs composed by Bruce and Clapton, often with Peter Brown, with Bruce handling most of the lead vocals. “Sunshine of Your Love,” written by Clapton, Bruce, and Brown, was a moderate hit from the album, later to become a major hit when rereleased in the summer of 1968. Other outstanding cuts included “Strange Brew” (written by Clapton, Pappalardi, and his wife-to-be, Gail Collins), “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” “Take It Back,” and “S.W.L.A.B.R.,” again by Bruce and Brown.
Wheels of Fire, produced by Felix Pappalardi, was a double-record set, one from the studio and one recorded live at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. Among the extended live pieces were Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” (a major hit), Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” and “Toad,” on which Baker soloed for more than ten minutes. Pappalardi played on the studio record, which contained Booker T. Jones’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” as well as “Politician” and “White Room” (a near-smash hit), both written by Bruce and Brown. By mid-1968, strains within the group became increasingly evident and, coupled with the limited amount of mutually acceptable material, Cream announced their intention to disband. After a farewell tour of America in October and November and a final album, Goodbye (which included “Badge,” written by Clapton and George Harrison), Cream made their final appearance at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Nov. 26, 1968.
Although all three members of Cream demonstrated exceptional talent on their respective instruments, Jack Bruce was the real musical pioneer—he established the use of the repeated musical figure or ostinato (the so-called “heavy riff”) on bass, around which he played lead lines, thus liberating the instrument from its strictly rhythmic role. Additional credit for Cream’s success must be given to lyricist Peter Brown, who wrote many of the group’s best remembered songs, often with Bruce. Ginger Baker instituted the long drum solo into rock and Eric Clapton unwittingly created the cult of the superstar lead guitarist. In openly acknowledging their debt to many obscure black American bluesmen (Robert Johnson, in particular), Cream helped inspire the blues revival of the late 1960s. As the first major rock group to utilize the power trio format, Cream established the viability of the three-man instrumental lineup. Cream was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
Almost immediately after Cream ended, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker formed the “supergroup” Blind Faith with Traffic’s Stevie Winwood (kybd.) and Family’s Rick Grech (bs.). Completing one British and one American tour, the group recorded an interesting, if flawed, album. It included Winwood’s “Sea of Joy” and “Can’t Find My Way Home” and Clapton’s “In the Presence of the Lord.” Clashes between Winwood and Baker tore the group apart, and Blind Faith disbanded at the end of 1969. Clapton subsequently performed sessions work, formed Derek and the Dominoes, and pursued a spectacular solo career.
Jack Bruce, the odd-man-out in the formation of Blind Faith, briefly toured with keyboardist Mike Mandel, guitarist Larry Coryell, and drummer Mitch Mitchell before pursuing a solo career in conjunction with lyricist Peter Brown, recording two albums for Atco, including Songs for a Tailor, and two albums for RSO. (Material from these albums and 1978’s unreleased Jet Set Jewel were issued on 1989’s Willpower album.) Bruce also joined Tony Williams Lifetime with former Miles Davis drummer Tony Williams, organist Larry Young, and guitarist extraordinaire John McLaughlin for touring and the album Turn It Over. Peter Brown later formed Battered Ornaments (with Chris Spedding) and Piblokto!, and worked with British blues pioneer Graham Bond in Bond and Brown. He reunited with Bruce for 1989’s A Question of Time.
Producer-bassist Felix Pappalardi, who produced the Youngblood’s first two albums, was assigned by Atlantic Records to produce the N.Y group the Vagrants in 1968. Although recordings proved unsuccessful, Pappalardi was sufficiently impressed by the group’s lead guitarist Leslie West to produce his debut solo album. In 1969, Pappalardi and West formed Mountain with keyboardist Steve Knight and drummer Corky Laing. They scored a major hit in 1970 with “Mississippi Queen,” but disbanded in 1972. West and Laing then joined former Cream bassist Jack Bruce for West, Bruce, and Laing. That group broke up in 1973, and West and Pappalardi briefly reformed Mountain in 1974. Pappalardi later organized and produced the Japanese heavy-metal group Creation around 1975. On April 17, 1983, Felix Pappalardi was shot and killed by his wife Gail in their N.Y. apartment.
At the beginning of 1970, drummer Ginger Baker formed Ginger Baker’s Air Force with Stevie Winwood, Rick Grech, Chris Wood, and a host of others. Recordings by the group were reissued in 1989. Baker later pursued an interest in African music, building a recording studio in Nigeria, which opened in January 1973, and recording with Fela Kuti. From late 1974 until 1976, he manned the Baker-Gurvitz Army with Gurvitz brothers Adrian and Paul. Baker was out of the limelight during the first half of the 1980s, having settled in Italy. He eventually relocated to Calif, and reemerged with Horses and Trees, later recording Middle Passage with former George Clinton/Talking Heads keyboardist Bernie Worrell and forming the hard-rock group Masters of Reality.
In addition to his solo albums, Jack Bruce recorded with a number of jazz artists during the 1970s, including Carla Bley and Mike Mantler, while playing sessions for Lou Reed, John McLaughlin, and Frank Zappa. In the early 1980s, he recorded B.L.T. and Truce with erstwhile Procol Harum lead guitarist Robin Trower. No Stopping Anytime, from 1989, compiled these recordings. Jack Bruce recorded A Question of Time for Epic in 1989 and Somethinels for Creative Music in 1993. In 1994, Ginger Baker recorded with Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden as the Ginger Baker Trio and formed BBM with Jack Bruce and Gary Moore for Around the Next Dream.
Fresh Cream (1967); Disraeli Gears (1967); Wheels of Fire (1968); Goodbye (1969); Live Cream, Vol. 1 (1970); Live Cream,Vol. 2 (1972); Heavy Cream (1973); Off the Top (1973). Blind Faith: Blind Faith (1969). Ginger Baker: Ginger Baker’s Air Force (1970); Ginger Baker’s Air Force-2 (1970); Strata-various (1972); Fela Ransome-Kuti and Africa 70 with Ginger Baker—Live! (1972); At His Best (1972); 11 Sides of Baker (1977); Horses and Trees (1986); Middle Passage (1989). Baker-Gurvitz Army: Baker-Gurvitz Army (1975); Elysian Encounters (1975); Hearts on Fire (1976). Masters of Reality: Masters of Reality (1990); Sunrise on the Sufferbus (1993). The Ginger Baker Trio: Going Back Home (1994). Jack Bruce: Songs for a Tailor (1969); Harmony Row (1971); At His Best (1972); Out of the Storm (1974); How’s Tricks (1977); I’ve Always Wanted to Do This (1980); Things We Like (1988); A Question of Time (1989); Somethinels (1993); Monkjack (1996). Tony Williams’s Lifetime (with Jack Bruce): Turn It Over (1970); Once in a Lifetime (1983). Mountain (Felix Pappalardi, Leslie West, Corky Laing): Mountain (1969); Mountain Climbing (1970); Nantucket Sleighride (1971); Flowers of Evil (1971); The Road Goes Ever On (1972); Turin Peaks (1974); Avalanche (1974); Why Dontcha (1972); Whatever Turns You On (1973); Live ’N’ Kickin (1974). Carla Bley (with Jack Bruce): Escalator Over the Hill (1973). Jack Bruce, Bill Lordan and Robin Trower: B.L.T. (1981). Jack Bruce and Robin Trower: Truce (1982); No Stopping Anytime (1989).
cream / krēm/ • n. 1. the thick white or pale yellow fatty liquid that rises to the top when milk is left to stand and that can be eaten as an accompaniment to desserts or used as a cooking ingredient: [as adj.] a cream sauce. ∎ the part of a liquid that gathers at the top. ∎ fig. the very best of a group of people or things: the paper's readership is the cream of American society. ∎ a sauce, soup, dessert, or similar food containing cream or milk or having the consistency of cream: cream of mushroom soup. ∎ a candy of a specified flavor that is creamy in texture, typically covered with chocolate: a peppermint cream.2. a thick liquid or semisolid cosmetic or medical preparation applied to the skin: shaving cream.3. a very pale yellow or off-white color: [as adj.] a cream linen jacket. • v. [tr.] 1. work (butter, typically with sugar) to form a smooth soft paste. ∎ [usu. as adj.] (creamed) mash (a cooked vegetable) and mix with milk or cream: creamed turnips. ∎ add cream to (coffee).2. rub a cosmetic cream into (the skin).3. inf. defeat (someone) heavily, esp. in a sports contest. ∎ (often be creamed) hit or collide heavily and violently with (someone), esp. in a car.4. [intr.] vulgar slang (of a person) be sexually aroused, esp. to the point of producing sexual secretions. ∎ [tr.] moisten (one's underpants) due to such arousal.
Soured cream is made from single cream; crème fraîche is soured double cream; ‘extra thick double cream’ is also 48% fat, but has been homogenized to be spoonable, and will not whip or freeze successfully.
In the USA, light cream is 20–25% fat; heavy cream, 40% fat.