As the 1960s progressed, speaker innovations enabled musicians to indulge in their sonic fetishes all the more. For some rock bands, it was a welcome relief. They could finally hear themselves over the incessant screams of their teenage girl fans – boys did it too but not like the girls. The old guard were on their way out and psychedelia walked hand in hand with a supersonic, largely English based, reinterpretation of the blues through the doorway of popular music. Among the new band were a trio UK lads that played the blues as they saw fit, ferociously loud and fast; sometimes eschewing the words of the song to dig further and deeper into its musical soul. They were, by the name of their band, the “Cream” of rock music. Three young men, guitarist Eric Clapton formerly of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, bassist and lead singer Jack Bruce, formerly of the Graham Bond Organization, and drummer Ginger Baker who also played with Graham Bond, who would come came together, on this month, June to form the world of rock’s first super group. Though only together for two years, Cream would forever change the course of rock music by sheer sonic force. It was on this month in 1966 – June 11, 1966 that the band would come together and make a new type of rock and roll.
Music was changing and rather quickly at that in 1966. Elvis was AWOL and the Beatles were drifting off into another stream of consciousness, with the help of drugs and meditation. The Folkies were the Bob Dylan wind was blowing, or if it was. The problem though that many began to realize was – there could only be one Bob Dylan; Phil Ochs found that out the hard way.
The members of Cream were already well established in the music world before they even struck their first note together. It wouldn’t take them very long to find out.
They provided a heavy yet technically proficient musical theme that foreshadowed and influenced the emergence of British bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. They also influenced American southern rock groups the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band’s live performances influenced progressive rock acts such as Rush.
Musically, it was bliss in the form of a four minute song, or a twenty minute one if you saw them live.
The two years as Cream’s lead guitarist was anything but a hiatus for Eric Clapton. From a musical perspective, Clapton would have to remain on point during the musical interludes as Bruce, on bass, and Baker, on drums, sought to outdo each other. Frequently, the rhythm section, during live concerts, would be off to the races on improvisations of songs. Clapton would have to follow, get control back of the song and put it back on course.
Their discord was the stuff of legends. Writer Jim Clash knew both men well, having interviewed both over the years. In an interview for an article on the band, Clash asked Jack Bruce about his enemy and cohort.
Clash: Jack, how would you describe your relationship with Ginger?
Bruce: There had always been problems between Ginger and myself. We’re kind of like brothers. When it’s nice it’s great, but then sometimes, it can go really wrong. He took it upon himself to fire me from Graham Bond, although he wasn’t the band leader. He said I was playing “too busy.” I think I was just finding myself and a style very much influenced by James Jamerson. I was interested in trying to take the bass guitar out of the rhythm section. I was also influenced by jazz: Scott LaFaro, Charlie Mingus. So yeah, I probably was playing a lot of notes. He [Baker] didn’t quite agree with that.
As well as Baker and Bruce meshed musically, they were too combustible personally to get past their differences. Eric Clapton grew tired of being caught in the middle and two years was all the band could last. Despite the relatively short shelf life of the band, they left an indelible mark on rock history.