Cream: Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton
The Classic Musical Power Trio Featuring Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton
Cream, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, is one of the most influential bands of all time.
Three elite musicians came together in the spring of 1966 to form a band that can be best described as monumentally groundbreaking, even to this day.
Cream is the greater of three individual parts. Founded by drummer Ginger Baker, the band also boasts the immense talents of multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Jack Bruce, along with legendary guitar virtuoso and vocalist Eric Clapton.
Let's explore one of my all-time favorite groups...
How Cream Was Formed
These three musicians had impressive legacies even before the formation of Cream. Baker and Bruce performed together in the Graham Bond Organization, a jazz fusion band that wowed British audiences in the early and mid sixties. Both performed in other influential English groups of the day, crossing paths with many world class musicians, including Eric Clapton. Before joining Cream, Clapton was a key member of both The Yardbirds and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, honing his guitar skills influenced by the great American bluesmen.
By early 1966, Baker, Bruce, and Clapton were all feeling constricted in their respective bands. Baker approached Clapton about creating a new three piece group, and Clapton quickly suggested Jack Bruce as the third member. Baker, while initially hesitant due to some ongoing personality conflicts with Bruce, relented to Clapton's suggestion and Cream was born.
Cream: An Overview
Their shelf life lasted a mere two and a half years, from the spring of 1966 through November, 1968. During that time period, they toured relentlessly in Europe and the United States, building their reputation with their virtuoso performances and long, extended jams. Their style was influenced by jazz and blues music, and Clapton himself refers to Cream as a jazz rock fusion band, which is about a correct a moniker as any. Baker is a jazz drummer by trade, and to this day recoils at being referred to as a rock drummer.
During their life, Cream recorded four landmark albums: Fresh Cream, their debut, in 1966, followed by Disraeli Gears in 1967. Wheels of Fire was released in 1968, and finally the aptly titled Goodbye in 1969, a few months after their farewell performance in November, 1968.
I'm So Glad - Fresh Cream
This is how the album buying public was introduced to Cream. "I'm So Glad" is the first song on the first side of their debut album, Fresh Cream.
To us, Jack Bruce stars here. Listen to his bass work as it rides right along in counter melody to Clapton's lead guitar.
Cream used to end their shows with this song. Interestingly, for their 2005 reunion concerts, they began with this song.
The bluesman who wrote this song, Skip James, was near the end of his life when Cream covered "I'm So Glad". A few years after Cream broke up, Jack Bruce was playing in a new collaboration, West, Bruce, and Laing. At a concert performance in Philadelphia, a roadie informed Bruce that an elderly lady wanted to see him. It was Skip James' widow. It turns out he had passed away two or three years prior to that night.
Jack Bruce tells the story that Mrs. James stopped by to thank him, and Cream, for covering the song. The royalties helped provide medical care for Skip James as he struggled with cancer and allowed him to die with dignity.
I'm So Glad, indeed.
Cream: Musical Chemistry
The musical chemistry between the three members is unmistakeable and undeniable. In fact, the name Cream was chosen to represent each members standing as the cream of the crop at their respective instrument. Over the years, Ginger Baker has commented that playing with Bruce and Clapton was easy because he had an almost telepathic sense of what they would play next.
Initially, personal chemistry between the three helped propel the music. However, grueling tour schedules and squabbles over songwriting credits let to a strain in relationships, particularly between Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. Clapton, almost as strong willed as the other two, was continually thrust into the role of peacemaker.
Compounding the situation was the fact that all three men have extremely strong musical directions, with each wanting to be in control. Substance abuse problems afflicting all three certainly didn't help, and a break up was inevitable.
Cream was together from June, 1966 to November, 1968. In 1966 and early 1967, the band performed exclusively in Europe, performing dates initially mapped out for The Graham Bond Organization, of which Ginger Baker had been a member.
The band came to America in mid 1967 to perform shows in New York and San Francisco, along with recording their landmark album "Disraeli Gears". They continued to perform in Europe afterwards. The year 1968 saw Cream embark on two lengthy tours of the United States, including their farewell tour in October and early November. They also recorded the epic album "Wheels of Fire".
The strain of constant touring caused friction within the group, particularly between Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. By mid 1968, the band had already decided to break up. Their well known Farewell Concert took place at London's Royal Albert Hall in November, and after finishing work on their final album, the aptly titled "Goodbye", Cream disbanded.
Born Under A Bad Sign - From Wheels Of Fire
This, like White Room and Tales of Brave Ulysses, is a cut that showcases each member of Cream equally.
Jack Bruce has the vocals and bassline melody, with Clapton's soaring guitar meshing perfectly and then some.
But we think Ginger Baker's drum work steals the show. His work here with the cymbals is extraordinary. Give it a listen and see for yourself!
Listen to Ginger Baker's crisp drumming, not to mention Eric Clapton's scorching solo and Jack Bruce's vocals. Cream at their best!
Cream: After The Breakup
Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton joined forces again immediately after Cream's breakup in another supergroup, Blind Faith. Joined by Steve Winwood and bassist Rick Grech, Blind Faith lasted only one album and one tour before disbanding. Jack Bruce began his solo career with his very successful 1969 release, "Songs For A Tailor".
Through the early 1970s, all three members of Cream played with a revolving selection of musicians and bands. Each struggled with deep heroin addiction during this time period as well. Clapton finally emerged in the mid 1970s with several well regarded albums like 461 Ocean Boulevard and Slowhand.
During the 1970s and into the early 1980s, the profile of both Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce dimmed. Each has said that heroin addiction gripped them severely during this time period, costing them not only huge sums of money, but nearly their careers and life.
The Hesitancy To Reunite
All Three Members Struggle
The subject of reuniting Cream began to come up almost as soon as they broke up in November, 1968. In fact, since their farewell performance at Royal Albert Hall was so well received, the three men briefly had second thoughts about breaking up. However, they decided enough was enough and moved ahead to other projects, namely Blind Faith featuring Clapton and Baker and Jack Bruce's first solo album.
After Blind Faith, Clapton in particular wanted to distance himself from Ginger Baker, whom he admired greatly almost as an older brother figure. But Baker's heroin addiction made him difficult to deal with, let alone work with. Clapton himself was in the midst of serious substance abuse problems and felt it best to distance himself from both Cream bandmates. Feelings between the three were strained by the end of Cream, to put it mildly. A deep underlying affection remained, particularly from Clapton's standpoint, but it was time to move on.
Clapton tells the story of Cream reuniting, in a way, quite by accident in 1976. Each happened to be at the same London record company office early one summer day. The three men decided to spend the afternoon together on the terrace of Clapton's home, "enhanced" by a dose of hallucenigenics. Clapton's girlfriend at the time (and later his wife) Patti Boyd recalls that the anger between the three members of Cream had worn off and how fascinating it was to watch their personal chemistry and interaction.
At the band's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech and later comments to the press, Clapton recalled the 1976 chance meeting as the most recent time the three men had spent time together. Further, he mused that each adopted the same roles they had in the band, with Baker holding court while he and Jack Bruce addressed other visitors.
The three members of Cream also came together for Clapton's wedding reception in 1979. A jam session ensued with other prominent musicians, including Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and many others. But Baker, Bruce, and Clapton did not perform together as Cream that night.
Thereafter, there remained a distance between all three. Ginger Baker was involved in olive farming, something he has since divulged was a way to finally shake heroin addiction. Jack Bruce too was at a career nadir due to drugs, and finally began a low key comeback in the early 1980s.
The picture shown above was taken by Patti Boyd at the chance reunion of (left to right) Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, and Eric Clapton at Clapton's home in 1976. Baker reminisced about this get together recently on his Facebook page and claimed the three former bandmates were "high as a kite" that day ...
Partial Cream Reunions
Bruce/Clapton and Bruce/Baker
In 1987, the BBC filmed a documentary about Clapton's career to date. Clapton discusses Cream at some length, commenting how the three men "simply couldn't stop playing" when they were together, alluding to the strong musical chemistry between the three.
The BBC invited Jack Bruce to be filmed with Clapton, and the two Cream bandmates played brief versions of "White Room" and "Cat's Squirrel", an old blues standard. Clapton is clearly enjoying playing with his old partner. The narrator comments, "They hadn't played these old Cream standards in almost 20 years. But if the rustyness showed through, so did a little of the old understanding." As those words were being spoken, the camera shows Clapton and Bruce finishing "Cat's Squirrel" in perfect timing, with each nodding their approval.
Two years later, in 1989, Jack Bruce planned to take his band on the road and needed a drummer. He immediately approached Ginger Baker, who Bruce felt was best for the job, despite their interpersonal conflicts. This has always been a consistent sentiment coming from Jack Bruce. He has often commented that Ginger Baker is, in his opinion, the greatest drummer in the world. At the time, Baker initially refused Bruce's offer until financial issues caused him to reconsider. They did a small club tour of the United States which, by all accounts was well received. They even appeared on David Letterman's late night show, performing "Hey Now Princess" and then participating in a brief interview with Letterman. Letterman of course asks about the possibility of Cream reuniting, and Bruce answers in positive fashion, suggesting it could happen. Meanwhile Baker, sitting alongside Bruce, seems to be nodding "no".
Around that time, Clapton dropped in on a Jack Bruce show (sans Baker) in New York City. The two traded riffs and the audience at the small club was understandably thrilled.
Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame
In January 1993, Cream was elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, inducted by ZZ Top, who called them "Bad bad boys with that good thing."
Apparently, Baker, Bruce, and Clapton were all wary of attending. Strained feelings still existed, and Clapton's relationship with Baker was estranged. Jack Bruce reportedly phoned Baker to inform him of the ceremony, and stated, "Eric will go if you go". Bruce in turn had informed Clapton, "If you go I'll go."
The three men, once again Cream, gathered for a rehearsal the day before the induction ceremony. At his acceptance speech the next night, Clapton informed the crowd "Yesterday ... we played together for the first time in 25 years. And it was pretty amazing ... it was wonderful."
The acceptance speeches from Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton were quite emotional, particularly Clapton's. Bruce remarked, "I come from Glasgow, in Scotland. It doesn't seem so far away now. I guess that's what rock and roll is all about, it brings people together. And if the three of us can be together again, anybody can be together again, I'll tell ya." The comments spoke to the depth of strained feelings over the many previous years.
Jack Bruce offered thanks to his two Cream bandmates. "i'd like to thank Ginger, for showing me some mad African rythyms that I can't get over", he said. Pointing to Clapton, he said, "And Eric ... for clearing my mind ... and teaching me about the purity of the blues ... and the honesty of them." His voice cracking with emotion and eyes welling with tears, he simply gestured to both men and said "Thank you".
Clapton then took the podium. His comments were touching and emotional. "Up until recently, I didn't believe in this institution at all", he said. "But then, not so long ago, a friend of mine, Robby Robertson (of The Band), pointed out to me that minor and major miracles take place in here, and it deeply moved me." Clapton's voice began to clutch as he added, "And I thought a lot could be gained by coming here tonight, and a lot has been gained. I've been reunited with two people I love very dearly." Fighting back tears, he continued, "It's very moving". The crowd applauded as Bruce and Baker looked on from behind, visibly moved.
He continued with his remarks about the rehearsal the day before and then added, "And we're gonna play again in a little while. I don't know how it's gonna be, but as Ginger says, or as I say to Ginger apparently, whatever you do, don't worry." Then he told a humorous anecdote about their chance reunion in 1976. "The last time the three of us were together, we were on acid down at my house", Clapton said. "And this drug dealer came around the corner, we were in the garden, and this drug dealer who owed me money or drugs or something came 'round the corner and he stopped, 30 feet away. and couldn't get any closer. It was like a wall ... like a force field", Clapton chuckled before finally adding, "And that kind of symbolizes to me what happens when the three of us get together ... it can be good or bad ... you never know ... but I'm very very grateful to be here tonight."
After finishing his remarks, he turned to hug Ginger Baker, who then took the mike. Apparently he felt he couldn't top his two bandmates this time around. He simply stated, "Yeah. I guess everybody's said everything, so I'll be very brief. Just thanks very much, it's nice to be here, thank you."
The three men then played a searing three song set. "Sunshine Of Your Love" started it off, followed by an inspired version of "Born Under A Bad Sign", which Clapton dedicated to the song's author, bluesman Albert King. Then, a loose and mixed tempo version of "Crossroads", followed by thank you's, applause, and photographs backstage.
Cream would not play together again for another 12 years.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - Emotional Speeches and Cream Reunion
This is a clip of Cream's acceptance speeches at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, and Cream playing "Born Under A Bad Sign".
Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton's speeches are particularly emotional.
"Born Under A Bad Sign" was from the Wheels of Fire album. This was the first time Cream had played this song live, as a tribute to its author, bluesman Albert King.
Watch the musical chemistry between Baker, Bruce, and Clapton. This was the first time they'd played on stage together in over 24 years.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speeches by Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton, and Ginger Baker of Cream.
Cream plays Born Under A Bad Sign at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction. Notice how much Eric Clapton is into the performance ...
A Cream Joke
The One And Only Joke About Cream
Here's the only joke we've ever heard about Cream ...
Q: "What do Eric Clapton and coffee have in common?
A: "Neither one are as good without Cream."
Our Five Favorites
Here is a list of our five favorite Cream songs. As with any list, it is subject to opinion. Some you may know, others you may not, but it is safe to say that each of these songs highlight the individual and collective talents of Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton. In no particular order, here they are:
From the 1968 Wheels of Fire double album, White Room is a Jack Bruce and Peter Brown composition, although the contributions of Baker and Clapton should have been noted in the songwriting credits.
The winding, psychedelic lyrics are only surpassed by the musicianship. Listen to Baker's "Bolero" drum beat and his signature use of the cymbols. Bruce carries the vocals, lifting into soprano range and back to tenor. Meanwhile, Clapton pioneers the use of the famous wah wah pedal, giving White Room its familiar sound.
Crossroads is a Robert Johnson composition that deeply influenced Clapton as a young guitarist. The version you frequently hear was recorded live in 1968 and was released on Wheels of Fire.
Clapton steals the show here with two dazzling solos that are recognized as among the best ever, and he also takes the vocals. Listen closely the next time you hear the song and take in Jack Bruce's driving bass. He plays counter melody to Clapton's guitar, and the results are extraordinary. This is Cream's musicianship at its finest.
Another blues standard favored by Clapton, this is an instrumental. It is available as a bonus track in repackaged Cream releases, and on You Tube. See below for my favorite version of the song, played at a Swedish radio station performance in 1967. The blending of the three talents is mind boggling and it is easy to pick out the drums, bass, and lead guitar, as neither member outshines the other. This is a real under the radar gem.
I'm So Glad
From their debut release in 1966, Fresh Cream, I'm So Glad was originally written by Skip James. The unique guitar intro also serves as the songs coda. Jack Bruce shines on vocals and it is hard to believe he was only 23 when it was recorded. But in our opinion, Ginger Baker steals the show here. His sense of timing, counter beat technique, and use of cymbals is a real treat. Cream opened their 2005 reunion songs with I'm So Glad, so be sure to watch or listen to both versions.
Born Under A Bad Sign
Penned by the great bluesman Albert King, Cream played this song at their 1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. The version is available on You Tube. Much like White Room, this song allows each member to shine equally. Baker's driving back beat kicks the song into overdrive, while Bruce plays the melody on bass and provides stellar blues vocals. Not to be outdone, Clapton scorches here with guitar riffs that are among his very best.
This is just our own personal list of favorites, recognizing numerous other Cream classics are missing. Which are your favorites?
Tales Of Brave Ulysses - Filmed For A 1968 TV Show
Watch this stellar performance of the Cream classic, "Tales Of Brave Ulysses". This was filmed for their appearance on the Smothers Brothers TV show in 1968.
Of particular note ...
Eric Clapton creating the signature "wah wah" sound in the intro ...
Notice Ginger Baker switching from drum sticks to tom toms to play cymbals ...
Watch how Clapton nods and smiles his approval at Baker's drumming at the 1:21 mark ...
The smiles of satisfaction between Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker ...
Ginger Baker's impromptu drum roll at 3:11 ...
Just a fabulous performance!
Cream plays Tales of Brave Ulysses for The Smothers Brothers television show in 1968 ...
White Room - From Wheels Of Fire
Here is the original studio version of "White Room". The songwriting credits went to Jack Bruce and Pete Brown, Bruce's long time lyrical collaborator.
It's a shame Ginger Baker didn't get a writing credit. He deserves one for his revolutionary drum work here, particularly his use of the 5/4 time beat, ala "Bolero". It is said Jack Bruce wanted to record the beginning of White Room at 4/4 time, to which Baker responded, "No, no, no, Jack ... it needs to be 5/4." The song then shifts into 4/4, and back to 5/4. The rhythm is similar to a horse galloping. See if you agree!
Listen as all three members of Cream shine equally ...
Listen to the last stanza of Cream playing their classic
Cream Books From Amazon
Cream Reunion 2005
Cream, consisting of drummer Ginger Baker, bassist Jack Bruce, and guitarist Eric Clapton, broke up in late 1968 after a whirlwind 29 month existence. Over the next 24 years, the three men rarely worked together. Then in 1993, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
At the induction ceremony, Cream played three songs after a brief rehearsal the day before. Clapton, in his emotional acceptance speech, noted it was the first time the three had played together in almost 25 years. The performance, although brief, was highly praised and it was clear the musical chemistry of the three virtuoso players was still intact.
Although further Cream projects were apparently discussed, nothing more came from the brief reunion. There was talk of an album, and as the story goes, Eric Clapton wanted control of song choices and production, which was vetoed by Jack Bruce. The album never got past initial discussions and Clapton, in the midst of a soaring solo career, continued down that path.
Baker and Bruce went on to form two thirds of another power trio with guitarist Gary Moore called "BBM" that disintegrated a year after it began.
In 2003, Jack Bruce was diagnosed with liver cancer which nearly cost him his life. During his recovery period from a liver transplant, Clapton finally proposed a Cream reunion. All three members agreed to meet for six weeks of rehearsals in early 2005, with four shows scheduled for London in May.
By all accounts, rehearsals went well. The three members, all with strong personalities and musical directions, meshed well. Cream finally reunited on May 2, 2005, at the Royal Albert Hall, the first of four shows that week.
Playing a varied set list covering hits and blues standards, Cream generated world wide praise for the reunion. The concerts were filmed and recorded, and the subsequent CD and DVD set were best sellers.
New York Reunion
Clapton admitted he was elated with the shows. Baker and Bruce expressed similar sentiments, so it was no surprise Cream announced they would play three shows in New York in October.
Each of the three concedes something went wrong during the first show. Old animosities between Bruce and Baker were at the root of the problem. Baker, complaining that Bruce was playing too loudly, threatened to not play the next two shows until cooler heads prevailed.
Bruce, meanwhile, stated he was suffering severe cramping and swelling in his hands, an after effect of his surgery and medication. This, he said, caused him to not be at his best. Clapton, ever the diplomat, stated Cream's sound was too small for the large venue in New York.
The three went their separate ways after the shows. Several months later, Baker rued, "We should have left it at the Albert Hall."
Future Cream Reunions?
Clapton, in recent interviews, stated that reuniting Cream was much like putting a ghost to bed, but adds he would "never say never" to another go around. Jack Bruce, now fully recovered, states he'd like to reunite with Cream for one more time, if only to leave everything on a positive note. Ginger Baker, living in an almost exile state in South Africa, has refused to reunite, citing old animosities with Bruce.
And yet, reunion rumors persist. Bruce and Baker, the old antagonists, played at a 2008 tribute concert for Baker in London. Clapton speaks glowingly of both men and wrote the forward for Jack Bruce's recent autobiography. There were rumors of a one shot Cream reunion during the 2010 guitar festival, Crossroads, hosted by Clapton, but it failed to materialize.
Whether a reunion happens or not, Cream's music continues to stand the test of time. This grouping of three brilliant musicians produced a totally unique body of work that still influences musicians to this day.
In a 2009 interview, Clapton stated he raised the possibility of Steve Winwood joining the 2005 Cream reunion with Baker and Bruce. Not surprisingly, the idea did not go over well with the two. If it were to be a Cream reunion, they felt, it needed to be the three members of Cream and no one else.
The idea to add Steve Winwood was scuttled, but Clapton has worked and toured with Winwood several times since then. Winwood also showed up to play with Baker at Baker's 70th birthday concert performance (12/09) in London.
Jack Bruce Says No More Cream
In an interview with BB6 Music on 4/10/2010, Jack Bruce said there will be no more Cream reunions.
His quote: "There's a new story now ... Cream is over."
In the interview, Bruce downplays the severity of the arguments between the three members of Cream, saying it was more legend than fact. He addressed one argument that occurred during Cream's 2005 reunions between himself and Ginger Baker. The story is told in more detail in Bruce's autobiography, "Composing Himself". The long and short of the anecdote is that Baker corrected Bruce on the timing of a song ("Spoonful"), and while Bruce disagreed, he soon realized Baker was right and apologized. Said Bruce, "Everything was fine after that."
We are told the reason for Bruce's definitive statement about no more Cream is due to his frustration with Clapton and particularly Baker's reluctance to play again as the legendary trio. Perhaps realizing he was running into a brick wall, Jack Bruce decided to make a statement of his own.
Bruce did go on to say in the interview that he is involved in "some very exciting plans, it's the most exciting thing I've ever done", which turned out to be the formation of his band, know as The Jack Bruce Big Blues Band. He continues to perform live with this band, as well as other grouping of musicians.
As things stand currently, Clapton continues to perform with his own band and in collaborations with old partners. He had more shows with Steve Winwood during 2011 and recently performed shows with Jeff Beck. Jack Bruce continues to perform and record, with a new album due out in 2014. He had a series of shows in 2011 both in Europe and the United States.
Ginger Baker was living in relatively quiet retirement in South Africa and has an active Facebook page. The page is managed by his daughter Nettie, who helped Baker write his autobiography. Baker himself posts on the page from time to time. Due to financial considerations, Baker sold his ranch in South Africa, moved back to the London area and is now performing live again with his new four piece group, Ginger Baker's Jazz Confusion. They are touring across Europe and will be playing in the United States late in 2013.
As for the relationship between the three men, Clapton has commented the three have "amicably parted ways", although there have been no comments from any of the three about Cream since Bruce's remarks in early 2010.
Jack Bruce Autobiography
Jack Bruce's autobiography has hit the shelves and it's a must read for any Cream fan, or any fan of rock music for that matter.
The story is told by author Harry Shapiro, who previously worked with Eric Clapton on a biography and has known the members of Cream for years. He tells a tale with full cooperation from Jack Bruce, with no stone left unturned.
"Composing Himself" is not only a reflection on the mutifaceted career of Jack Bruce, but it's also a glmpse into the music business from the 1960s through today. Jack's early years are discussed, including his first association with Ginger Baker. As the story goes, a young 19 year old Jack Bruce approached a seasoned London area blues/jazz/rock fusion band, for whom Baker was the drummer.
Bruce asked Baker and famed saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith if he could sit in for a set. After finally agreeing, Baker and Heckstall-Smith decided to test the young bass player's mettle. They chose a complicated ballad, with scores of chord changes, improvisation, and musical meanderings. To their astonishment, the talented young musician played flawlessly.
The Cream years are covered in detail. For the most part, Bruce is kind to Baker here, although no punches are pulled either. Addiction to drugs is discussed, including Jack's long road to recovery and ultimately, the liver transplant that nearly cost him his life. As one would expect, a portion of the book is devoted to the 2005 Cream reunion shows. Jack Bruce discusses the dust up between himself and Ginger Baker, and indicated the volume problem Baker complained about was due to Bruce switching bass guitars and certainly not intentional. To the reader, it is clear the two have never been able to overcome problems.
Particularly interesting is a chapter on the ill fated West, Bruce, and Laing "super group" that record company executives thought would be the next Cream. Amidst clashing personalities both within and around the band, and a haze of drugs, the trio collapsed under its own lofty expectations after two short years.
Another interesting story involved Jack Bruce and Stephen Stills. After Cream broke up in late 1968, Bruce was approached by Stills to join the now legendary trio Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Bruce was intrigued, thinking he could add unique elements both vocally and musically. His enthusiasm waned immediately when Stills stated his interest in Bruce joining CSN was strictly as a bass player.
Bruce and Shapiro receive ample cooperation from Bruce's contemporaries, with the notable exception of Ginger Baker, whose daughter fills in the details (she ghost wrote Baker's recent autobiography, "Hellraiser"). Eric Clapton delivers a beautifully written foreward and pays homage and due respect to his old partner.
"Composing Himself" is a compelling, interesting, and often harrowing take on the life and career of Jack Bruce.
Cream Concert Ticket Stub
Chicago Coliseum, 1968
Here's a picture of a Cream concert ticket from 1968 at the Chicago Coliseum.
Cream held two concerts at the Chicago Coliseum that year. They played this show in April; the opening band was the Mothers of Invention featuring Frank Zappa.
Almost six months later, in October 1968, Cream played the Coliseum again on their farewell tour. That concert was bootleg recorded and a bootleg exists but it is not widely available.
The Chicago Coliseum was a building of great historical significance. Located on Chicago's near south side at 15th and Wabash Avenue, it was in its waning years when Cream played there in 1968.
The building was dedicated in 1900 by President William McKinley and was the main convention/exhibition/arena in Chicago until the Chicago Stadium opened in 1929. The Coliseum seated about 9000 people and had an adjacent north wing that seated another 4000 for boxing matches.
Several U.S. Presidents were nominated in the Chicago Coliseum, including Taft, Wilson, and Harding. Jackie Robinson played in a UCLA basketball game there in 1939 and Joe Louis fought in the Coliseum in 1934. The NHL Chicago Blackhawks called it home for three years before the Chicago Stadium was built.
By the mid to late 1960s, larger events in Chicago were being hosted at other venues and the aging Coliseum was used less and less. By the late 60's, it was primarily used for rock concerts and as a meeting hall for social activist groups.
In his autobiography "Composing Himself", Jack Bruce specifically mentions this concert in Chicago. He recalls that it was after this show that Cream decided to break up.
They continued on their tour through June and came back to the United States for their farewell tour in October, 1968 when they again played at the Chicago Coliseum.
Around that time, the Coliseum also hosted concerts for many other famous artists. The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Three Dog Night, Uriah Heep, and The Grateful Dead all graced the stage at the historic Chicago venue.
In fact, the final event ever at the Chicago Coliseum was a concert. James Taylor and Carole King played there on March 12, 1971. The next day, the Chicago Fire Department slapped numerous code violations on the building and it was closed to the public. The historic arena was then used mostly for boat storage until it was demolished in May, 1982.
Cream On Stage
In Concert At The Chicago Coliseum
Here's a picture of Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton, together as Cream, on stage.
The picture is from an October, 1968 concert at the Chicago Coliseum during Cream's farewell tour.
Cream played four times in Chicago. Their first performance was at a debutante ball shortly before Christmas in 1967. One of my friends attended this performance and shared a few details ...
The daughter of a wealthy north Chicago businessman hosted her debutante party at a local country club, and her father offered to pay for a band to entertain at the party. The young woman chose Cream, who fit the performance into their schedule between performances at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit. The band's fee was $10,000!
My friend remembers Cream playing their classic hit "Sunshine of Your Love", which was introduced by Jack Bruce as their newest song. He recalls Eric Clapton as being very friendly and conversational, and Ginger Baker as being sick to his stomach and becoming ill ...
Cream also performed in April, 1968 at a suburban Chicago teen club known as "The Cellar", a day before their first performance at the Chicago Coliseum. I was fortunate enough to meet a gentleman in downtown Naperville, IL recently who attended this performance. The story has a "small world" flavor to it ...
We happened to be sitting on the patio of a wonderful local establishment in Naperville called Peanuts Bar and Grill. Next to me was my friend who attended Cream's performance at the debutante ball in 1967. I went inside to play the jukebox and chose "Crossroads" ...
When I returned to my table, the gentleman at the next table nodded his approval of my choice, to which I remarked about my friend, "Here's a guy who actually saw Cream perform live". The man raised his hand and said, "Me too!", and shared his memories of seeing Cream at The Cellar in Arlington Heights, IL!
Historical research shows Cream was paid $3000 for their performance at The Cellar. The Cellar existed as a teen club in the mid and late 1960s but closed in 1970 due to concerns overcrowd control. Buffalo Springfield played there in 1967, and it is said Stephen Stills and Neil Young had an altercation backstage over guitar volume levels (boys will be boys!).
The building where The Cellar was located still stands near Northwest Highway in Arlington Heights. It is now an auto repair facility. Seeing the building, no one would ever know the musical history which took place there ...
A Cream Rarity - Rock Hall of Fame Rehearsal, 1993
Listen to this rare performance of Cream rehearsing "Crossroads" the day before their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, January 1993.
This was the first time Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton had played together as Cream since late November, 1968. Amazingly, this was their one and only run through of "Crossroads". There's a brief break near the end as Jack Bruce remembers how they used to end the song. He plays a riff for Clapton, they count off, and do the ending.
Jack Bruce's bass playing is magnificent ... have a listen!
Listen to Jack Bruce's driving bass on this rehearsal of
One More (Final?) Cream Reunion?
Jack Bruce Interview ... early 2012
In a February 2012 interview with the Birmingham (UK) Express and Star, Jack Bruce discussed his musical history, his current plans, and more. Naturally, the subject of Cream arose during the interview ...
Jack Bruce on Ginger Baker: "A lot was made of it (the tempestuous relationship between the two) and I'm not denying there were a lot of problems" but insists the pair has "gotten all over that" ...
Then when asked about the possibility of another Cream reunion, he changed his tune from his 2010 remarks stating "Cream is over". Bruce stated, "Well, there was some talk about doing one next year (2013). Whether or not that will actually happen I couldn't say. I'm more in touch with Ginger, occasionally, than Eric. I can't claim to be very close to Eric but I do run into him from time to time, you know . . . down at the local unemployment exchange for old rockers!"
Meanwhile, Ginger Baker in late 2011 performed with some other musicians for a European tour, surprising his fans as he's been considered retired. It is known Baker has been dogged by both financial and health problems, although by all accounts his perfomances were strong on the recent tour. Eric Clapton continues to tour and perform and maintain a high musical profile.
Our take on Jack Bruce's comments? While we doubt Cream will reform (until anything is said by Baker or Clapton in particular), Bruce's comments are at least a glimmer of hope for Cream fans hoping for another reunion. Quite possibly, Baker, Bruce, and Clapton may want to put Cream's legacy to bed on a happier note than the difficult New York shows in October, 2005. The fact that Jack Bruce himself states he's somewhat in the dark suggests a Cream reunion is probably Clapton's decision.
We'll update this space if any new details become available, so stay tuned ...
Cream Reunion 2013 Planned?
Comments From Jack Bruce
In June 2012, Jack Bruce and his newest musical project Spectrum Road played the prestigious Bonnaroo Festival, and in an interview following the festival with the International Business Times, the topic of Cream arose. In some telling, yet still quite murky remarks, Bruce revealed that a reunion of Cream is (or was?) on the drawing board for 2013.
When asked about Cream, Bruce stated: "There was a plan to play next year (2013), but I think Ginger probably screwed it up again (interviewer noted Bruce said this with a laugh). You never know, but we had a definite plan, given that we are all alive of course. But Ginger said that he screwed it up with Eric. If it happens, it happens ... I'll go along."
By means of background, it should be noted that Ginger Baker is now living in England and performing again with his own band, Ginger Baker's Jazz Confusion. He has been performing gigs throughout Europe since late 2011, and has more shows scheduled throughout 2012. It is known that Baker has financial problems stemming from his time living in South Africa and his passion for polo, a quite expensive hobby. Further, his health is iffy, complicated by arthritis in his back and lung problems from decades of heavy smoking. All that aside however, Ginger Baker forges on and appears to have renewed his relationship with Jack Bruce, albeit at arms length. What Bruce meant by "Ginger screwed it up with Eric" is really anyone's guess. But for Cream fans, his statement about a "definite plan" is more than a glimmer of hope. Clapton is known to have a huge soft spot for Ginger Baker, so we'll see what develops, if anything.
We'll continue to update this space if further details become available!
Cream From 1967 - Steppin' Out
Here's the version of "Stepping Out" we mentioned in the module above. This was recorded at a Swedish radio station performance in 1967.
The song is an instrumental, and while it's intended as a showcase for a lead guitarist, listen to each of the three members of Cream blend together here. Most notably:
Jack Bruce's bass run at the 1:00 mark ...
Ginger Baker's sequential drum rolls at 1:15 and again at 1:30 ...
Eric Clapton's stellar guitar work throughout, particularly his transition at 3:19 ...
The song itself was written by noted blues man Memphis Slim in 1959. Cream, however, gives it a jazz feel, anchored by Ginger Baker's swinging drumming. Listen and see if you agree!
Here's a rare cut of Cream performing live on a version of the standard
Ginger Baker In Concert!
In Chicago 10/14/13 - Review Forthcoming
We just wanted to announce that we recently purchased tickets to see Ginger Baker performing live in Chicago!
The legendary drummer will be performing with his highly acclaimed jazz quartet, "Ginger Baker's Jazz Confusion" at the City WInery near downtown Chicago on October 14th, 2013.
Baker and his group are on a U.S. tour ... this is the first time we will have ever seen the ex-Cream drummer perform live, and we're looking forward to it ...
We'll post our thoughts, and hopefully a picture or two after the concert, so stay tuned!
I have seen Eric Clapton in concert several times, most notably touring behind his "Slowhand" album in early 1978 (when I was in high school!) and the following year when his opening act was Muddy Waters. Both concerts were at the Chicago Stadium. We saw Clapton perform with Steve Winwood in 2011 ...
Seeing Jack Bruce perform live is still on the to do list!