CREAM – ” Fresh Cream ” Released December 9th, 1966

Posted: December 11, 2020 in Classic Albums, MUSIC
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According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the most common definition of the word supergroup is “a rock group made up of prominent former members of other rock groups.” The word came into use either in 1968 or 1969, reportedly coined by Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner—music historians seem to disagree exactly when the word first popped up, but they all agree that the supergroup Wenner was describing was Cream. From the first chord of the first song, the debut album by Cream was something new. Eric Clapton’s power chord gave way to handclaps and Jack Bruce’s humming, then Clapton returned in tandem with Bruce’s heady vocals and Ginger Baker’s mighty percussion. “I Feel Free” was up and running, and so was one of the most exciting debut records of the 1960s. “Fresh Cream” was released on December 9th, 1966.

Cream had already come and gone by the end of 1968 but in their brief run, just over two years, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker undeniably changed the face of rock music.

In the spring of 1965, guitarist Clapton, having grown dissatisfied with what he perceived to be a move into a more pop-oriented direction for the Yardbirds, the group with which he’d made his name, left for John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. As its name implied, the Mayall outfit was dedicated to the blues, Clapton’s favoured genre at the time. Clapton soon grew restless there too, and by the summer of 1966 he was looking for something new.

Cream were by no means a singles band, but “I Feel Free” was a definitive 45 of the era, on an album that oozed authentic, robust blues but was also full of light and shade. This was a trio of all talents, Bruce, Clapton and Baker all contributing to the song writing (as did Bruce’s first wife Janet Godfrey and his frequent collaborator Pete Brown), in addition to which they had a collectively trained ear for adapting the music of their heritage for the modern-day rock audience.

Hence new songs such as Bruce’s “N.S.U.” and “Dreaming,” and Baker and Godfrey’s “Sweet Wine” But here also were Clapton’s modernisations of “Four Until Late” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin,’” from the repertoires of two of his heroes (Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters respectively) and expert readings of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful” and Skip James’ “I’m So Glad.” They were comfortable with instrumental formats too, as with the traditional “Cat’s Squirrel” and Baker’s theme piece “Toad.”

At the same time, drummer Ginger Baker, a member of the popular British blues band the Graham Bond Organisation, was also in the market for change. When he met Clapton, the two discussed starting a new band and Clapton mentioned bringing in Jack Bruce on bass. Baker was already quite familiar with Bruce—the latter had also worked in Bond’s group as well as with John Mayall.

Just in time for them to break up. Despite the success of Disraeli Gears and its follow up, the double LP Wheels of Fire (released in August 1968), Cream was already old news for its three members. Clapton had had enough and was looking for a new direction. Baker agreed, and on July 10th they announced they would be breaking up. They cut one last album, appropriately titled Goodbye, then played their final shows in October and November of ’68.

Baker was less than pleased with the suggestion though—the two had not gotten along well when they were in the Bond band and, at its worst, their spats had turned physical. Bruce interviewed in 2012, two years before his death, asked if his clash with Baker was overblown. “To a certain extent,” he said. “It did exist but I think those things are in every band, from that time, especially. People now are probably more tolerant of each other. We just didn’t give a shit and we were making it up as we went along.”

The album was a brilliant combination of the blues, jazz and rock resumés of all three members, in a line-up that introduced and defined the concept of the power trio. Except that the word “power” always threatens to overshadow the great subtleties, deftness of touch and sense of humour in Cream’s music.

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