Having had successful stints in The Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton (Born Eric Clapp) formed Cream with Jack Bruce (ex-Manfred Mann) and Ginger Baker (who had played with trad-jazz outfits for the likes of Acker Bilk).
The reputation of the players quickly secured a record contract, and the trio played its first major concert at the sixth annual Jazz & Blues Festival at Windsor in the UK in July 1966, and shortly after, during a gig at Sussex University, Baker collapsed from exhaustion after playing a 20-minute drum solo!
Their debut album, Fresh Cream, hit the UK charts at #6 in January 1967 and set the tone for their sound – a blues/jazz base showcasing power rock instrumental fireworks.
Later that year, the band also made their debut in the US, earning a strong reputation amongst the American music press. In December, the album Disraeli Gears (with its distinctive cover by artist Martin Sharp) was released and made it to #5 in the UK.
When Disraeli Gears engineer Tom Dowd saw how many drums and speaker cabinets were being humped into the studio, he was slightly confused: he’d been told to expect a three-piece band and here was enough gear for six . . .
The album – whose title was a stoned pun derived from the bicycle Derailleur gear system – was a short album with a run-time of well under 35 minutes, and even not so entirely devoid of padding – Ginger Baker’s singing/songwriting debut Blue Condition is a major snore-in and Mother’s Lament, the gorblessyaguvnor pub sing-along which closes the album, is an equal waste of space.
Nevertheless, it was almost entirely free from the bloat which affected many of their marathon live performances, hooking up the band’s vaunted virtuosity to crisp, inventive songcraft, which resulted in a small but perfectly-formed psychedelic masterpiece.
The album proved to be their American breakthrough, reaching #4 on the US charts. Sunshine of your Love (from the album) became their first US chart single.
Despite critical acclaim and chart success, Cream decided to call it a day in 1968, embarking on a farewell tour culminating at London’s Royal Albert Hall on November 25th and 26th and helping push White Room to #6 on the US charts.
The band members explained that their music had reached its natural dénouement. The following year, Clapton and Baker formed Blind Faith while Bruce headed for a solo career which would last into the 90s.
In January 1993, the members of Cream reconciled lingering bitterness and reunited for the first time in nearly 25 years to play Sunshine of your Love, Crossroads and Born Under A Bad Sign at the eighth annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Awards at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.
The performance celebrated the band’s induction into the Hall of Fame by ZZ Top.
Clapton, Bruce and Baker reunited again for four shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall, starting on 2 May 2005.
All four shows sold out instantly, and further shows in October at New York’s Madison Square Garden were similar commercial successes. The band were in fine fettle.
Jack Bruce passed away on 25 October 2014, aged 71, at his home in Suffolk.