The best way to describe Cream would be as a perfect balance between psychedelic rock and blues rock. The band consisted of Ginger Baker on drums, Jack Bruce on bass and vocals, and legendary rock musician Eric Clapton on vocals and guitar. They also worked closely with an associate of Jack Bruce’s, poet and songwriter Pete Brown. Together Pete Brown and the power trio of Cream helped to popularize the wah-wah pedal while leaving a strong mark on the rock and roll industry. Their ability to write songs that were heavy and fast-paced while simultaneously catchy and complicated would influence other bands such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.
Cream was only together from 1966 to 1968 (with a couple of later reunions), but the mark they left in that short time span was prodigious. They had major hits such as “Crossroads” and “Born Under a Bad Sign,” which were strongly inspired by blues music. They also had more psychedelic hits such as “Toad” and “Strange Brew.” They relished in the use of equipment, not only the wah-wah pedal but also huge Marshall amps and double bass drums.
The effect that Cream had on the rock music scene during the 1960s could be seen in the shows they did with other big names. Jimi Hendrix jammed with them on stage, performing some of his signature moves such as playing the guitar with his teeth. Pink Floyd often performed in the same venues as Cream, and they inspired bands such as Led Zeppelin and the Beatles as well. Cream showed all of these performers that music could be edgy and unique while still achieving pop status.
Ginger Baker was similar to Keith Moon in the sense that he managed to maintain a unique rhythmic style, complemented by fast and explosive arm motions. Jack Bruce as known for his sheer talent, as was Eric Clapton. Together, they created songs that were just as bluesy as the Doors but more innovative in their assimilation of other musical styles. They wrote songs that were progressive without completely breaking convention, such as “I Feel Free,” “Sunshine of Your Love,” and “White Room.”
The band’s love of equipment would ultimately lead to their breakup in 1968. According to Eric Clapton, the new volume capacities of Marshall amp stacks and other advances in concert equipment led to a period late in the band’s career during which many of their performances were simply excuses to showboat their equipment and their abilities. With three musicians as talented as those of Cream, this led to onstage competitions during which each band member’s attempts to push their equipment to its limits led to three amazing musicians virtually cancelling each other out. During one concert, Clapton stopped playing altogether.
Following the band’s breakup, they used the talents and the love for innovation that they had developed to other bands. One album was released by Baker and Clapton along with Ric Grech and Steve Winwood. This album, Blind Faith, has been said to share many stylistic traits with Cream. After Blind Faith broke up, Ginger Baker started a new band with guitarist Denny Laine (known for his work with the Moody Blues). Meanwhile, Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton both went solo.
Eric Clapton is by far the most famous name to come out of Cream, but each of the three musicians were successful in their own right. In just a few short years, they managed to influence some of the biggest names in rock and roll from Jimi Hendrix to Jimmy Page. There are not many bands with three-year careers that can say the same.
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