The countdown is on for the Cream reunion concerts at Royal Albert Hall, London on May 2, 3, 5 and 6, 2005.
Cream was (and will be again for 4 nights) a trio; Jack Bruce on bass and vocal, Eric Clapton on guitar and vocal, and Ginger Baker on drums.
They were the first to exploit, on a large scale, the possibilities of what is now called the power-trio format. Their hugely amplified blues-rock also provided the template for heavy metal; early metal pioneers like the power-trio Blue Cheer and power-trio-with-vocalist titans like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin owe debt to Cream. The only contemporary power trio one could mention in the same breath would have been the Jimi Hendrix Experience. I'll leave it to others to argue about which trio was more influential and important; there's a lot to argue.
While Eric Clapton obviously is the most well-known name, especially among younger music fans, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker contributed equally to the unit. Clapton, though already something of a hero in England after his stints in the Yardbirds and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (which also featured Jack Bruce for a spell alongside Clapton), was still largely unknown in America before Cream; the Yardbirds' first chart single in the States was the post-Clapton "For Your Love". Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker had both played in the Graham Bond Organization, a British R&B band that had a very jazzy flavor, drawing from its members prior jazz experience.
As Cream, their aim was to extend beyond rock's barriers; to explode the notion of a 3-minute song to be replicated onstage note-for-note, verse-for-verse. In some respects, they incorporated the notion (if not explicitly the sound) of jazz improvisation onto the previously strict blues/rock structure; at their absolute best, they took what still remained blues for the most part into the far outer reaches; with Clapton's extended acid-blues guitar, Baker's consistently jazzy and busy drumming, and Bruce's strong, confident vocals (which undoubtedly informed Ozzy Osbourne's early singing, among many others) and songwriting, Jack Bruce/Pete Brown compositions being a big part of the band's repertoire.
Fresh Cream, their Dec. 1966 debut, remains precisely that; a fresh take on amplified blues, here amped to previously unthought-of heights, yet also remaining true in places to pure pop structure: "I Feel Free", their first UK hit (not featured on the original UK album) is a catchy concise piece of under-3-minute pop; yet it features the loud chugging of the band beneath an excellent, almost exotic harmony. "Spoonful" (left off the original US release in favor of "I Feel Free"), a Willie Dixon original, is where Eric Clapton took his first steps towards what may well be immortality; this extended psychedelic blues largely defines what Cream was all about. Ginger Baker got a showcase with "Toad", one of the very first extended drum solos on a rock record, which is primal and intense; awe-inspiring in its incessant, original ferocity.
The late 1967 release of Disraeli Gears, the band's masterpiece, is what truly cements their legend as recording artists; their concerts were something else. Disraeli Gears is where it all comes together in lysergic glory; much of the album still turns up on classic rock radio, including their first US smash (#5 on Billboard) "Sunshine of Your Love", the acid fantasy with killer chords "Tales Of Brave Ulysses" and the beguiling psychedelic pop of "Strange Brew" All are familiar tunes to most rock listeners; "Swlabr" and "World of Pain" are also among their finest moments. All were originals; the album also features a couple of blues covers. The album art is a classic as well; an acid collage that teeters between ecstasy and nightmare. It peaked at #4 on the Billboard chart.