Eric Clapton had a busy three plus years. He had joined The Yardbirds and left. He had joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and left and come back and left again. I’m not sure what he had in mind when he left Mayall, for the last time but his next project would become one of the legendary rock groups in music history.
Cream may not have originated the term supergroup but they certainly fit the bill. Jack Bruce of Manfred Mann, The Bluesbreakers, and The Graham Bond Organization and Ginger Baker also of The Graham Bond Organization joined Clapton. Individually they were not very well known in The United States, but in their native England there was a lot of publicity attached to their union. Within a year they were one of the most popular bands in the world.
Fresh Cream is not my favorite Cream album. But having said that it is still very good and one of the more creative debuts in rock history. It lacked cohesiveness, yet all the elements of Cream at their best were present. It served as a fine jumping off point for what was to come.
“I Feel Free,” which was the lead track on the original American vinyl release, is one of my five favorite Cream songs, yet is still different from the sound for which they would become famous. The a capella beginning and its melodic nature make it fairly unique within their catalog. It is straight forward psychedelic rock with some pop leanings. “N.S.U.” is somewhat similar but it features some short jams, particularly by Clapton.
There are a number of old blues covers that set the table for Disraeli Gears and Wheels Of Fire. “I’m So Glad” may have repetitive lyrics but Bruce, Baker, and Clapton meld together well. “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” is the old traditional Muddy Waters tune that is given a percussion driven treatment. “Four Until Late” may be short, but Bruce’s harmonica and Clapton’s guitar fuse together in ways that were cutting edge at the time. “Cat’s Squirrel” finds a relaxed Cream with Clapton providing short bursts of brilliance.
That brings us to “Toad.” After a short guitar intro, Ginger Baker embarks on one of the first extended drum solos on rock history. He would become famous for his manic playing and these solos would become a permanent part of Cream’s live act.
Fresh Cream was the first step on a short but brilliant journey for Eric Clapton and Cream. It was a journey that would bring Clapton lasting fame and lead to Cream’s induction into The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.