By 1966 Eric Clapton had earned himself a reputation as Britain's most renowned blues guitarist, through his work with first The Yardbirds and then John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. However he was still restless, and was looking to form his own new group. He found a kindred spirit in drummer Ginger Baker, whom he had admired for some time. Baker was playing with The Graham Bond Organization, but was also planning to start a new band. Clapton agreed to join with Baker, on the condition that they recruited bassist Jack Bruce, who Clapton had briefly played with in the Bluesbreakers. Until 1965 Bruce had been a member of the Organization, but he was currently playing with Manfred Mann. Baker and Bruce played well together, but their personal relationship was stormy at best. It was actually Baker who had been deputized by Graham Bond to fire Bruce, and they were not on the best of terms. However the two of them agreed to put their differences aside in support of the new group, and Cream was formed, one of rock's first 'supergroups'.
They quickly began their ascent towards the position of Britain's foremost guitar-based rock group, helped no doubt by their pre-existing fame. Clapton's bluesy guitar, Bruce's bold and innovative bass playing and Baker's powerful yet jazzy drumming made for a unique instrumental combination. From the start they were firmly rooted in the blues, taking the genre into much heavier territories than it had been before. Bruce was the group's lead singer, with Clapton providing backing vocals and the occasional lead spot (his vocal role would increase with time).
Cream's first single was the oft-forgotten "Wrapping Paper", which to be honest was a bit of a misfire and didn't demonstrate the band's true sound at all. The second single, the pop/rock/blues hybrid "I Feel Free", was a much greater success, getting to #11 on the UK singles chart and paving the way for what was to come. Their debut album, Fresh Cream, came out in December 1966. It was a great representation of their sound, fusing their blues roots with some adventurous rock arrangements and some catchy pop hooks. Half the songs were originals, and half were covers, including Robert Johnson's "Four Until Late", Skip James' "I'm So Glad", Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" and Muddy Waters' "Rollin' And Tumblin'" (the latter featuring Bruce on harmonica). Another notable track was Baker's "Toad", one of the first instances of the featured drum solo on a rock LP.
The album did well, getting to #6 on the UK album chart, and also #39 in the US. It successfully announced the arrival of one of the most influential and pioneering rock groups of the 60s.
NOTE - "I Feel Free" was not included on the original UK version. It was featured on the US edition, taking the place of "Spoonful". This version includes both songs.
|> Disraeli Gears (1967)
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