As far as rock bands go, Cream might hold the record for the shortest history with the longest legacy. While you may think you’ve never heard of them, these lyrics might ring a bell, “In the white room, with black curtains, near the station.”
Cream was a wild, highly talented group of musicians looking to split the earth open at its core with their sonic waves. Too bad their chemistry would be their very demise.
We’re about to roll around in the story of Cream to find out what happened to this supergroup.
Let’s hit it!
The Story of Cream
British rock band Cream formed in 1966 when drummer Ginger Baker wanted to start a new rock band unlike any other. Baker already had status as a pioneering musician. Trained in jazz and blues, Baker is known for his unmatched double bass drumming.
By 1964, Eric Clapton was one of Britain’s most cherished guitar heroes. Baker knew him from the scene and his work in the Yardbirds. So when the two hung out and decided to form an experimental psychedelic-blues band, all they needed was a bassist. And despite his prickly temperament, Jack Bruce was the perfect fit.
Cream blew up almost immediately after playing their first notes together as a trio. Each musician was as powerful and fearless as the other. Their debut album, Fresh Cream, reached number six in the UK and 39 in the US before 1966 was over.
Next came Disraeli Gears in 1967, diving deeper into the psychedelic rock world which the band was ushing in. Cream toured heavily, while singles like Stange Brew topped worldwide charts.
But it was the band’s third album, Wheels of Fire, that got the flower power in America. By 1968 Cream’s heavy jam sessions and experimental orchestration drove crowds wild. The members of Cream were superstars. Wheels on Fire became the world’s first platinum-selling double album.
With 15 million records sold, a Grammy Hall of Fame album, and a Lifetime Achievement Award, Cream’s influence is unquestionable. Many peers called them a musician’s band because everybody wanted to play as well as they did, even if they were always about to spontaneously combust.
Was Cream the First Supergroup?
Rolling Stone Magazine co-founder Jann Wenner credited Cream as the first rock and roll supergroup. Given that his magazine was the most essential music publication of the 60s and 70s, his word was as good as gold.
Supergroup refers to any music group comprised of members with prior success in other bands. Though not exclusive to the rock genre, the term barely gets used in the jazz and blues scene. Sometimes musicians form supergroups as side projects or one-offs.
Although Clapton and Baker didn’t intentionally set out to form a supergroup, they chose the name Cream for a reason. They considered themselves the best, as in the cream of the crop.
Why Did Cream Break Up?
Cream was a volatile trio from day one. In 1966, Clapton agreed to play in Baker’s new band only if Bruce could be their bass player. But Baker and Bruce fought non-stop in their former band GBO. Add Claption’s giant ego to the mix, and you’ve got a clash of the titans on your hands.
Although Cream managed to produce three albums while practically throwing chairs at each other, Clapton knew their dissolution was only a matter of time. Forever in the middle of conflict, Clapton pulled the plug in the summer of 1968 and announced that Cream was breaking up.
Cream’s contractual obligations meant they played a few more dates in 1969 and produced their fourth album, Goodbye. But the days of Bruce turning his amps up so loud that Baker’s ears bled were over.
Did Cream Ever Reunite?
It had been 25 years since Cream played together when they performed at the 1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony. But to say they reunited is a stretch. However, their induction and subsequent decision to play at the event ignited some new ideas for a reunion tour.
According to Bruce, however, he felt they would need to release a new album. But they still didn’t have enough patience with each other to do so. They played the hits at Rock Hall and called it a day.
But Clapton, however, often missed playing with Cream. After twelve years of waffling, Clapton suggested they do a brief 2005 tour. He knew they could play the old hits but make it feel new. And he was right. Cream’s first four May 2005 reunion shows sold out in under one hour.
By the time Cream played three more reunion gigs in October, they’d had enough. If their health issues didn’t wear them down, the neverending tension sure did.
Cream’s Best-Known Songs
Cream’s short-lived 60s psych blues explosion paved the way for countless great rock bands of the 70s. Here are the heavy hits that made them one of the coolest bands ever.
Sunshine of Your Love
If you’ve ever turned on a rock radio station, you’ve heard Sunshine of Your Love. Cream’s first and highest charting US single became 1968’s heaviest rock anthem. You can hear Clapton’s blues influence paired with Bruce’s slow and stark bass riff.
The lyrics describe a late night with someone dreaming of being with their loved one soon. Bruce’s friend and poet Pete Brown co-wrote the song literally as the sun was coming up.
Clapton loved the tune and continued playing Sunshine of Your Love throughout his solo career.
Strange Brew was one of the first Cream tracks where Clapton sang lead vocals. Surrounded by his guitar’s lush and steady fuzz, Clapton coos softly about watching out for a wicked woman hot on your trail.
Polydor released Strange Brew first as a single in 1967. Cream also included it on their 1968 album Disraeli Gears. It’s rooted in old blues with just enough pop to make kids feel groovy during the Summer of Love.
White Room is one of those rock songs with a life all its own. The album Wheels of Fire was not Cream’s best. However, it hit America’s wild and hungry hippie culture at just the right time. And if you’ve ever wanted to play that 60s ‘waow waow’ guitar sound, then you know this song.
This tune is kind of dramatic and foreboding. The lyrics may make you feel like you’re listening to a drugged-out street profit talking nonsense. Ironically, poet Pete Brown wrote the words right when he gave up all drugs and booze. Maybe Clapton’s wah-wah pedal is what makes the song so wild.
Rolling Stone lists White Room as one of the greatest songs of all time.
Cream of the Crop
Cream. Three alpha wolves that came together to make one legendary sound. Although they weren’t as widely known as blues-rock bands like Led Zepplin, their legacy remains potent. Even the name was perfect. And something indulgent, if not taboo.
Maybe they were too powerful to last. That said, four albums in three years is certainly something to be proud of. So, lie in the dark, where the shadows run from themselves if you dare.