This blog is based on Derek Shelmerdine’s guest appearance on Dave Roberts’s Music For Grown Ups radio show on 1 October 2015.
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CREAM: COMING TOGETHER
Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker came together in the summer of 1966 as, what the rock press dubbed, the first supergroup. A title well deserved when you look at the impressive pedigree of the three musicians.
Eric Clapton started out in the Roosters in 1963. He shared the lineup with pianist Ben Palmer and guitarist Tom McGuinness. Palmer was to work with Clapton again on a number of occasions. He was a pianist in Clapton’s ill-fated Greek adventure, part of the lineup which recorded the What’s Shakin’ album and as a roadie in Cream. McGuinness found fame with Manfred Mann. From the Roosters Clapton had a very short stay, reputed to be only seven gigs, with Brian Casser’s Casey Jones and the Engineers. Casser had moved to London from Liverpool, where he had been in one of the town’s premier bands Cass and the Cassanovas. Finding the Engineers too pop orientated, Clapton joined the Yardbirds as the replacement for lead guitarist Top Topham.
Meanwhile, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were taking their first steps towards becoming music legends. They both started out on the jazz circuit before joining Britain’s first R&B band, Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. Baker had a spell with the Storyville Jazzmen before joining Terry Lightfoot. Bruce cut his teeth with the Murray Campbell Big Band. Ginger Baker replaced the original drummer, Charlie Watts, in Blues Incorporated in mid-1962, when he left to join Brian Knight’s Blues By Six. Together with Jack Bruce and Graham Bond the three of them were regulars with Korner but moonlighted as the Graham Bond Trio. They parted company with Korner in early 1963 and morphed into the Graham Bond Organisation.
Baker and Bruce may have played together but there was not much love lost between them. Baker once reputedly pulled a knife on Bruce. The tensions grew and Bruce parted company with the Graham Bond Organisation in favour of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
Eric Clapton was growing bored with the Yardbirds, once again he felt that he wanted to be in a band that was closer to the blues music that he loved. He left the Yardbirds in the spring of 1965. That summer he recorded Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton, before taking a break from John Mayall and heading off to Europe with the Glands, a band that included his old friend Ben Palmer. Their European jaunt came to an abrupt end when they were virtually held hostage by a Greek club owner who was blackmailing them for working without permits. Clapton and his hapless bunch of itinerant troubadours made their escape and returned to England.
Clapton rejoined John Mayall, displacing fellow blues legend Peter Green who had only just joined the band a few weeks earlier. Jack Bruce was also in the lineup and was playing alongside Clapton for the first time. Bruce moved on from the band and his final port of call before Cream was Manfred Mann, recording Pretty Flamingo with them.
The stage was now set for the formation of Cream: drummer Ginger Baker with the Graham Bond Organisation, guitarist Eric Clapton with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and bassist Jack Bruce with Manfred Mann. Before they came together as Cream, Clapton, Bruce and Baker made a couple of interesting recordings.
Clapton and Bruce recorded together as “Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse” for the compilation album What’s Shakin’ (released as Good Time Music in the UK).
The lineup was:
Ben Palmer: piano – was with Clapton in the Roosters and the Glands
Paul Jones: harmonica – with Manfred Mann
Jack Bruce: bass – with Manfred Mann
Eric Clapton: guitar – with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers
Steve Winwood, as “Steve Anglo”: vocals – with Spencer Davis Group
Pete York: drums – with the Spencer Davis Group
The Who were in dispute with their old record producer Shel Talmy over a recording duplicated after their move from Brunswick to Reaction and used as the B-side of Substitute. Talmy had slapped a court order on the Who, which prevented them from recording and threatened to stall the sales of Substitute. The Who’s answer was to use a new B-side, Waltz for a Pig, recorded by the Who Orchestra. In fact, the Who Orchestra was the Graham Bond Organisation and the song-writing credit for “Harry Butcher” was Ginger Baker.
After a warm-up performance at Manchester’s Twisted Wheel club, Cream made their official debut at the 6th National Jazz and Blues Festival at Windsor in the South of England on 31 July 1966.