Judge Ryan Keefer takes a trip back into the memories of the members of a groundbreaking rock group and learns a little bit about himself. Well, not really, but it kinda sounded cool, didn't it?
The fully authorized story: the beginning, the farewell, the reunion. Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce tell how it was…and how it is.
When it comes to music, supergroups have come and gone, but there has rarely been one as influential and dysfunctional as Cream. The band only lasted a little over three years (1966-1968), yet people have clamored for almost four decades to see them reunite one more time (the first was during the band's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1993). The question wasn't how much money would be thrown at drummer Ginger Baker, bassist/singer Jack Bruce, and guitarist Eric Clapton, but how long would it be before they were back at each other's throats? So in the midst of their half dozen concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall and New York's Madison Square Garden, someone was wise enough to sit each of the members down and get their opinions on the band's legacy, recall some old experiences, and maybe set the record straight once and for all.
In a documentary running almost two hours, Clapton, Baker, and Bruce are featured in footage from one of the London concerts, and things work backward from there. All three musicians had established British rock pedigrees before meeting up. The most notable was Clapton, who had been playing with The Yardbirds before leaving (getting fired), but not before performing on the hit "For Your Love." Baker was playing in a group called the Graham Bond Organization, who also employed Bruce at one time. Once Baker secured Clapton, he managed to see if Bruce was interested (Baker and Bruce had a frosty relationship during their time as bandmates, and Baker apparently wanted to try and put it aside). Bruce was, and the story gets interesting from there.
With only a few albums, the changed the landscape of rock. While some were basking in the bluesy rock flavors the Rolling Stones provided, Cream helped shift things into overdrive, expertly balancing psychedelic rock and a more rigid adherence to blues to produce albums like Fresh Cream and the exemplary Disraeli Gears, which served notice that jamming, experimental solos, and original lyrics was part of the new landscape. Songs like "Tales of Brave Ulysses" and "Sunshine of Your Love" remain rock standards to this day. The timing of the recording sessions was particularly noteworthy, as the band played a series of radio shows they found insulting, and seemed to come to the Gears sessions with chip firmly planted on shoulder. Wheels of Fire featured another rock classic in "White Room."
While the music kept coming at a prodigious clip, the ill feelings between Baker and Bruce continued to escalate. Bruce would apparently turn his bass amps up too high, deafening Baker. Baker and Bruce would squabble over writing credits for songs on the album. And both would go to Clapton to help mediate. At one point, it got so bad, Clapton stopped playing during a concert, and Baker followed shortly afterwards. Everyone was tired of everyone else, so in 1968, they decided to call it quits and play a farewell tour that later became their last album. They reunited for the Hall of Fame show, highlighted by some words by a touched Clapton, but reunion feelings were on again, off again for Baker, particularly after some nasty words were directed at him in a book. Eventually, it was all put to rest for the reunion, where tickets sold for more than $500 and attended by rock royalty. Several months later, a set of dates at Madison Square Garden were performed, and almost cancelled during the run because Baker was annoyed yet again with Bruce's loud amps. When asked if more shows were coming, Baker seemed against it, giving music fans a taste of what made the trio so magical four decades earlier.
Brown, Baker, and Clapton are interviewed extensively, albeit separately, discussing everything from their individual beginnings to some of the more well-known spats in the band. I knew about some of the bad feelings amongst the group, but having them discussed frankly (with Baker having the most venom on his tongue) was something to see. One music producer seemed to think the reunion was done largely because Clapton became a control freak after he stopped drinking and doing drugs, but in my humble opinion, he was just tired of seeing these guys squabble. Tired of it then and tired of it now, decades later. Why not put an end to it before things got worse? The first farewell performance may have been less than average and the band's feelings towards one another somewhat mechanical, but kill the horse before it gets sicker.
A lot of ground is covered here. To see each of them talk about the warts as well as the glory gives you an appreciation for the band and the dynamic they shared. Covering the three year span from 1966-68 with impressive detail, Cream: Classic Artists is definitely worth checking out, as the real story is the most interesting. And for your troubles, you even get a CD of rare Cream performances, including some unreleased audio tracks, that are worth a listen…if you haven't overdosed on the Clapton solos.
All in all, I really enjoyed this look at Cream because it dared to talk about the bad in frank detail, in addition to reveling in the good. While Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce may have said goodbye once again, this video document is a testament to the legacy of their music. Give Cream: Classic Artists a rental. You'll enjoy yourself.
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