Friday, October 11, 2019

Cream Strange Brew by Chris Welch

Melody Maker writer Chris Welch was a young man in the right place at the right time when he joined the ranks of writers for MM just as the scene was moving from "trad jazz" (which he also enjoyed) to the younger and more exciting "Rhythm'n'Blues". He would report on these hip new groups while still keeping an eye out for the remnants of the old guard and the new musicians who moved from one scene to the other. He watched as Ginger, Eric and Jack evolved from sidemen to stars in the supergroup (a term he claims to have coined) Cream, who he literally watched from beginning practices (Ginger called him to tell him about the formation before everyone had even officially quit their previous combos!) to their final shows.

Starting out as more of a jazz man, Ginger Baker originally taught himself how to play drums but then studied to the point of learning to read music in order to get gigs. Sitting in and touring with innumerable combos - including backing Sister Rosetta Tharpe! - he eventually joined Alexis Korner's group along with Jack Bruce and Graham Bond until the three of them formed the Graham Bond Organization. Jack Bruce had also been a young bass virtuoso (starting out on cello because he wasn't big enough to handle a stand up bass!) with a fantastic singing voice and had been making money gigging in various combos since his mid-teens. Eric Clapton studied a variety of guitar off'n'on and played in a few relatively nondescript projects before settling into the Yardbirds as they were taking off. All three were dissatisfied with their current projects and decided to try something new together.

The band started with basic blues covers but soon were writing - with the help of Pete Brown - more psychedelic and poetic verses like their odd debut, "Wrapping Paper". Pete is interviewed fairly extensively here, which is nice, as he did contribute quite a bit to their success by writing the words for their biggest hits.

Their success was comparatively slow, though, especially in Britain, where they played smaller venues for most of their career. After an initial American sojourn in which they played a package Murray the K showcase, they rose to larger and more prestigious rooms, with the Coasts being particularly kind with the help of Bill Graham and his Fillmores. But despite the successes - larger shows, more audience response, platinum record sales - discontentment set in, especially with Eric, and the ultimate split came after one last American tour and their Goodbye album.

There is not a lot of detail in here but it is a good overview of the group and their career by someone who was intimately involved with the chaps through these years. The book is a large format packed with high quality, color photos. Nice job, overall!