The Supergroup That Never Was: The History of Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and the Powerhouse
Before Blind Faith -- before Cream, even -- an attempt was made to create a group around Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood. But the band didn't get any further than a few recording sessions. Here's the story of Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse.
In early 1966, Elektra Records wanted to release a blues compilation album capitalizing on stuff it had in the can already, mostly by the Lovin' Spoonful and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Producer Joe Boyd hoped to fill it out with songs by an unsigned British blues group, but the good bands were already spoken for. At that point, Paul Jones of Manfred Mann suggested forming an all-star combo.
Clapton, then earning his "Clapton Is God" reputation with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, was the obvious choice for lead guitarist. Winwood, from the Spencer Davis Group, signed on to sing. Jones (harmonica) and Jack Bruce (bass) came over from Manfred Mann, and so did drummer Pete York, after Boyd and Jones' first choice, Ginger Baker of the Graham Bond Organisation, was unavailable. The piano player was Ben Palmer, who, in the small world of British blues, was known by almost all the players, if not by the fans.
What was eventually named the Powerhouse was not really a supergroup in the Blind Faith/Cream sense, in that nobody save Clapton was individually famous yet, and even he was still on the rise. British listeners would likely have recognized some of the names, but American listeners wouldn't have. In 1964, Manfred Mann had scored with 'Do Wah Diddy Diddy,' but American fans who could name a member besides Mann would have been rare. The Spencer Davis Group had recently charted its first U.S. hit, 'Keep on Running,' but John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers were unknown here. Contributing to the further obscurity of the players, Winwood, York and Jones all appeared under assumed names to avoid contractual conflicts. (Winwood would use his pseudonym, "Steve Anglo," on another project at about the same time.)
The band now known to history as Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse cut four songs. Three of them were released in June 1966 on an Elektra compilation titled 'What’s Shakin'.' 'Crossroads' (which you can hear above) is the same Robert Johnson song that Cream would make famous, although on the Powerhouse version, Winwood's vocal is pure R&B. 'Steppin' Out' was part of the Bluesbreakers' repertoire and would figure into Cream's.
'I Want to Know' is old-school Chicago-style blues, with Winwood and Bruce raggedly harmonizing as the band bashes away. Clapton would later tell an interviewer about the unreleased fourth track, which he recalled only as a slow blues and couldn't even remember the title. The Powerhouse versions of 'I Want to Know' and 'Crossroads' appear on Winwood's 1995 box set 'The Finer Things,' oddly credited to Clapton alone. "I Want to Know" also appeared on an earlier Winwood compilation.
The Powerhouse was a one-shot deal, and apparently mattered so little to Clapton that he would leave it out of his autobiography. And besides, in the spring of 1966, Clapton, Bruce and Baker were already forming Cream. That band would be touted as the first supergroup, and Blind Faith would follow. But with some small changes in the circumstances, it all could have been very different.
Written by Jim Bartlett. Learn more at The Hits Just Keep on Comin'