How Cream Completed the Unlikeliest of Reunions
Former bandmates Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton, and Ginger Baker went on to achieve British rock legend status in their own right, but they found it difficult to extricate themselves from one another's orbit. Baker and Clapton quickly came together again as part of the short-lived Blind Faith, and the three would cross paths repeatedly in one way or another over the years.
Then came Cream's 1993 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. A short set that night consisting of "Sunshine of Your Love," "Crossroads," and "Born Under a Bad Sign" marked the first time they'd played together in a quarter-century — and it'd be another 12 years before they did it again.
Even then, a Cream reunion seemed unlikelier than ever, but time had a mellowing effect on the trio – starting with Clapton. He'd found himself in an increasingly reflective mood as the years wore on. Finally seeing his musical legacy as more of a blessing than a burden, he had begun to wonder whether the old antipathies that tore the band apart might have dissipated over the ensuing decades.
Clapton said he was the first to reach out to his former bandmates. "I missed them, and I had missed them for a long time," he later admitted. "And I kind of realized, deep down, that as much as they might want to get together again that it was really my call — because I had walked from it."
Still, he said he initially resisted the idea. "At some point, it really just came into my mind more and more and more. I would get up, and I would think about it," Clapton added. "I thought: 'You may not need to do it, for whatever reason, but maybe they’d benefit.' Not only that, we can. We actually can, because we're all still alive. I thought this, this is worth it. This is worth whatever grief and stress we may have experienced in the past, to come back to this."
Listen to Cream's 'Sunshine of Your Love' From Royal Albert Hall
Jack Bruce had other ideas. "When we very first had the idea of getting together again, way back in ‘93, when we got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I suggested that if we did get together, we should do a new album. But it didn’t work out that way, I’m afraid," Bruce told Vintage Rock. "We did the old tunes, which was nice. That’s what people want to hear, after all."
Cream announced a series of reunion shows to be held on May 2, 3, 5 and 6, 2005 at London's Royal Albert Hall — and plenty of fans were waiting: All four concerts sold out in under an hour.
An old squabble over new material wasn't the only stumbling block that popped up during the 12 years between 1993 and 2005. Bruce's declining health was also a factor: "I had been quite ill, to say the least, so I could have done with a bit more recovery time. But that aside, the gigs were pretty good, I thought," he said. "I think it was really for the audience that we did it, as much as ourselves, and we certainly felt the love as we hit the Albert Hall stage."
Even if they ended up playing the old material, the songs came alive again on stage. "I don't think of it as a nostalgic thing at all," he later argued. "I might have thought that, but as soon as we started playing, it felt quite new and fresh. It sounded like us now, not us then, you know what I mean?"
The shows were captured for posterity on the CD/DVD package Royal Albert Hall London May 2-3-5-6, 2005, and proved to be such a positive experience that Cream decided to keep going. They booked another round of shows for Oct. 24-26 at Madison Square Garden. But Baker, Bruce and Clapton had all had enough by the time the final encores were finished.
"After that, I was pretty convinced that we had gone as far as we could without someone getting killed. At this time in my life, I don’t want blood on my hands," Clapton told Uncut with a chuckle. "I don’t want to be part of some kind of tragic confrontation."
Listen to Cream's 'Rollin' and Tumblin" From Royal Albert Hall
All the members of Cream had been at loggerheads at some point, but the most vehement disagreements were between Baker and Bruce, who'd had issues with one another since their infamously acrimonious days together in the Graham Bond Organization. Despite everyone's best intentions, the two still found it difficult to get along during the reunion. Baker later insisted that he'd been worried from the start.
"I'd refused to do it first of all," he told MusicRadar. "Eric phoned me up and convinced me. The reason I didn't want to do it was because of what happened in New York in 1968, when the magic was destroyed. The reason we broke up in the first place re-emerged onstage at Madison Square. You'll notice I'm talking about Eric in a nice way, but there was another person in the group. It wasn't just a problem with the volume of the bass guitar, it was the problem of being humiliated in front of 20,000 people."
He felt Bruce's apologies were meaningless. "He gets tearful and says 'I love you, man,' but the volume thing has damaged my hearing to this day," Baker added. "I just cannot play with other people playing too loud on stage. It's too painful."
Cream's reunion ultimately may have stirred up painful emotions, but nevertheless added a bittersweet — albeit brief — postscript to one of rock's greatest legacies. For some, that was enough.
"That's the way it goes," Bruce later told The Guardian. "It's fine. I think we said what we had to say at the time, and it was nice to have that little comeback. For me, that was just about right."
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