Cream – The Tumultuous Relationship of Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce

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Cream, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, has long been regarded as one of the greatest bands of all time. Their musical chemistry and intensity created some of the most enduring music of its era, and is still relevant today. But why hasn’t Cream reunited more often? Let’s examine the tumultuous relationship between two of its members…

Cream: An Overview

Cream, so named because of the musical proficiency of its members, is a three piece power trio formed by drummer Ginger Baker in 1966. For the previous few years, Baker formed his world class reputation in the Graham Bond Organization, a well respected English band that blended elements of jazz, pop, and blues.

The bassist in the Graham Bond Organization, for a time, was Jack Bruce, a Scottish vocalist and multi instrumentalist also known as the best of his trade. Both with strong, driven personalities, Baker and Bruce clashed onstage and off. The bands founder, Graham Bond, wanted Bruce out of the band and asked Baker to perform the task. Baker gave Bruce the news that his services were no longer required. Supposedly, to this day, Bruce thinks it was Baker’s idea.

Despite their interpersonal conflicts, their musical chemistry was undeniable. Dubbed as the most volatile rhythm section in rock, they were also arguably the best. When the Graham Bond Organization disintegrated in early 1966, Baker sought to form a new band of his own.

Enter Eric Clapton, the legendary guitarist, who was unhappy with his own musical direction at the time. Baker approached Clapton about forming a band and Clapton quickly agreed. Clapton suggested Jack Bruce as the bassist, knowing his reputation and musical skill. Baker relented despite personal misgivings, and Cream was born.

The Breakup And Subsequent Pairings Of Baker And Bruce

Cream broke up in late 1968. All three members agree a major reason was the rocky relationship between Baker and Bruce. Arguments over touring, on stage volume, and songwriting credits undermined the already tenuous relationship. For his part, Clapton was continually thrust into the role of peacemaker, something he quickly tired of.

For the most part, the members kept their distance for the next 20 years, until Jack Bruce asked Baker to be the drummer in his new touring band. Baker initially refused, but relented when financial considerations forced his hand. The duo toured America in 1989 and 1990.

After a brief Cream reunion at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony in 1993, Baker and Bruce came together again as two thirds of BBM, a power trio also featuring guitarist Gary Moore. An album was released, to positive reviews, but a subsequent tour disintegrated almost before it began. Problems arose from all three members, with the prickly relationship between the two old Cream members being a focal point.

In a recent interview, Baker talks of BBM, and remarks how Bruce treated him as a subordinate, and more like a session drummer than an equal partner. It rankles Baker to this day.

Cream Reunion 2005

In late 2004, Clapton reached out to both Baker and Bruce to reunite Cream for a series of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. By accounts from all three men, the concerts went exceptionally well. Baker and Bruce commented it was much like the early days of Cream, with all three members cooperative and getting along quite well.

Later that year, three concerts in New York were held. Old animosities between Baker and Bruce arose, with Baker accusing the bassist of turning his volume up so loud that it almost deafened him. For his part, Clapton professes his deep love and admiration for both men, but Cream has not reunited since.

Meanwhile, Baker and Bruce continue to heave volleys through the press. Baker states he no longer wishes to play as Cream due to Bruce’s behavior. Bruce, on the other hand, wants to play as Cream but alternately praises then tweaks his old cohort in various interviews.

It appears the same volatile chemistry that made Cream great, both musically and interpersonally, keeps the band from reforming. And yet, periodic reunion rumors persist. Clapton states “never say never”, while Bruce has been outspoken in his desire to reform Cream, even temporarily. Over the years, Baker has been known to play the press almost as well as he plays the drums.

The bottom line? Stay tuned…

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