If you were to ask Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce or Ginger Baker what they thought of 21st century music making, they’d likely either give you tongue-in-cheek ambiguity or a straight answer filled with regret.
Emerging from the trailblazing era of the 60s, Cream rose to prominence bound by not only unmatched charisma and stage malleability, but instrumental precision. They were first and foremost masters of their craft, inventing conventions that have lasted for generations.
Subsequently, digesting modern-day methodology is a tough pill to swallow for Kofi Baker, son of Ginger. Blood-driven by the pride and dignity of his father’s ingenuity, Baker believes educational impatience is overshadowing the push for technicality.
“Nowadays, they’re not really teaching musicians to be musicians,” Baker says. “They’re saying ‘let’s just play along with the song’ and that’s not how musicians learnt to play in the old days – they didn’t play along with songs, they learnt how to read music and practice and learnt how to play their instrument.
“Back in the jazz days when drummers learnt to play, the left foot was very important. Nowadays, drummers get on the kit and they hear a rock song and their left foot sits still – they play bass drum, snare drum and right hand and just play along with the song. Once you’ve learnt how to play drums like that it’s hard to go back and learn everything from the start.”
Bringing The Music of Cream to Australia for the first time as part of the band’s 50th anniversary, Baker’s dogged in not only evading the devilish tribute band status, but conveying the spontaneity that rendered Cream unmatched. “We’re going to bring the experience of Cream back, which means we’re going to do a lot of jamming, a lot of improvisation and a lot of giving it everything we’ve got – that’s what Cream was all about.
“We’re going to bring this jam, rock music thing back to life, which no one’s doing,” he says. “People have tried to do Cream but they’re not doing it with the fire that Cream had, they just try to copy Cream, which is not what Cream was about. Cream didn’t copy Cream, Cream played different every night and their live stuff was so much different to their studio stuff. You can’t play a tribute to Cream because Cream didn’t copy themselves.
“So what you have to do is take the experience and take the attitudes of what these guys had, which me, Malcolm (Bruce) and Will (Johns) really only know. There’s not a lot of people who have been as close to my dad, Jack and Eric than us, so we know what attitude to bring and we know what they were about.”
Snobbishly titled so because Baker, Clapton and Bruce were the cream of the musician crop at the time, Cream enjoyed a helter skelter tenure between its formation in 1966 and dissolution in 1968. With their debut album Fresh Cream exalting them to the top of the blues rock tree, every recording and live performance from there was a bonus.
Despite their musical uniformity, Cream were never able to completely escape the narcissism that embodied its building blocks. While Clapton was their ace of spades when it came to talent, acrimony never left Bruce and Baker, and their combustible relationship was the band’s ultimate demise.
However, from one era’s closure comes the the dawn of another, and Cream’s farewell tour in October and November 1968 was known for its nascent supports, including Taste, Yes and Deep Purple. Glenn Hughes, the former bassist of the latter act, will be joining Baker, Bruce, Johns for The Music of Cream showcase, along with Miles Davis collaborator Robben Ford.
Not having played with Hughes or Ford before, Baker is unsure how the show will pan out. “We’re going to get together in LA a couple of days before the tour and see what happens,” Baker says. “I’m sure he (Hughes) will step up to the plate, he’s a great player and a great singer. I’m hoping we can maybe put a few originals in the set and maybe come up with a few tunes but we’ll see what time permits.”
The Music of Cream will tour Australia in late May with information available at musicofcream.com.