Cream- Wheels of Fire- Eric Clapton, the late Jack Bruce

By the time of Summer 1968 and their third album’s release, Wheels of Fire, London-based trio Cream had quickly earned their dual reputation, as makers of artsy, Continental records which fused jazz, blues, and rock’n’roll, with an equally enviable benchmark as the most powerful live act in concert. Cream’s breakthrough album Disraeli Gears only nine months earlier tee’d up the English/Scottish trio’s June 1968 third release, Wheels of Fire, for some impressive numbers. It went almost immediately to #3 sales in the UK and a bonafide #1 in the US, becoming the first double album to sell over a million copies.

Though Rolling Stone magazine ranked Cream’s Disraeli Gears  most recently at #170 album of all time, and the late Ginger Baker as one of rock’s three greatest drummers (along with The Who’s Keith Moon and Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham), the other key numbers for Cream’s quicksilver career are startlingly single digits: years together- 3 ; albums released- 4; number of reunion albums/tours in the half century since – 1.At the time, nothing sounded quite like the songs on Disraeli Gears and Wheels of Fire: “Strange Brew”,”Sunshine of Your Love” (rivaled only by “Purple Haze” that same year as the most subversive single to ever penetrate Top 40 radio ), the elegant romantic falsetto of “Dance the Night Away”, and the psychedelic lyrics of “Tales of Brave Ulysses” absolutely mesmerized me with each repeated playing. That went double (pun intended) for Wheels of Fire less than a year later, which included “White Room”, “Born Under a Bad Sign”, “Those Were the Days”, and two live performances, Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” sung by Eric Clapton, & the epic extended jam around Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful”. Wheels of Fire also resides on Rolling Stone‘s Top 500 list, at #205.

When I talked to Eddie Van Halen, Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush,  Sammy Hagar and Joe Satriani, or guitar phenom Eric Johnson, they and countless other musicians easily cite Cream as the gold standard which inspired them all to make the transition from rock music fan to rock musician. The degree to which my guests Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce (who passed 2014), along with the late Ginger Baker as Cream, influenced multiple generations of bands  is incalculable. Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, and frequent lyrics contributor Pete Brown are all gone now, leaving Eric Clapton as the sole spoonful of Cream left.-Redbeard

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