Consider if you will, a large milk churn. Consider then the ingredients as being components from The Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, The Graham Bond Organization, and Blues Incorporated. Imagine then if you will, the surface of that churn after all said ingredients have been poured in and you should find drummer Ginger Baker, bassist Jack Bruce and guitarist Eric Clapton floating to the top - the "cream" of the British crop of blues musicians in 1966.
Bruce and Baker were a part of the original lineup of the Bond Organization and both had been members of Blues Incorporated. Serious personality conflicts arose, resulting in Baker firing Bruce when they were both with Graham Bond. It was not solely the firing though. During a performance, Bruce felt that Baker was playing too loudly, and motioned for him to tone it down. Baker responded by throwing his drumsticks at Bruce, hitting Jack in the head. Bruce retaliated by throwing his bass at Baker and the resulting slugfest left the two band members in a state of constant animosity. Bruce did leave the Bond Organization, but only after being threatened at knife point by Baker. He joined the Bluesbreakers for a couple of gigs, playing alongside Eric Clapton and Peter Green. When Bruce left the Bluesbreakers he hooked up with Manfred Mann.
For Clapton, the journey through the churn started with his contributions toward the success of the Yardbirds, a group that included over time superguitarists Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck as well as Clapton.
It was during his stint with the Yardbirds that Eric was dubbed "Slowhand," a reference to his extreme bending and subsequent breaking of guitar strings. As he replaced the broken strings on stage, the audience would clap their hands slowly in unison until Clapton resumed playing.
Eric felt that the Yardbirds, despite, and perhaps because of their commercial success, were deviating too far from the blues roots that Clapton was passionate in pursuing.
In 1965 Eric left the Yardbirds and almost immediately joined John Mayall's Bluesbreakers where he rapidly rose in popularity. It was with the Bluesbreakers that Eric was dubbed "God" by enthusiastic fans.
However by 1966, Clapton was beginning to feel that his style was being cramped by the regimented musical requirements of bandleader John Mayall.
The final ingredient necessary for the emergence of Cream ocurred when Ginger Baker sat in with the Bluesbreakers. After the gig, Baker was giving Clapton a ride home and suggested that they consider forming another band more oriented towards blues rock. "Slowhand," who was already thinking along those lines, was ready to do just that. He had one stipulation though before he would agree, that Jack Bruce had to be the bassist for the trio! Eric apparently had not heard of the problems existing between Bruce and Baker, or if so, naively thought they would resolve somehow.
Baker, considering the benefits of such a compromise, approached Bruce and together they decided that they could try to put their personal differences aside in order to reap the rewards of what they thought would be a great musical success.
With that settled, the name "Cream" (a Clapton suggestion) was agreed upon and the fledgling power trio coagulated on the surface of the music industry churn.
Unfortunately, the formation of "Cream" was prematurely announced by "Melody Maker" reporter Chris Welch. He had been invited to attend a secret rehearsal after which he published the following article on June 11, 1966: "Eric, Jack & Ginger Team Up." The article announced, "A sensational new 'group's group' starring Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker is being formed".
Neither Clapton nor Bruce had given notice and the bombshell announcement did not sit well with their respective band leaders.
Following their first gig at the Speakeasy Club in London, for their peers in the music industry, Cream began their phenomenal march into rock history by way of a public debut at Balloon Meadow, a racecourse in Windsor. This appearance was followed by appearances on the British blues club circuit where they honed their style and presentation.
In October 1966, the group released their first single, "Wrapping Paper" and "Cat's Squirrel". "Wrapping Paper" was something completely different from what the public was expecting from the Trio. "Cat's Squirrel" was more in line with anticipation. It was a really blues-roots tinged tune, reminiscent of the musical backgrounds of Cream. The single topped at #34 on the charts in the U.K.
Fresh Cream, their debut album, featuring lyrics co-written by renowned poet Pete Brown, was released in December 1966, simultaneously with their second single "I Feel Free" and "NSU." Both were big sellers. The album peaked at #6 in the U.K. and the single at #11.
The group traveled to America to appear on the "Music in the Fifth Dimension" Tour. According to Clapton, this tour was a joke. They were allowed to play only a very limited set, which was eventually pared down to a single song.
They returned to England and continued to play the club scene.
Returning to the U.S. in the spring of 1967, Cream recorded their second album, Disraeli Gears, in New York, allegedly in 10 days time, starting on May 9. The title Disraeli Gears apparently came from a comment one of their roadies made in reference to the gear-changing mechanism on a 10-speed bicycle. The mispronunciation of the actual name of the gears became the name of the album.
Cream's third single "Strange Brew" and "Tales of Brave Ulysses" was released in June 1967. Disraeli Gears was released in November of the same year.
While Cream was working on their third album, internal conflicts began to reach the breaking point. Tensions between Bruce and Baker were once more at a peak. Clapton felt caught in the middle. Plus, all three were beginning to let egos interfere with their efforts at collaboration.
In 1968, Rolling Stone launched a critical assault against the band and Eric Clapton in particular. This, along with all the other problems they were dealing with, virtually assured that they would not be able to continue working together.
Wheels of Fire, released in July 1968, rose to #1 in the U.S. and #3 in the U.K. The double album set consisted of studio recordings and live performances from the Fillmore West and Winterland in San Francisco. In October 1968, Cream began their final tour of the U.S.
On November 26th, 1968, at London's Royal Albert Hall, Cream made what was supposed to be their final appearance, with tickets selling out in two hours. The reaction of the audience, plus the rapid sell-out of tickets, prompted a follow up performance, which ironically garnered a positive review from Rolling Stone.
In March 1969, Goodbye, the group's final album was released. It charted at #2 in the U.S. and #1 in the U.K.
In a short two years, Cream changed the music scene with their dynamic stage presence and enormous individual and collective talent, but the attrition of the Bruce-Baker conflict, plus the clash of egos, had irreparably damaged any chances at continuance.
In 1969, Clapton, Baker and Steve Winwood formed the group "Blind Faith." That band disintegrated in October after releasing their one and only self-titled album.
Bruce went on with a solo career. Baker formed and/or participated in a number of bands throughout the years following the dissolution of Cream.
Eric Clapton became a rock music superstar.
On January 13, 1993, Cream was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Clapton, Bruce and Baker, musically reunited for the first time since their breakup, in a very emotional appearance, performed "Sunshine of Your Love," "Born Under a Bad Sign," and "Crossroads" at the induction ceremony.