100 Greatest Artists
I was in my third year of classes at a place in London called the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Architecture, which is where I met Nick Mason and Rick Wright. At the end of each term we would have a show, and this time we had Cream — in a small hall where I had once played Happy Loman in Death of a Salesman, which is beside the point.
The curtain drew back and the three of them started playing "Crossroads." I had never seen or heard anything like it before. I was simply staggered by the amount of equipment they had: by Ginger Baker's double bass drum, by Jack Bruce's two 4-by-12 Marshall amps and by all of Eric Clapton's gear. It was an astounding sight and an explosive sound.
Two-thirds of the way through their set, one of them said, "We'd like to invite a friend of ours from America out onstage." It was Jimi Hendrix, and that was the first night he played in England. He came on and did all that now-famous stuff, like playing with his teeth. That ticket cost about a pound or so. It might have been the best purchase I ever made.
After that, Pink Floyd started to go professional, and we would run into Cream on the road. They affected so many people. Jimmy Page must have looked at Cream and thought, "Fuck me, I think I'll do that," and then put together Led Zeppelin. Along with the Beatles, they gave those of us entering the business at that time something to aspire to that wasn't pop but was still popular.
I remember Ginger Baker was insane back then, and I'm sure he still is. He hit the drums harder than anyone I've ever seen, with the possible exception of Keith Moon. And Ginger hit them in a rhythmic style all his own that was extraordinary. Eric Clapton we don't have to talk about — it's obvious how amazing he is. Then there's Jack Bruce — probably the most musically gifted bass player who's ever been.
Cream were very innovative within the context of all the music coming from the West Coast of the U.S. at that time, from bands like the Doors and Love. Apart from being a great blues band, Cream had a real good go at so many other styles, even if some of it sounds a little silly now. There are songs on all the Cream albums that amaze me still, like "Crossroads," "Sunshine of Your Love," "White Room" and "I Feel Free." They were desperately trying to write material that was truly progressive and original. And they achieved that.
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