This Week in Rock History: Cream Breaks Up, Madonna Nude Pics Surface

Plus: Live Aid raises $283 million

July 11, 2011 1:20 PM ET
Eric Clapton of Cream supergroup ginger bake break up
Cream, 1968.
Jan Persson/Redferns/Getty Images

This week in rock history, Eric Clapton announced the end of Cream, Smokey Robinson left the Miracles, Chuck Berry went to jail, Live Aid raised millions for Africa and nude photos of Madonna surfaced in the media.

July 10, 1968 – Eric Clapton announced that Cream were breaking up
Rock’s original supergroup cut ties after only two years together. Yet despite their brief tenure, the power trio left formidable influence over all blues-rock bands to follow: singer/bassist Jack Bruce, guitarist/singer Eric Clapton, and drummer Ginger Baker sold over 15 million records while together, and their soulful riffs (fed through the now-ubiquitous wah-wah pedal) paved the path for Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers, the White Stripes and many more psychedelic/blues acts. 

Cream’s stadium-ready bend on traditional blues led them to the top of the charts throughout their short career: "Crossroads," "Sunshine of Your Love," and "I Feel Free" were runaway successes in both their native England and also the United States. Their band name was derived, immodestly but not inaccurately, from the players’ belief that they represented the "cream of the crop" of the prominent British acts they’d left behind (as well as young musicians in general): prodigal six-stringer Clapton was previously in the Yardbirds, Baker came from the Graham Bond Organisation, and Bruce was in Manfred Mann.

But shared blues-rock idolatry couldn’t keep Baker and Bruce from arguing savagely; their creative and personal rivalry exhausted Clapton, who once stopped playing while onstage with them (and as he suspected, neither bandmate noticed). Clapton privately considered disassembling the band for a year before they all agreed to split during a contentious May 1968 tour of the United States.

Cream played their final show on November 26 at London’s Royal Albert Hall. In 2005, with a few decades of solo records and drug-addled misadventures under their belts, the trio reunited for a string of shows at the same theater.

July 16, 1972: Smokey Robinson makes his last appearance with the Miracles

In the 1970s, William "Smokey" Robinson understood the record business better than anyone: he was the dreamy lead singer of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, one of the top R&B and doo-wop acts in America, and he also served as Vice President of the wildly profitable Motown Records. It was no small decision to leave the Miracles, his band of almost two decades and his label’s signature act.

Robinson met his Miracles bandmate Ronald White while in elementary school; together, they built the group into a chart-topping vocal quintet and scored their first hit single in 1960 with "Shop Around." Their effortless poise and sleek harmonies helped build the burgeoning Motown Records; "You Really Got a Hold On Me," "That’s What Love Is Made Of, "Ooo Baby Baby" and many more songs hit the Top 20. Robinson announced in early 1972 that he would leave the group to be with his children (with wife/bandmate Claudette Rogers) and concentrate on his Motown Records leadership duties. He then crossed the country with the Miracles on a six-month farewell tour. The final show took place on July 16 at the Carter Barron Ampitheatre in Washington, D.C.; during the show, Robinson introduced the group’s new lead singer, Billy Griffin. 

Robinson went on to work at Motown through 1988, as well as enjoy a very successful solo R&B career as the singer/songwriter behind "Baby That’s Backatcha," "Ebony Eyes," "Cruisin’," and more. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and still records and performs occasionally.

July 10, 1979: Chuck Berry sentenced to five months in jail
Whoops. Just a month after rock & roll pioneer Chuck Berry performed at the White House at the request of President Jimmy Carter, he went to prison for tax evasion.

By the Seventies, the fleet-fingered rock guitarist/singer was in frequent demand as a live performer of his classic Fifties songs ("Maybellene," "Rock and Roll Music," "Johnny B. Goode"), and he insisted upon being paid in cash for each gig, which he failed to report in his taxes. The IRS came calling throughout the 1970s, finally threatening criminal sanction in 1979, so Berry pled guilty. He served four months in jail and performed 1,000 hours of community service (via benefit shows). It was Berry’s second time in the slammer, as he had been convicted of armed robbery as a teenager.

Berry’s tax evasion scandal was brought back to light this summer, when a statue of the musician was approved to be built in his native St. Louis, Missouri. Some residents expressed indignation that their tax dollars would honor Berry; we suspect that Berry, the writer of "Have Mercy Judge," thoroughly enjoyed the irony.

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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