In early 2005, Eric Clapton relented after decades of pressure and agreed to reunite with Cream for a four-night stand at London’s Royal Albert Hall. “Given the fact that we were all still capable of playing together, I thought it would be fitting to pay tribute to ourselves while we still could,” he wrote in his 2007 memoir. “I was also very aware that I had always been the reluctant one on this score, so cap in hand, I made some delicate inquiries as to whether Jack [Bruce] and Ginger [Baker] would be interested.”
Despite Jack and Ginger’s long history of tension, they were definitely interested. They’d both had successful careers after Cream split in 1968, but they never came close to topping the commercial heights of the trio’s brief history. A three-song Cream set at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 got talk of a reunion going, but when Clapton balked they recruited Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore and hit the road as Bruce-Baker-Moore, playing a Cream-heavy set. The group lasted mere months, largely because Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce got along as poorly in 1993 as they did in 1963 when they were in the Graham Bond Organisation together.
Twelve years after the Bruce-Baker-Moore debacle, they were more than willing to have another go at it. Baker had back problems and Bruce was just getting over a near-fatal liver cancer and was in very delicate shape, so the group devoted an entrée month to rehearsals and took things very slowly. “I wasn’t sure how it would go,” Clapton wrote, “as I knew that some of the old resentments were right there under the surface waiting to be rekindled. But after a minor skirmish right at the beginning, we all got on very well, and actually started to have fun.”
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The four-night stand at the Royal Albert Hall in April of 2005 were rapturously received and plans were put in place for shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden, but Baker had visa problems that took months to be resolved. Three gigs were eventually booked at MSG in October, but by that point they’d lost some momentum. They rehearsed for just two hours before opening night. “The New York shows were a pale shadow of what we sounded like in London,” Clapton wrote. “My heart had gone out of it, and also a certain amount of animosity had crept back in.”
The first MSG show took place on October 24th, 2005. Before it was done, Bruce and Baker were at each other’s throats. “He shouted at me on stage, he turned his bass up so loud that he deafened me on the first gig,” Baker said. “He killed the magic. It was just a get through the gig, get the money sort of deal. I was absolutely amazed. I mean, he demonstrated why he got the sack from Graham Bond and why Cream didn’t last very long on stage in New York. I didn’t want to do it in the first place simply because of how Jack was. I have worked with him several times since Cream, and I promised myself that I would never work with him again.”
They were able to patch things well enough to get through two more shows, wrapping up October 26th with “Sunshine of Your Love.” Here’s video of them playing “Tales of Brave Ulysses” from that last night. People still assumed that Cream were going to do at least a handful more shows after this, but they weren’t to be. “I knew that enough was enough, and I probably wouldn’t be passing this way again,” Clapton wrote. “It was good, however, to know that both the other lads would be solvent for a while, and overall that made it worthwhile for me.”
Any chance of future Cream activity ended on October 25th, 2014 when Jack bruce died from liver disease. A 2004 liver transplant gave him an extra decade of life, but in the end he simply couldn’t keep fighting. Meanwhile, Eric Clapton hasn’t played a show since April and says that due to nerve damage in his hands he’s unsure if he’ll ever tour again. Heart problems forced Ginger Baker to cancel a tour last year, so right now we’re in a sad state of affairs where no member of Cream is actively playing live. Thankfully they foresaw such a day back in 2005 and got together while it was still possible.