When you first came here last year what did you find were people’s expectations of you and the Cream?
We seem to be a lot more popular here than I had imagined. I’d heard that we’d been heard of through the underground thing. Yet I really didn’t imagine that we’d be this popular. Or that we would be accepted as readily as we were, because an American band like Butterfield can go to England now and just die at all the places. The best reception they got was at the Marquee and that wasn’t as good as most English bands would have gotten. In England they’re all very uptight about it. They don’t want foreigners coming in. They feel very competitive about their music scene and don’t want it contaminated by Americans.
Perhaps that’s due to some sort of musical inferiority complex in that they know all of what they’re doing is really based on the American thing.
It’s a very jealous thing. They’re afraid of American music being too far ahead of them. They’ve got this fantasy, they deny it.
Do you think that the song by Scott McKenzie, “Wear Flowers in Your Hair,” which had been number one on the English surveys accurately reflects what’s happening here?
Not in any way. It is wrapped up in fashion; it’s all about fashion. Who cares what people look like?
The audience in England believes that is what it’s like, flower power and flower children.
Of course; the British public have been taught that fashion is the only worthwhile thing – they’ll throw away thousands of quid a year just buying clothes. That’s just what they think about. I could have been taken in by the song if I hadn’t come here.
How do the San Francisco and London audiences differ?
To look at? They’re not very different. As far as the reception, this is about the best audience. They’re so obviously critical. Every little move you make and every little note you play is being noticed, being devoured, accepted or rejected. You know that whatever you do is going to be noticed and you do it right. You got to do your best ’cause they know if you’re not doing your best.
Do you prefer playing in front of an audience or in an isolated situation such as a studio?
I get quite bored listening to myself play the guitar because I’m not a very good audience. If there are people there, you go further.
How much does your state of mind effect your playing?
You mean drugs?
No, not really—
Well, we did a couple of gigs in very bad places. We did them up north in England and there was one on a pier. In a ballroom on the end of a pier. It was like twenty years out of date. The whole thing was like being in another era, you know. I couldn’t play there at all. There was nothing familiar for me to grab hold of. It was like being stuck in another time. We did another gig in a club which I used to play in with the Yardbirds. It was the same now as it was then. The same audience –— which was very hysterical and neurotic. And when you get on stage and everyone’s screaming and shouting – you’re going mad trying to get tune. That kind of thing scares me, you know. What I actually prefer to do is concerts. I really like to play concerts, because the whole thing is more relaxed. The audience is seated, they’re calmed down, and then it’s up to you to build it to any kind of pitch musically. It’s much better to work with.
What about the groups you’ve seen in San Francisco?
I haven’t seen any; we haven’t had time.
You played with the Electric Flag, not exactly a local group but certainly some reflection of the local scene.
The Electric Flag is just the heaviest thing around. They’ve got a tremendous rhythm section and Barry Golberg. And Mike Bloomfield who just lives and breathes music. He’s one of those people who don’t think about anything else. An incredible band.
Have you heard the Grateful Dead record?
Yeah, it’s great.
Peter Townshend said he saw the Dead at the Pop Festival, and called them “one of the original ropeys.”
Ropey! That means a drag. I don’t think the quality of their music is as high as a lot of other good recording bands. People are more concerned with live music, maybe, than with recording. I’m not sure of that. I’m guessing. If the Grateful Dead are one of the best, they’re not doing a very good job on record.
What do you think of the guitar playing? Jerry Garcia’s synthesis of blues, jazz and country and western, with a little jug band thrown in?
It’s very good, and very tight, but it’s not really my bag.