For many years Cream seemed like one of those bands that would never, ever get back together. They burned bright during their brief two-year run from 1966 to 1968, releasing four albums, touring constantly and influencing countless bands that followed in their wake. But there were problems from the get-go, mainly the fact that Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker despised each other. It was a dispute that went back to their time in the Graham Bond Organisation a couple years before Cream even formed. Ginger played an instrumental role in throwing Jack out of that group, and they never made a real peace.
Cream held a series of farewell concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in late 1968, and that pretty much seemed like the end of it. They put aside their differences for a three-song set at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1993, but that didn’t lead to a reunion. It did lead to Baker and Bruce briefly teaming up with guitarist Gary Moore for the short-lived BBM, but like any project involving Ginger Baker, it dissolved almost immediately.
Many had completely written off any possibility of a Cream reunion by 2005. Ginger Baker was suffering from arthritis and living off the grid in South Africa, while Jack Bruce underwent a liver transplant and nearly lost his life. The health scares made Eric Clapton rethink his position involving a reunion, and when Bruce recovered he agreed to four shows at the Royal Albert Hall.
Tickets sold out almost immediately, and fans flew into London from all over the world, including Kirk Hammett, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Jimmy Page and many others. The shows marked the first time the band performed their latter-day hit “Badge.” (Watch video of the performance above.) It also put enormous pressure on them for a world tour, but Eric Clapton had little interest.
They did agree to three shows at Madison Square Garden a few months later, a decision that Clapton grew to regret. “In many ways, I wish we had left it at the Royal Albert Hall,” the guitarist wrote in his memoir Clapton. “But the offer we were made was too good to refuse . . . The shows were a pale shadow of what we sounded like in London. Lack of rehearsal was one thing, but it reflected something else. The arrogance was back.”
Baker and Bruce also had a brutal argument at the New York shows, supposedly over the volume level of Bruce’s bass. Clapton was forced back to his old role as peacemaker between the two, and he wasn’t about to make that his full-time occupation on a world tour. They could have gone on to play 100 shows, easily setting up Baker and Bruce for life. Instead, Clapton and Bruce went back to their solo careers, and Baker headed back down to South Africa, where he promptly spent all his reunion money buying polo ponies and funding a veterinary hospital.
After a long hiatus from the stage, Ginger Baker returned late last year for a series of well-received jazz shows in England. He recently moved back there and has more shows on the books. (He’s also the subject of an incredible new documentary called Beware Mr. Baker.) With Ginger back in playing form, future Cream shows remain theoretically possible, but don’t hold your breath. It’s clear that Clapton feels they proved what they needed to prove back in 2005.