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.
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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.
July 13, 1985: Live Aid concerts raise $283 million
The granddaddy of all rock benefits was an awe-inspiring venture: twin concerts, held in London and Philadelphia, to raise money to relieve the devastating Ethiopian famine. And it worked, to the tune of over $250 million raised and 1.5 billion viewers worldwide.
Organized by U.K. activists/musicians Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, Live Aid boasted a top-notch roster: U2, Elton John, David Bowie, Paul McCartney and more in London; the Beach Boys, Madonna, Bob Dylan, Duran Duran and more in Philly. Several other cities hosted their own support concerts, including Sydney, Moscow and Cologne. The event exceeded its fundraising goal of one million pounds, ultimately pulling (through ticket sales and merchandising) over 150 million pounds, or $283 million.
Broadcaster Richard Skinner opened the day with the now-famous line, “It’s 12 noon in London, seven a.m. in Philadelphia, and around the world, it’s time for Live Aid.” Live Aid went on to inspire countless benefit concerts, and Geldof and Ure were both recognized by the Queen for their philanthropic endeavor: Geldof is now a Knight Commander of the British Empire and Ure is an Officer.
July 15, 1985: Nude photos of Madonna, taken in 1978, appear in Penthouse and Playboy
On the heels of her first North American tour, Madonna’s star could have been tarnished by scandal. Instead, she used it to define herself as an unapologetic artist.
In July 1985, Penthouse and Playboy magazines published several nude photographs of the singer. She had posed for them in the late Seventies while a struggling young model in New York, and was reportedly paid just $25 per session. It was a major scandal for the rapidly ascending pop star, and the press clamored for her response, which she gave defiantly: Instead of expressing regret for the images, she owed up to them as a product of her destitute early days. At the height of the media furor, she joked about the photos, quipping at Live Aid (see above) that she wouldn’t remove her jacket because the press “might hold it against me 10 years from now.”
Years later, Madge got the last laugh: In 2009, the photographs sold at the posh Christie’s auction house for over $100,000.