Five weeks earlier Cream had played a concert at Brandeis University in Boston and Rolling Stone writer Jon Landau (the man who in 1975 would become Bruce Springsteen’s producer/manager) was there to review it. What he wrote would not only spell the end of Cream it would also send Eric into a tailspin of self-doubt which would last for years to come. Among other things Landau’s review read: “Eric Clapton is a master of the blues clichés of all of the post-World War II blues guitarists…”. There was plenty more in the same vein but that line alone was enough to make Clapton resolve to quit what was probably the biggest touring rock group in the world at that point. It’s been said that Eric had already heard The Band’s debut album Music From Big Pink and wanted to do something similar following the Landau mauling. But Big Pink wasn’t released until July, two months after the Rolling Stone piece, so the chain of events seemingly developed over time. Just to complicate matters, although the seeds of Cream’s demise were irrevocably sown in May of 1968, it was later revealed that the band had secretly agreed to call it a day before Landau’s review went to press, mainly due to the ongoing tension between Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.
Cream’s final album (excluding posthumous live releases) Goodbye appeared in February 1969, three months after the Albert Hall shows. I have reason to remember it possibly more than any other Cream record from their short, 30 month career. A close friend and talented fine artist from Sheffield, Paul Winter, had recently moved to London to work for the Alan Aldridge Ink Studios, so when Goodbye appeared with that distinctive Aldridge airbrush lettering on the front cover it was a source of great local pride. I never did find out if Paul had very much (if anything) to do with the Cream sleeve, but I like to tell myself he did. Pleasingly, this Goodbye Tour Live 1968 box set retains a variation of the original Alan Aldridge design as well as that delightful showbiz send-up photo by Roger Philips showing the band decked out in silver suits, with top hats and canes. True to form, Ginger seemingly didn’t like the idea of dressing up and threatened the photographer during the shoot. No change there, then.
|*1997 Cream retrospective box set Those Were The Days|
Cream may have invented heavy rock and a lot more besides but they were a blues band at heart and the three versions of “Sitting On Top Of The World” drive this point home comprehensively. The LA recording on disc two previously appeared on the 1969 album Goodbye and is perhaps the pick of the bunch (although San Diego runs it a close second). Never was the term “power trio” more appropriate as the band bulldozes its way through this slow blues. Ginger nails it all down at the back, rock solid and immovable. Jack is all over the fretboard like a lead player, his rasping bass bubbling through the mix, louder than any recording engineer would dare risk today. His vocals are astounding especially considering he’s singing while playing some extremely complex bass lines. Meanwhile Eric fires off a series of exhilarating fills topped off with a solo of murderous intensity. It’s a masterclass in muscular electric blues. Subtle it ain’t, but my goodness it sounds great.
Let’s leave the last word to Buddy Miles who, coincidentally, was about to exit his own group Electric Flag in late 1968. He comes onstage at the Los Angeles Forum to introduce who he calls, in the hip speak of the time, “Three really outasite groovy cats”. Buddy continues (presumably referencing the impending split), “What can you say? It’s happened, and we can’t do anything about it, but just remember they’ll still be there, and they’ll always be there. That’s Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton. Ladies and gentlemen, the Cream”.