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Steppin' Out

In the early sixties the underground music scene in England was a veritable breeding ground for young musicians. Some would fall by the wayside, while others would rise to the top.
These were days of "sitting in", when musicians would join into other band's sets, and ad-lib. There were all night sessions at clubs like the Marquee and the Flamingo.
It was in this spirited time of free exchange and association that Cream would be born.

stairs One night in March of 1966, Ginger Baker showed up at a Bluesbreaker gig in Oxford, and asked if he could sit in with the band.
After the gig, Ginger asked Eric Clapton, the Bluesbreaker's guitarist, if he would be interested in getting a band together.
Ginger's timing couldn't have been better if he had planned it. Clapton had begun to tire of the strict regimen of Mayall's
Bluesbreakers, and had been thinking himself of leaving the group and starting one of his own. In fact, Eric had already found a
bass player he wanted to work with; Jack Bruce.
Jack had played with the Bluesbreakers for a short time before leaving to join The Manfred Mann Group.
Eric recalls later, "I knew how good he was from then on. He sang a couple of things and they were really great. He was a
natural first choice for any group I might dream about forming".
Eric told Ginger that he would join him in the band, if Jack Bruce was in it as well. Eric had no idea at the time that Jack
and Ginger had a "history", though he would soon find out.

Ginger had, in fact, fired Jack from the Graham Bond Organisation.
One night, at Golders Green, in London, he felt that Ginger's drums were too loud.
'I said "Shhhhhhh..." and he started throwing drumsticks at me, hitting me on the head. So I took my bass, lifted it, and chucked it
at him. That demolished that, and we were rolling around the stage fighting. We punched the hell out of each other on stage'.

Ginger promptly informed Jack that his services would no longer be required!

Jack continues the story,"Ginger fired me, but I refused to be fired, because he wasn't even the band leader".
(During this period of time Graham Bond was heavily into heroin and Ginger virtually ran the band).

Jack, now technically fired, kept showing up for the band's gigs, until one night when Ginger greeted him at the door of the club
they were to play, and threatened him with a knife!
At this point, Jack decided it was best to be on his way, and days later he joined the Bluesbreakers.

Upon Eric's request, Ginger went to see Jack about forming the group. Both men were excited by the prospect of playing in a band with Eric Clapton, and decided to put aside their differences.
Still, at times, it appeared to be an uneasy truce.

"We had our first, sort of, talk through rehersal at Ginger's house in Neasden" Eric says, "and those two had a sort of argument right away! It went along the lines of 'Well there,
you've done it again' and I thought, what is this? There's something going back here that I'm not aware of. 'You've done it again' implied that this was a pattern or something that
existed before I knew either of them. It got a bit heated, but I think it calmed down soon enough".
Their first rehersal ended with Jack having to rush off to a Manfred Mann gig.

Eric, Jack and Ginger continued to meet and rehearse. Jack and Ginger even sat in with the Bluesbreakers on a few occasions, but they were all careful to keep their plans a secret.
"People leaving groups in those days was a dirty trick" Eric recalls.
John Mayall made little secret that Double Crossing Time was written in response to Jack handing in his mandatory one month's notice, in order to join Manfred Mann, even though
Jack had barely been in the Bluesbreakers for eight weeks at that point!


An early shot of Jack, Eric and Ginger.

In mid June, news of the impending union leaked out. Ginger was understandably excited by the new group and telephoned Chris Welch of Melody Maker. Welch then broke the
story of the formation of the group with the short paragraph that appears on the main page of this site.
Just as understandably, Jack was upset by the premature announcement. Even though it was common for musicians to jam with other bands, leaving an established band to join
another was not looked upon kindly, and Jack had still not yet left Manfred Mann.

circle One of the earliest known photos of Cream.

Clapton himself was still in the Blusebreakers, and probably would have preferred that John Mayall not learn about his intention to leave the band by reading it in the paper.
For Mayall, it was Double Crossing Time all over again, even though he had Peter Green waiting in the wings. For a time, after Eric left, Green tried to quell the shouts of "We want
God" by imitating his predecessor. However, Green quickly became secure with his position in the Bluesbreakers and implanted his own unique style on the group's sound.



Peter Green had actually replaced Eric in the Bluesbreakers once before.
At the end of August, '65, Eric set off on a "World Tour" with Ben Palmer and a few other friends. The tour ground to a halt in Greece, and Eric had to resort to some trickery
just to escape.
Upon his return to London he was welcomed back into the Bluesbreakers, and Green was summarily dismissed.
When Eric left again, this time to join Cream, Mayall knew that Peter Green was the obvious choice as his replacement. But, at this time, Green was also considering an offer from
Eric Burden. Green left Mayall sitting on pins and needles for two weeks before accepting his offer.


The make up of Cream was a bit of a strange brew right from the start.
Aside from the undercurrent of animosity that ran between Jack and Ginger, Eric didn't seem to be quite sure what he was getting into. Bruce and Baker were both steeped in the Jazz
tradition. Clapton was, at this time, almost totally dedicated to blues. Eric, in fact, envisioned Cream as being a blues trio. "Buddy Guy with a rhythm section" is how Eric describes it.
"When we had our first rehearsal, that just went completely out of the window and they (Jack and Ginger) took over. Jack brought in the songs that he'd written and I just had to go
along with it. Because it was very interesting and because Jack's songs are so good and the combination of the musicians was interesting, I found that I let my idea take a back seat
and actually die in the end".
Before the band had even played their first gig, Clapton was wondering if he had made a mistake in leaving the Bluesbreakers!


Photo Credits; Top photo; Cream at The Westener boutique in Oxford Street, February 1967. Photo Tony Gale.
Against the Wall; Rock of Ages Archives.
Early Cream; Photographer unknown
Bottom photo; Unknown, possibly a music press staff photographer.

Next: The First Gig


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