Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!
By the time Eric Clapton formed Cream in 1966 with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, he had already logged high-profile gigs with the Yardbirds and British bluesman John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. But his new power trio was bigger, louder and way more popular than either earlier gig. He scored his first No. 1 and first platinum-selling LPs with Cream. Though they released only four albums during their short two-year existence, those records serve as solid cornerstones to blues- and psychedelic-inspired rock of the ’60s.
In their short lifespan, Cream were one of the top album bands on the British, and indeed the world, rock scene. But they also amassed quite a sequence of hit singles, and in the chart week of 14 January 1968, they debuted on the US bestsellers with one of their signature songs, ‘Sunshine Of Your Love.’
‘Sunshine of Your Love’
Before “Sunshine of Your Love,” Cream were basically an album act. The handful of singles they released failed to even dent the charts in the U.S. And then “Sunshine of Your Love” hit in late 1967, and everything changed. The song raced into the Top 10, reaching No. 5 and becoming the band’s biggest hit. But more than that, it anchors Disraeli Gears, one of 1967’s milestone albums.
Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s and 70’s. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!
Cream Sunshine Of Your Love
The lyric was written by Pete Brown, a beat poet who was friends with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. He also wrote lyrics for “I Feel Free” and “White Room.” Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce wrote the music. Pete Brown wrote the opening line after being up all night working with Bruce and watching the sun come up. In an interview, he told the tale: “We had been working all night and had gotten some stuff done. We had very little time to write for Cream, but we happened to have some spare time and Jack came up with the riff. He was playing a stand-up – he still had his stand-up bass, because he’d been a jazz musician. He was playing stand-up bass, and he said, ‘What about this then?’ and played the famous riff. I looked out the window and wrote down, ‘It’s getting near dawn.’ That’s how it happened. It’s actually all true, really, all real stuff.” Jack Bruce’s bass line carries the song. He got the idea for it after going to a Jimi Hendrix concert. When Kees van Wee interviewed Bruce in 2003 for the Dutch magazine Heaven, Kees asked him which of his many songs epitomizes Jack Bruce the most. At first he was in doubt whether he should answer “Pieces Of Mind” or “Keep On Wondering,” but then he changed his mind and opted for “Sunshine Of Your Love.” Because, said Bruce, “It’s based on a bass riff. And when you enter a music shop this is the song that kids always play to try out a guitar.” Tom Dowd, who worked with most of the artists for Atlantic Records at the time, engineered the Disreali Gears album. Dowd was renowned for his technical genius, but also for his ability to relate to musicians and put them at ease.
When Cream recorded this song, it wasn’t working. In the documentary Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music, he explained: “There just wasn’t this common ground that they had on so many of the other songs. I said, ‘Have you ever seen an American Western where the Indian beat – the downbeat – is the beat? Why don’t you play that one. Ginger went inside and they started to run the song again. When they started playing that way, all of the parts came together and they were elated.” According to Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 songs issue, Jack Bruce knew the song would do well. “Both Booker T. Jones and Otis Redding heard it at Atlantic Studios and told me it was going to be a smash,” he recalled.
One man who was not impressed was Ahmet Ertegun, who was head of the group’s label. When Bruce revealed the song at the sessions, Ertegun declared it “psychedelic hogwash.” Ertegun constantly tried to promote Eric Clapton as the band’s leader, and also didn’t believe the bassist should be a lead singer. He only relented and agreed to champion this song after Booker T. Jones came by and expressed his approval.
This is one of Eric Clapton’s favorites from this days with Cream; he played it at most of his solo shows throughout his career. When Cream played some reunion concerts in 2005, they played the song as their encore. Jimi Hendrix covered this at some of his concerts, unaware that he was the inspiration for the bass line.
Hendrix did an impromptu performance of the song when he appeared on Happening for Lulu, BBC TV show in England hosted by the prim and proper “To Sir With Love” singer. After playing part of his scheduled song “Hey Joe,” Hendrix stopped the performance and said, “We’d like to stop playing this rubbish and dedicate a song to the Cream, regardless of what kind of group they may be in. We dedicate this to Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce.”
This version appears on the Experience Hendrix 2CD/3LP The BBC Sessions towards the end of Disc 2/Side 6 on the LP. An instrumental version appears on the 2010 Valleys of Neptune album, which was recorded by Hendrix at London’s Olympic Studios on February 16, 1969.
Hendrix engineer and producer Eddie Kramer recalled to Toronto’s The Globe and Mail: “Jimi loved Cream, he loved Eric Clapton. It was a fabulous song, he loved to play it, and he would just rip into it whenever the mood hit him.” This was Cream’s biggest hit. It was their first to do better in the US than in the UK, as they started to catch on in America. In the US, this first charted in February 1968 at #36. In August, after the album came out, it re-entered the chart and went to #5. Clapton’s guitar solo is based on the ’50s song “Blue Moon.” Excepting “Strange Brew,” the Disraeli Gears album was recorded in just three days, as the band had to return to England because their work visas were expiring. Engineer Tom Dowd recalls the sessions coming to an abrupt end when a limo driver showed up to take the musicians to the airport. Dowd was tasked with mixing the album in their absence. Cream played this at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 12, 1993 when they reunited for their induction. To that point, the only other time the band got back together was at Eric Clapton’s wedding in 1979.
Statement confirms that Ginger Baker died peacefully earlier this morning after being admitted to hospital late last month
Cream drummer Ginger Baker has died at the age of 80.
The news was confirmed on his Facebook page, with a statement reporting that he died peacefully earlier this morning.
The message reads: “We are very sad to say that Ginger has passed away peacefully this morning. Thank you to everyone for your kind words to us all over the past weeks.”
The drummer was admitted to hospital late last month, with his family saying at the time that he was in a critical condition. Last week they checked in to let fans know that he was “holding his own.”
No cause of death has been made public.
Baker had suffered ill health in recent years, and was forced to cancel a number of live shows in February 2016 after a fall and being diagnosed with a serious heart condition which required surgery.
He later thanked doctors and was back playing again at the Jack Bruce charity fundraising concert in London in the October of that year.
Baker was one of the most formidable musicians of the rock era, or indeed any era. A towering presence, both physically and musically, he elevated the role of drummer from sideman to star with monumental solos that combined polyrhythmic dexterity with brute force and irrepressible showmanship.
Together with his comrades in Cream – guitarist Eric Clapton and bassist Jack Bruce – Baker redefined the parameters of the emergent rock genre, importing the heavy dynamics and highly-skilled improvisational metrics of jazz and blues into a world that had previously revolved around the basics of the three-minute pop song.
As well as early stints with Blues Incorporated, the Graham Bond Organisation and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Baker also co-founded the post-Cream supergroup Blind Faith and led his own bands Ginger Baker’s Airforce and the Baker Gurvitz Army.
He added his signature tom-tom-driven sound to rock bands ranging from Masters Of Reality and Hawkwind to John Lydon’s Public Image Limited. And, as a percussionist whose genius crossed geographical and cultural boundaries, he recorded with a host of latterday jazz warriors including guitarist Bill Frisell, trumpeter Ron Miles, saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis and many others.
He was born Peter Edward Baker in Lewisham, south London on August 19, 1939, later acquiring the childhood nickname Ginger on account of his thatch of fiery red hair.
He grew up in thrall to jazz music, and was a fan in particular of Phil Seaman, one of the great English jazz drummers of the post-war years, who became his teacher and mentor.
Baker got his first paid gig at 16 years old and passed through the ranks of trad jazz bands led by Acker Bilk, Terry Lightfoot and Ronnie Scott before replacing Charlie Watts in Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated in 1962. Amid the ever-changing line-up of Blues Incorporated, Baker played with bass player Jack Bruce and organist/saxophonist Graham Bond. The three of them, together with saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith, formed the groundbreaking jazz/r&b crossover band the Graham Bond Organisation in 1963.
“It was uncharted territory,” said Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. “Ginger was a jazz guy. Charlie Watts told me that Ginger Baker was by far the best jazz drummer in England.”
A brief engagement in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers brought Baker and Clapton together, and the decision to form a trio with Bruce came into formal effect when Cream played their first gig at the Twisted Wheel in Manchester on July 29, 1966.
The band’s debut album Fresh Cream was released in December 1966, ushering a new era of advanced musicianship into a scene that had hitherto been dominated by the elementary aesthetic of the beat group. In particular, Baker’s composition Toad, which closed the album, introduced the concept of the extended, virtuoso drum solo to the world of rock and roll.
Baker revolutionised the art of rock drumming. He was one of the first to use a double-bass drum set-up – along with Keith Moon of the Who – and to further expand the traditional kit with additional rack and floor toms and a plethora of crash, ride and splash cymbals. His style was visceral and powerful but also innovative and immensely creative, and his use of heavy, log-rolling tom tom patterns to underpin songs such as Sunshine Of Your Love and We’re Going Wrongwas a revelation.
He also contributed to the writing, with songs such as Sweet Wine, Those Were the Days and Passing The Time, and in a group with two such imposing singers as Clapton and Bruce, Baker nevertheless managed to muscle in with his cockney growl leading the way on several numbers including Pressed Rat And Warthog and Blue Condition.
Cream’s work rate and speed of success was phenomenal. Within a year they had gone to America, where they recorded their second album, Disraeli Gears, with artwork and lyrics which remain a benchmark of the psychedelic era. Within two years they had become one of the biggest touring attractions in the world and recorded their third album, Wheels Of Fire. And after just 27 months they split up after two farewell shows at the Albert Hall in November 1968, leaving a legacy which influenced and inspired a generation of bands from Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath onwards.
Not that Baker was bothered about any of that. “I’ve seen where Cream is sort of held responsible for the birth of heavy metal. Well, I would definitely go for aborting. I loathe and detest heavy metal. I think it is an abortion,” he once told Forbes magazine.
“A lot of these guys come up and say, ‘Man, you were my influence, the way you thrashed the drums.’ They don’t seem to understand I was thrashing in order to hear what I was playing. It was anger, not enjoyment – and painful. I suffered on stage because of that volume crap. I didn’t like it then, and like it even less now.”
Baker and Clapton quickly joined forces with singer, guitarist and keyboard player Steve Winwood and bass player Rick Grech to form Blind Faith. Hailed as an instant “supergroup”, the band played its debut show in June 1969 in front of 100,000 people in Hyde Park.
They released an eponymous album, which topped the US and UK charts. But the impossible expectations which accompanied the band’s rapid ascent to such dizzying heights, was all too much and after one, brief US tour, Blind Faith split up in August 1969, having been publicly active for all of three months.
Baker immediately recruited Winwood and Grech as the core of his own jazz-rock supergroup Ginger Baker’s Airforce which toured and released two albums featuring a vast and rapidly-fluctuating roll call of contributors including his old colleagues Phil Seaman and Graham Bond.
Baker moved to Africa in the 1970s, where he worked with musicians including the Afrobeat star Fela Kuti and set up a commercial recording facility, Batakota Studios in Lagos, Nigeria. He ranged freely across continents and musical genres in the decades that followed, recording a bunch of sublime jazz albums with his own bands – notably Middle Passage (1990) and Coward Of The County (Ginger Baker and the DJQ20, 1996) – and lending his considerable weight to various rock projects including a short-lived power trio with Jack Bruce and guitarist Gary Moore BBMwhich released one album, Around the Next Dream in 1994.
Away from the music world, he became a dedicated polo player and set up his own stables and polo club in Western Cape, South Africa. A documentary by the American film maker Jay Bulger, Beware of Mr Baker (2012), portrayed him as a reclusive and cantankerous character, an impression which his bracingly direct memoirs Hellraiser: The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Drummer (2010) did little to dispel. In it, he wrote candidly about his years of heroin addiction which began in 1960 and continued on and off until the 1980s.
In later years he suffered innumerable health issues including degenerative osteoarthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the result of years of heavy smoking. He was married four times and leaves behind three children Nettie, Leda and Kofi.
Cream were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, when they played together for the first time in 25 years. But it was the string of Cream reunion shows at the Albert Hall, London and Madison Square Gardens, New York in 2005 which marked the most fitting memorial to this colossus of the kit.
The London shows ended with Baker once again performing his showcase number Toad. Looking like an ageing gangster, and playing with an air of super-relaxed menace, his hands were seemingly guided by his huge sticks rather than the other way round. With Clapton and Bruce standing admiringly at either side as he hammered the heads, his status as one of the original rock superheroes was sealed beyond any shadow of doubt.
“I’ve had loads of high points and loads of low points,” he told Classic Rock. “Where a lot of people would have topped themselves, I kept going. Being from a very poor background, you can handle that. Getting to know people I really admired and getting accepted and respected by them is a highlight.
Guys like Phil Seaman, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Max Roach – all these people became friends of mine, and I was accepted by them on the same plane. That was worth more than all of the money in the world.”
Who shows up to aCreamconcert and request to jam withEric Clapton? NO ONE… unless of course you’reJimi Hendrix– and that is exactly what he did.
At a time when Cream was at the top of the food chain, they were untouchable. Clapton was a mere mortal among his peers. ARock Godif you will…
Jimiplugged in and blew the entire band away. He ended up playing a song (Killing Floor), that even Clapton had expressed he had not been a fan of playing because of it’s difficulty. Jimi played his bum off, and owned the entire song. He had played with his teeth, behind his head- Jimi had quickly becomea force to be reckoned with.
He had come on stage, and cutoff Clapton.CUT OFF, CLAPTON. Who was this kid?Did Jimi kill Clapton, or was he simply honoring one of his idols? You be the judge.
Killing Floor Lyrics Below
I shoulda quit you, a long time ago,
I shoulda quit you, baby, a long time ago,
I shoulda quit you pretty baby, and went on to Mexico.
If I had’a followed, my right mind,
If I had’a followed, my right mind,
I’da been on the border, my second time.
If I had’a went on, when my best friend come at me,
If I had’a went on, when my best friend come at me,
Lord, I wouldn’t be here tonight, down on the killin’ floor.
If I had’a went on, when my friend come at me,
If I had’a went on, when my best friend come at me,
I wouldn’t be here tonight, down on the killin’ floor.
God knows, I shoulda went on,
God knows, I shoulda went on,
And I wouldn’t be here tonight, down on the killin’ floor.