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Credit: Atco Records


Watch Cream on their first US television appearance in 1968


It seemed as though Cream were just getting started by 1968. The British supergroup had recorded two all-time great albums in Fresh Cream and Disraeli Gears, and the band were in the process of finishing up their third, the studio-live hybrid double LP Wheels of Fire. For the first time, the power trio was getting success in America, and their concerts were starting to draw major crowds stateside.

But the band’s members were spent. The initial congealing of collaboration had left, and the three musicians were simply trying to be louder and flashier than the others. “The last year with Cream was just agony,” Ginger Baker told Music Mart in 2006. “It damaged my hearing permanently, and today I’ve still got a hearing problem because of the sheer volume throughout the last year of Cream. But it didn’t start off like that. In 1966, it was great. It was really a wonderful experience musically, and it just went into the realms of stupidity.”

Part of that stupidity involved not knowing how to market the band properly. Their first trip to New York saw them play at the bottom of a six-act bill (along with The Who) and they only managed to squeeze in around ten minutes of music. Now their shows were marathon affairs, with songs lasting up to half an hour in terms of sheer length. But Atlantic Records, their American label, still pushed them to do more traditional affairs, and so Cream found themselves on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on July 14th, 1968.

The Smothers Brothers was actually a relatively cutting-edge programme during the late 1960s, featuring groundbreaking acts like the Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Donovan, Janis Ian, and Joan Baez. The Who had made their US television debut there, and it ended with an explosive finale. But by 1968, the Brothers were fighting with censors over the show’s content, and at the time of Cream’s performance, the programme had less than a year to go before its cancellation.

Also at their expiration date were Cream, who had decided to break up a few months prior. They still had commitments to fulfil, so they tromped out to the States to film their first US TV appearance. Except neither of the Smothers Brothers was there: instead, former L.A. session musician Glen Campbell was guest-hosting as he tried to get a solo career off the ground. Campbell was a hell of a guitar player and eventually found his niche as a country crooner, but everyone in the studio appears to be slightly off their game that day.

Campbell introduces “The Cream” as “three of the finest studio musicians in England”, but he erroneously credits the band as a whole with playing on records by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones while stumbling over his words. Whether it was his decision or not, Eric Clapton is stripped of any distortion, making his Gibson Firebird sound dinky and reserved. Jack Bruce’s fat bass tone is reduced to a dull plod, and even the voracious Baker is relatively subdued. It’s a bit of a misfire on all fronts, but the embers of the world’s hottest rock band are still in there somewhere, buried under the studio gloss.

Check out Cream’s first US TV appearance playing ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ down below.