Pete Townshend has never been afraid of saying what’s on his mind, even if it means ruffling feathers among the plumage of his peers. Nobody is free from his wrath, and there was one legendary band that Townshend described as sounding “empty”.
Townshend has trashed everyone from Led Zeppelin to The Beatles at some point, and any group he criticises is surrounded by esteemed company. Even his own band, The Who, have been on the receiving end of his infamously scathing tongue, and Townshend’s unflinching honesty is bizarrely admirable.
While Townshend is an admirer of Eric Clapton’s talents as a technician, he doesn’t feel the same way about the guitarist’s work with Cream. The three-piece was the world’s first supergroup with Clapton flanked by Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. Together, they set the world alight in their short time as an outfit.
Townshend was already familiar with all three members before they formed Cream. Furthermore, their first official show came at the National Blues & Jazz Festival in 1966, headlined by The Who, but the guitarist was never mightily impressed by their output.
The Who guitarist provided unprovoked thoughts on Cream during an interview with Guitar, where he spoke about how his band successfully defined his sound before comparing and contrasting the two groups.
“I think that, partly because of [Keith Moon’s] drumming style, I had to play a really, really solid, tightly syncopated but nonetheless tightly metronomic style of guitar playing,” he explained.
Townshend continued: “I was driving him rather than him driving me. There was no space, really, for fancy leads. As soon as I started playing single notes, everything seemed to fall apart.”
“I have to say, that was my experience listening to Cream,” he added. “It felt to me that sometimes it sounded so empty. I thought they would’ve been so much better if they had a Hammond player.”
However, Townshend did also complement Clapton’s ability. “I always loved Eric’s playing, but not always his sound. It always felt to me like it was a bit muffled, in the Marshall days. That’s why I prefer Traffic and Blind Faith. I like the sound of that,” he continued.
Townshend has always been a professional contrarian, and it should be no surprise that he prefers Clapton’s output with Traffic and Blind Faith to his universally adored output with Cream. In truth, by Townshend’s standards, describing their sound as “empty” is relatively kind compared to other entries in his book of insults.