The late legendary guitarist Eddie Van Halen once said, “The only band I was really over-into was Cream. And the only thing I really like about them was their live stuff because they played two verses, then go off and jam for 20 minutes, come back and do a chorus at the end.” While his declaration of “20 minutes” might be a little of a stretch on this occasion, everything else is just about pinpoint.
It is widely regarded that Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton, who played in Cream from 1966-68 comprised one of the most talented ensembles ever gathered together. Though the lifespan of the “world’s first supergroup” may have been short-lived, in that time their influence and acclaim was boundless.
Sadly, the end for the band seemed to be an invertibility almost before they began. As Eric Clapton once told UNCUT, “I was in a confrontational situation 24 hours a day.” And as anyone who has ever seen the documentary Beware of Mr Baker will attest, Ginger Baker is not a man to be confronting.
This in-band tension, however, lent a very visceral edge to their live performances when tensions were sequestered, but the fuelling energy that they provided was seized upon for rattling shows of pure rock ‘n’ roll.
They were the jam kings and this free-flowing style had a huge impact on Jimi Hendrix. The first time he ever took the stage in the UK was to jam with Cream at the London Polytechnic. “In those days anybody could get up with anybody,” Clapton told Planet Rock, “If you were convincing enough that you could play. He got up and blew everyone’s mind.”
As Hendrix biographer, Charles Cross writes: “No one had ever asked to jam with Cream before. Most would have been too intimidated by their reputation as the best band in Britain.” Hendrix was a singular talent who could keep up the pace and there is no doubting that the experience had a lasting effect on both parties. As is clear from this blitzing rendition of ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ back in 1967, the ante was upped in terms of musicianship and energy from that moment.
The lyrics for the song itself were originally written by the beat poet Pete Brown, who was friends with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce and he also lent his lyrical talents to ‘I Feel Free’ and ‘White Room’.
It was a song that Jack Bruce always knew would do well, as he told Rolling Stone: “Both Booker T. Jones and Otis Redding heard it at Atlantic Studios and told me it was going to be a smash.” With praise like that from greats of the industry, it forecasted great things. But, as ever, the proof is in the pudding, and we highly recommend you devour it time and time again below. It is now a riff ubiquitous in culture from Goodfellas to The Simpsons but has rarely sounded as good as it does in this session.