Cream, during their short tenure together, took the world by storm and heralded a two-year period of dominance that saw them release four studio albums and firmly secure the names of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker in the history books. For a band to be as revered as Cream, despite being together for such a short space of time, you would expect every single song they produced to be flawless but, according to Clapton, that wasn’t the case at all as he described their debut album as “really weak”.
The trio released their first effort, Fresh Cream, on December 9th 1966, which was also the first LP on the Reaction Records label, a company owned by producer and manager Robert Stigwood—who we will get to later. The album was immediately a commercial and critical success and, as the years have passed, the record has gone on to be regarded as one of the most important rock albums of all time. Remarkably, however, Eric Clapton has a different viewpoint on the band’s debut effort.
The group had only been together for a few months prior to the release of the record and, in truth, Fresh Cream is very much the sound of a band stepping into unknown territory. It’s partly why it is regarded so highly. The LP’s beautiful blend of the worlds of jazz, blues and rock made it one of the defining records of the era. However, Clapton being ever the perfectionist, believes that the band needed more time in the studio to smooth out anything aspects that he perceives as a rough edge.
“I thought the John Mayall album was better than the Cream stuff,” Clapton revealed to Classic Rock back in 2017. “I thought we were really weak, to be honest, on record. There were only a few things that I really was proud of — then and now. Most of those were on the farewell album [Goodbye, 1969]. I don’t know. I think we got lost quite quickly with Cream. It was all just smoke and mirrors.
“We were just trying to keep the thing rolling. We didn’t really have a leader,” he added. “I think that was part of the problem. The leadership would change in the blink of an eye. One minute it would be me, the next minute it would be Jack, the next it would be Ginger. It wasn’t cohesive. Before we got very far we became a supergroup. It was that thing of trying to catch up with your own myth.”
Cream was, technically, a supergroup of sorts. All three members had come into the band from projects such as The Yardbirds and John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, a factor which meant that they were different to the run of the mill new band on the scene. However, producer and manager Stigwood used their backgrounds to his advantage by playing on the ‘supergroup’ idea which instantly made the whole industry sit up and take notice. Before they knew it, Cream had become one of the most talked-about acts in the country which meant that almost anything they produced was going to be lauded.
“I don’t really take it too seriously,” Clapton said about the so-called ‘myth’. “I think it’s interesting at best, but I’ve lived on the other side of that. I must admit, I’m guilty of doing it, too, so I have to be fairly non-judgmental about it because I mythologise myself, as I have done with Robert Johnson. I’ve never really subscribed to that particular myth about him selling his soul, but there’s something akin to that in… not selling your soul, but just devoting yourself to something. That could be a better explanation for all of these things.”
Even if Clapton isn’t the world’s biggest fan of Fresh Cream, it remains one of the most significant records in the history of rock. If Stigwood hadn’t used his genius marketing mind in order to flog Cream to the masses, who knows if the band would have gone on to make such a huge impact. If it hadn’t received the attention that the supergroup ‘myth’ provided the band with, would we even be speaking about it now? Well, Fresh Cream still sounds pretty good to us all these years later, even if it doesn’t to one of the men who created it.