If you were to ask Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce or Ginger Baker what they thought of 21st century music-making, they’d likely give you either tongue-in-cheek ambiguity or a straight answer filled with regret.
Enveloped by the busy era of the ’60s, Cream rose to prominence bound by not only unmatched charisma and stage malleability but instrumental precision – they were masters of their craft before becoming masters of the songbook, inventing conventions to last a lifetime, not a single generation.
Subsequently, digesting modern-day methodology is a tough pill to swallow for Kofi Baker, son of legendary drummer Ginger. Driven by the pride and dignity of his father’s ingenuity, Baker believes educational impatience is overshadowing any push for technicality.
“Nowadays, they’re not really teaching musicians to be musicians,” Baker says. “They’re saying, ‘Let’s just play along with the song,’ and that’s not how musicians learnt to play in the old days – they didn’t play along with songs, they learnt how to read music and practise and learnt how to play their instrument.
“Back in the jazz days, when drummers learnt to play, the left foot was very important. Nowadays, drummers get on the kit and they hear a rock song and their left foot sits still – they play bass drum, snare drum and right hand and just play along with the song. Once you’ve learnt how to play drums like that it’s hard to go back and learn everything from the start.”
People have tried to do Cream but they’re not doing it with the fire that Cream had – they just try to copy Cream, which is not what Cream was about.
Bringing The Music Of Cream to Australia for the first time as part of the band’s 50th anniversary celebrations, Baker is dogged in not only evading the devilish ‘tribute band’ status but conveying the spontaneity that rendered the original Cream unmatched.
“We’re going to bring the experience of Cream back, which means we’re going to do a lot of jamming, a lot of improvisation and a lot of giving it everything we’ve got – that’s what Cream was all about.
“We’re going to bring this jam rock music thing back to life, which no one’s doing. People have tried to do Cream but they’re not doing it with the fire that Cream had – they just try to copy Cream, which is not what Cream was about. Cream didn’t copy Cream, Cream played different every night and their live stuff was so much different to their studio stuff. You can’t play a tribute to Cream, because Cream didn’t copy themselves.
“So what you have to do is take the experience and take the attitudes of what these guys had, which me, Malcolm [Bruce, son of Jack] and Will [Johns, nephew of Clapton] really only know. There’s not a lot of people who have been as close to my dad, Jack and Eric than us so we know what attitude to bring and we know what they were about.”
Snobbishly titled so because Baker, Clapton and Bruce were the cream of the musician crop at the time, Cream enjoyed a helter skelter tenure between their formation in May 1966 and dissolution in November 1968. With their debut album Fresh Cream launching them to the top of the blues rock tree right from the get-go, every recording and live performance from there was a bonus.
Indeed, despite their musical uniformity, Cream were never able to completely escape the narcissism that embodied their building blocks. While Clapton was their ace of spades when it came to talent, acrimony never left Bruce and Baker behind, and their combustible relationship brought about the band’s ultimate demise. Cream’s farewell tour in October and November 1968 was known for its nascent supports, including Taste, Yes and Deep Purple – and the former bassist of the latter, Glenn Hughes, will be joining Baker, Bruce and Johns for The Music Of Cream showcase alongside Miles Davis collaborator Robben Ford.
Not having played with Hughes or Ford before, Baker is unsure how the show will pan out. “We’re going to get together in LA a couple of days before the tour and see what happens,” Baker says. “I’m sure [Hughes] will step up to the plate, he’s a great player and a great singer. I’m hoping we can maybe put a few originals in the set and maybe come up with a few tunes but we’ll see what time permits.”
The Music Of Cream plays at the State Theatre on Thursday May 25.