Was Cream overrated?

Watching their 2005 reunion at Albert Hall. Other than the hits, of which I would say there were maybe arguably two handfuls, watching their reunion show they sound like nothing more than a progressive blues band, and not a very good one at that.

THAT SAID, one gripe I heard about this show was Eric Clapton used a Stratocaster instead of whatever axe he used back in the 60s and this hurt the show (I have to agree “Crossroads” lacked the bite of the recorded version)

The 3 man band also seemed to lack depth that might have been provided by an extra guitarist.

Am I grossly unfair to judge such a legendary band based on this 2005 show? Did Clapton’s 2005 guitar choice not hold up? Were they much more more awesome in their heyday than a bunch of old timers trying to recreate their magic in 2005?
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I “discovered” Cream in the late 70’s and kept dreaming about their reunion and as I’ve talked about in other threads, I spent decades trying to find that other groups that had that “magic” that Cream had. After nearly 40 years of searching, when I found their bootlegs, I realized these were the holy grails I’d been searching for!

I agree that their 2005 reunion (while great) was a shadow, almost a tribute to their old selves. All three have said that the 2005 Cream was different from the Cream of old and they didn’t want to just recreate the style they had then. BTW, don’t call them a “blues band”. Baker and Bruce have always contended they were a jazz trio and Clapton is now acknowledging that.

Seek out and listen to their bootlegs, particularly “Sun Vanishes” and be amazed at how great they were when “…playing for themselves”*

*I talked to guy who attended their concerts in the '60’s and when I asked him how it was he said “When they started jamming, it was time to step out for a smoke or a beer because they were playing for themselves.” He didn’t mean it a compliment, but I realized that’s the great compliment about and summary of what Cream was. Even Clapton said in an interview that one night in '68 she was actually satisfied!

Edit: To answer your question. Yes, it’s unfair to judge them only on their reunion gigs. Even their 1968 Farewell Concert, which for the longest time was the only generally available record of their live playing outside of their albums is deemed by Ginger…“We were so much better than that.”, despite many, including myself being amazed at their playing.

I agree that the Crossroads from 2005 was nowhere near as good as the one on Wheels of Fire - but Clapton was almost 40 years older. There are many things you won’t be doing as well 40 years from now.
I saw an interview, I think with Clapton, where he admitted that the jams got pretty self-indulgent, partially due to the drugs.
Yeah, another guitarist would be different, but the three of them filled things quite nicely live if you listen to the best of their live tracks.

I saw the Stones 15 years ago. Jagger still moved pretty well, but I’d hate for anyone to judge their legacy based on that. You gotta take the best, not a concert to buy Ginger some more horses.

Clapton said in an interview, after listening to some of their bootlegs something along the lines of how amazed he was at some of his playing he did. When the interviewer asked if he was saying he couldn’t do it now, he replied he could, just chooses not to! This was the closest I’ve ever seen him admit that he really was as good as people said he was.

I highly urge anyone who wants to hear what Eric Clapton was capable of when playing live at the top of his game (in the early 1970’s) to get themselves a copy of “Derek and the Dominos-Live At The Fillmore”.

It is musically brilliant, for me always in any “Top 10 Live Albums Of all Time” list I am making, and shows how incredibly talented Clapton was back when he was in top form.

I saw Cream live in 1968 when I was 14. I was a big fan and thought the show was great. I have remained a Clapton fan.

I really enjoyed the 2005 reunion show on DVD, but it was a very different thing from Cream when they were together originally. Bruce and Baker were clearly way past their primes. They didn’t play poorly, they just took no chances (Clapton didn’t either), and their skill levels were clearly diminished. Clapton’s skills, in my opinion, were undiminished, but he had long since gone in another direction as a guitarist from where he was in the John Mayall/Cream period. At the time of the 2005 reunion, he was much more famous as Eric Clapton, solo artist, than Cream ever was.

For me, the reunion was like a tribute concert performed by the original artists. Fun to witness, but not the same thing as when they were young.

I forgot to mention something in my previous post. At the 1968 show, they were very improvisational in their approach to the songs, both in terms of arrangements and individual parts. I was deeply familiar with the recorded versions of every song they played, and was astounded by a lot of what I heard. The 2005 reunion sounded, and was, rehearsed. It was music I love, played by the guys who made it, but there was no fire.

Cream was as good as people thought it was. But once the group broke up, their record company kept releasing every bit of live material they ever did, with no regard to quality, and doing three compilation albums (for a group that only recorded four studio albums*).

By the mid-70s, the repackaging made people sick of the group, plus Clapton’s solo career overshadowed them. People at that point would have said they were overrated.

*Half of Wheels of Fire was live.

Why would you judge the quality of a band based on a concert recorded 35 years after their prime? No one going to Stones concert now would say they were a great band either. I dont know any musician who plays as well at age 60 as they did at 30.

About 30 years ago, when Clapton was releasing all sorts of material and continued to be very popular, a friend of mine observed, “You know, I always felt that Clapton was the weakest musician in Cream.” I don’t know if I would agree, but the fact that I even gave the statement serious consideration should suggest how good the group was at their peak.

I think it depends on which genre you judge them by. From a blues/rock standpoint, I have always felt that Clapton was the strongest player of the three. I am far less knowledgeable about jazz, but it seems likely to me that Baker and Bruce would seem like the more capable players to jazz fans.

I agree with your friend without reservation or hesitation. And I think Eric Clapton is among the top 20 blues guitarists of the last century.

And I would say Jack Bruce is at least in the top 20 of best bass players in the last century. Probably top 10. And I liked his voice too. Cream was not overrated.

Cream was a band for people who celebrated performance and didn’t care too much about the songs themselves.

Since my emphasis is on the latter, they were never a favorite band.

Wouldn’t judge them on a crepitant reunion gig though.

Cream was a musician’s group with each of them holding their own with/against each other. I don’t have “time” as Ginger refers to it, but over the years I’ve come to understand and hear what others are talking about. While Clapton gets the most attention, all three alternately play lead and accompaniment, especially on their jams.

As the narrator on “Farewell Concert of Cream” says: “Their motto is simple…forget the message, forget the lyrics and just play.”

First, any band who had two handfuls of hits in a less than three year career can’t be overrated. Not that Cream had that many.

Remember that Clapton quit the Yardbirds just after recording “For Your Love” because he hated the pop direction the band was taking. The song went to #1 on the British charts and they survived by bringing in Jeff Beck. Clapton’s move could have killed a great band.

He went over to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and lived the blues for a year without any thought of hits. They put out an album, Blues Breakers – John Mayall – With Eric Clapton, which should have been a popular breakthrough. But Clapton, who actually had been living with Mayall, walked out to form Cream just before it was released, and the band never recovered commercially.

So it’s hard to say that hits and commercial success were part of the DNA of Cream’s formation. They never had a top ten single in the UK and put out four singles before they charted in the U.S. with “Sunshine of Your Love.” Admittedly, that made a huge difference. Fresh Cream went to #39; Disraeli Gears to #4. Since the rise of a national string of FM stations playing rock postdated Cream, most Americans had to take their cues about British groups from hits. “White Room” went to #5 and Wheels of Fire to #1. That’s spectacular, since it was the first album by any British group outside the Beatles to hit #1. And that happened before their last American tour.

I’m not going to get into any discussions of guitar-playing. Overall Cream was a seminal group, pointing toward a new direction that zillions of bands would follow. Their work was wildly popular at the time in the U.S., much more so than contemporaries like the Who or the Kinks, which are better thought of today for their individual songs - but weren’t big hits in America during that time period.

They existed before really decent live recordings were possible for record companies, so we don’t have much good evidence for how great they sounded live. A bootleg site I found says on a scale of 1-10 for studio quality recording, the very best bootleg rates only a 6.

It would be nice to have more material to judge them by, but we don’t. I still don’t think they are overrated. I think Blind Faith was underrated for decades, with hindsight making them look better in recent years, but that’s a different thread.

Well, 3 1/2, since most of Goodbye was live.

The production quality on the live disc of Wheels of Fire was amazing. It was my favorite album when it came out, and it was by far the best quality live recording I had ever heard, except perhaps for some classical. The rest of the live tracks, not so much.

Yes. You were not seeing Cream, you were seeing a bunch of old guys who used to be Cream.

As far as I’m concerned Eric Clapton was just the guitarist for Cream, full stop. Nothing he ever did aside from that has ever really done anything for me, though I like a handful of his solo songs like Lay Down Sally and Bell Bottom Blues. To me he was really in his element and at his peak playing with Cream. Having the bassist be the singer was also a unique thing about them; and Jack Bruce was a really good bassist, he’s among the best of all time, his playing was always hard-hitting and full of memorable riffs. No, Cream’s not overrated, they earned their stripes IMO.

Well, Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson were around at the time, so “unique” might not be the word to use.