A Brief Guide to the Bootlegs

Konsmarchboot.JPG (36700 bytes)
This Boot CD contains only a reasonable quality March '67 Konserthusert. 
The Winterland stuff has been officially released except for "We're Going Wrong" and
none of them were recorded on 7th March when they were actually at the Fillmore!

I have been regularly asked – "What is the best Cream bootleg?"

Well the answer is not so simple. I cannot comment on the various 'commercial' bootleg CDs.  They vary so much in quality and are almost always crudely compiled.

I have been carefully collecting quality tape versions, most of which are better quality then the CD bootlegs. It is these I review and on which I will comment. So this is actually a guide to the bootleg recordings - not the released bootleg CDs.

Cream’s career basically can be broken into 3 eras –

June 66- July 67 "Renovating the Blues" of the shorter blues based song form

Aug ’67 – June 68 "Jamming" of the extended instrumental jams and psychedelia.

Sept 68 – Nov ’68 "Farewell Tour"

Renovating the Blues

This period is well covered with Klook’s Kleek (Nov 66), Konserthusert (March 67), Ricky Tick (April 67). They play the Fresh Cream material plus a few other blues pieces including "Crossroads" and the very rare "Meet Me in the Bottom". Audio quality is variable with Klooks the worst but quite acceptable semi-professional, Ricky Tick good audience and Konserthusert variable. Some Konserthusert’ s are  poor quality with the best being dubbed from a 1972 rebroadcast. If the Fresh Cream CD is your favourite then these would be the choice.

The other Live recordings are Marquee Club and Barbecue ’67 from May ’67 in which they include some of the songs from Disraeli Gears. The Marquee is  hesitant performance on the new songs but aggressive playing on the Fresh Cream songs - a good Audience recording (another rare boot especially in best audio quality). Barbecue has poor sound with almost inaudible bass & vocals and just a professional performance due to the conditions. Still, these contain the only recorded live performances of a range of songs from Disraeli Gears.

The "Empire Pool" recording from May ’67 is very poor audio quality and of no musical interest.

The BBC recordings are also overwhelmingly from this period. The Fresh Cream songs are well represented with reasonable coverage of Disraeli Gears. Cream’s BBC recordings are achieving a mythical status due to their non-release.  There is some good material but they should be viewed as providing alternate studio takes to the official releases. Most of the BBC are overdubbed performances - not live in the studio like much of the Hendrix material.

The Fresh Cream sessions provide the only real Alternates and Outtakes.  A few of the alternates are excellent but generally represent an insight into the recording process. Listened to in combination with the BBC recordings of the same period provides a detailed overview of the creative process of the last quarter of 1966.

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Jamming

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Konserhusert Nov '67.  Wayne State U is just down the road from the Grande Ballroom.
(Courtesy Bengt Skogberg)
 

This period starts with "Live at the Fillmore" from 3rd September. While the jams don’t reach the length or instrumental extravagance of latter recordings, it is still quite excellent with a fascinating "Spoonful". Sound quality is only reasonable Audience but quite acceptable.

 This was followed by a week (10-16th Oct) in Boston at the Psychadelic Supermarket which provided a poor quality audience recording of a restrained performance.

The US tour finished at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom  on 15th October at which they were recorded off the PA mixer (the only "off-the-panel" recording, ignore the bootleggers claims on the rest). The resulting quality is good but flawed with a recessed bass guitar. Still it remains the best quality and most comprehensive recording of them at their absolute peak.  It is indispensable for any serious Rock collection.

A tour of Europe provides audience recordings from a UK club and Stockholm’s Konserthusert. The UK recording shows some hesitancy about the long jams and is only of reasonable sound quality. It is rare even in collector circles and has some fine playing especially on "Stepping Out" and "I’m So Glad". Konserthusert is a great performance marred by poor recording quality - versions I have range from execrable to barely listenable. However a new digitally reworked version has brought it to life and made it very listenable.

The official live recordings were recorded at Winterland and the Fillmore over 7-10th March ’68. The 3rd March Fillmore performance was recorded from the audience. The bootleg shows them playing in a very different mode with great tempo and volume variations. Sound quality is good audience, except for noise on "Stepping Out". A very interesting alternative to the official releases. Note: a good quality audience recording of the Winterland of 10th March also exists (but generally butchered on the bootleg CDs – be warned!) most of which has been officially released.

March 18th they played at Anaheim.  This is a new (2000!) and rare bootleg.  It is incomplete but a very good show.  Open with a top Spoonful and into an equally good  Sunshine.  This and the following show they were playing at their best at this stage of the tour.

 Booked at Brandeis U on the 23rd march 1968  they arrived late at 2.15am on the 24th at Brandeis University. Most of the 2000+ crowd had stayed and Cream put on a brilliant performance. A 12 minute "Sunshine of Your Love" and 19 min "NSU" are incredible improvisations.  A great performance but just a good audience recording.

On April 5 they were recorded from the audience at Boston’s Back Bay Theatre. This was one of their good nights and a brilliant one by any standards. They open with an incredible 17 minute "Sunshine of Your Love" and continue to play on for a great show, if not at the intensity of that opening jam – who could?   Sound is a very good audience and provides a good feel of their sound at the time.

San Jose of May 25th is not at the same musical level but still far from mediocre - a better night. It is a variable quality audience recording – poor to reasonable. The Montreal boot is poor quality musically and sonically – it was really playing it out by this stage. The Wallingford boot is actually from the final tour.

The only BBC material musically related to this period are a reasonable "Born Under a Bad Sign" and an interesting proto "Politician"

Final Tour.

Cream toured to huge audiences on the Final tour and for many fans this was their first live introduction and for some others there last hearing. Unfortunately, and harshly realistically, they were largely doing it by rote. Clapton didn’t want to do this tour, but Baker (and Stigwood of course!) wanted the money and Bruce wasn’t going to argue about that – big bucks were involved.

The opening concert was to a packed 14,000 seat Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland (Greater San Francisco). The effects of a "holiday" is all too obvious on Clapton, especially, and Baker. It has its moments but the lack of performance fitness is exemplified by a ramshackle "I’m So Glad". Sound quality is excellent because it is a dub off the master recording tape, but the guitar is weirdly mixed well back. A couple of the Live Cream Vol II tracks are from this concert. Even at their worst, and this must be close to it, Cream were better then most other bands on their best night.

The next concert was at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, with a modified set. It was an improved performance but a poor quality audience recording. After this, the set was again adjusted and locked down for the rest of the tour.  Of the rest that I have heard:

New Haven – only two songs but solid and probably developed into a good show. Good audience sound.

LA/San Diego – these make up the rest of the official live recordings from this tour. These are dubbed from the master tapes with a better balance than Oakland (guitar higher but still back, San Diego much better). The "Goodbye" tracks were selected from these because they were the best of a mediocre lot and actually had some real fire. These are the best quality and arguably the best performances. These are worth it to complete a representative collection.

Dallas – On Ray Mulesky's recommendation, I have reassessed this.  A newly available higher quality version has made this show much more attractive.  If you ignore 'Spoonful' it is probably the best overall performance from the final tour.

Madison Square Gardens – on a revolving stage, they all still remember it, and it shows why. generally Terrible sound quality (all 3 different audience recordings), at best an uninspired professional performance.  A new stage side version provides much better sound and while it is incomplete it includes the best performances - a professional performance

Rhode Island (2nd Show).  Only Spoonful and Toad performed to meet the curfew.  Solid renditions with a pretty reasonable Spoonful.  This has been combined with New Haven  in a new bootleg release and forms a quite reasonable "short" set.

Wallingford – still don’t know where this is from. One of the best bootlegged performances from this tour but poor sound quality.

Albert Hall, London – the first concert was poor but this is from the superior 2nd – but still just barely adequate.  The really notable feature is Clapton’s performance of "Stepping Out" as the ending encore piece but, as would be expected, it was flat and desultory. Two versions are available with an only reasonable quality (but complete) audience and the "Long Film" audio dub.  The soundtrack is incomplete and only good professional recording.

oaklandcov.jpg (32675 bytes)
This is one of the covers of a new series of digitally reprocessed bootlegs becoming available
Contact me for availability and possible sources.
(creamboots@twtd.bluemountains.net.au)

 

Sound Quality Definitions:

Reasonable - listenable but usually with balance problems, noise, restricted frequency range etc
Good  - reasonable balance on a good recorder - usually vocals or drums not clear.
Very Good - quality recorder, good balance between instruments and vocals.
Excellent - only quality dubs off the master tapes (still not as good as the official releases!)
Anything of lesser quality  is described as appropriate

Note Again: The Cream bootleg recordings are audience except for March '67 Konserthusert which is off-air,  Grande Ballroom which is off the PA Vocals mixer and Oakland/LA/San Diego which are rough dubs off the master tape.  BBC are pre-recorded studio with some off-air tracks.

Graeme Pattingale, 2002