Fresh Cream

Producer: A Robert Stigwood Production

Recorded: July-December 1966 at Chalk Farm Studios & Mayfair Studios, London, England.

Recording Engineer: John Timperly

Released: UK – 12/66, US – 1/67

Highest Chart Position: UK – 6, US – 39.

Cover Art: Not Credited

The Sessions

The first single ‘Wrapping Paper’ had not met the expectations of critics or fans though the second ‘I Feel Free’, with Eric’s distinctive solo, was more successful. This album did not disappoint as it contained the requisite blues songs plus some effective originals. While it was Cream’s least successful album in terms of chart success, many of its songs remained staples of their live performances to the very end.

Fresh Cream was close to what Clapton had envisaged for the band and, for their ambitious Australian manager Robert Stigwood, what the market (in the UK at least) wanted. Ginger wanted some original songs because he thought that was the key to success and he new that was where the best royalty returns lay. Jack was out of the straight jacket of being a sideman and had found a symbiotic lyricist in Pete Brown (who, unfortunately, got strung-out which curtailed his input for this album). To general surprise Jack took the majority of lead vocals and provided four original songs to Baker’s two, with Eric providing his selection of blues classics.

In instrumental terms the contributions were evenly balanced. While Eric is the soloist, Jack contributes harmonica and piano as well as bass. Gingers’s drums are always driving the songs on and he performs his classic Toad solo. The only criticism is of Eric’s approach to the providing of basic lead and then lead overdubs on many of the tracks. Mainly it was a production problem but it obviously was a technique that he was not yet proficient with, as it had not generally been necessary in the Yardbirds or Mayall (but listen to ‘All your Love’ on the Bluesbreakers album to hear how it could have been done!). His basic approach is of providing fills which is not as effective in the trio context. It was a problem overcome in the later recordings with a proper producer.

For the time, the recording quality is good with the drums being unusually well recorded. The production was unsophisticated with minimal overdubbing which does give Fresh Cream a raw excitement. Unfortunately, Stigwood’s production was basically abysmal, especially the poor balancing of the instrumental overdubs, though eventually Ginger, Jack and Eric took control. The basic guitar line was laid down with the band but mixed at a comparatively low level and then overdub lead was usually poorly mixed in. The result often is a solo leaping out of nowhere or Eric just doing fills (see track comments below). A further problem was the handling of the volume and attack produced by the Marshall Amps. The sound careened off the studio walls and bled into the microphones, which probably forced the technique of a softer basic lead track and then the solo overdub. These sonic effects, coupled with heavy reverb on the guitar, results in excessively echoing sound. However the sound is quite effective on a few tracks

If this had been their only recording it probably would only rank as a cult white blues album. It did, however, contain the elements of what was to come and generated the core repertoire of their live performances.

Track by Track

I Feel Free (Jack Bruce/Pete Brown)

Eric – lead & solo guitar, lead vocals; Jack – bass guitar, lead vocals, piano(?); Ginger – drums, harmony vocals; Pete Brown - Piano?

The second and moderately successful (UK) single opens the album. Opening with harmony vocals on the chorus vocal riff from Eric and Jack which continues in harmony, Jack sings the main verses. A definite non-blues like the first single ‘Wrapping Paper’ but includes the requisite lead break performed behind the harmony chorus of Jack and Eric and Ginger. Eric’s ‘woman tone’ and the six string electric bass sounds great.

Note:  Based on the outtakes I believe the piano was played by a 4th party - Pete Brown?

NSU (Jack Bruce)

Eric – lead & solo guitar, harmony vocals; Jack – bass guitar, lead vocals; Ginger - drums

Ginger opens with mallets on the toms which creates tension behind the verses by maintaining a syncopated beat against the bass. Eric’s basic lead is mainly block cords with the quality solo bursting out of nowhere. Lyrically inconsequential but musically strong and it worked well live.

Sleepy Time Time (Jack Bruce/Janet Godfrey)

Eric – lead & solo guitar, harmony vocals; Jack – bass guitar, lead vocals; Ginger - drums

A ‘heavy’ slow rock blues built on Jack’s bass riff. His wife’s lyrics are not memorable but adequate for Jack’s voice to show its full range. Eric’s dual lead is great but would have been better if the basic lead had been mixed up higher. This track highlights Ginger’s incomparable ability to fill the spaces without sounding busy.

Dreaming (Jack Bruce)

Eric – lead & solo guitar, harmony vocals; Jack – bass guitar, lead vocals, harmony vocals; Ginger - drums

Basically an exercise for Jack to sing a multi-tracked duet with himself which was to become a feature of his solo albums.

Sweet Wine (Ginger Baker/Janet Godfrey) not (Bruce/Godfrey) as credited on my CD release

Eric – lead guitar & solo guitar, harmony vocals; Jack – bass guitar, lead vocals; Ginger – drums, harmony vocals

Begins with Ginger on the snare followed by his distinctive triplet patterns on the toms behind the choruses. Eric’s dual overdubbed solo is probably the most effective on the album despite the shoddy mix. Even at 3:20 minute’s duration it was clearly built for jamming.

Spoonful (Willie Dixon)

Eric – lead guitar; Jack – bass guitar, lead vocals, harmonica; Ginger - drums

A classic blues by the prolific Willie Dixon (a bass player) and this arrangement has been much copied. It is full on live in the studio with the harmonica overdubbed. Jack does powerhouse vocals, a fine harp and lets it rip on bass when Eric solos. Eric’s strongest lead of the whole album clearly benefits from the single lead line. With the Marshall cranked up, the guitar is bouncing off the studio walls but the whole sound works. Ginger is at his finest, filling and propelling it along. A great performance that was destined to be replicated live.

[Vinyl side 2]

Cats Squirrel (Trad. Arr S. Splurge) Presumably Cream’s arrangement of Dr Isaiah Ross’s original

Eric – lead guitars; Jack – bass guitar, vocal break, harmonica; Ginger - drums

A full on almost ‘live’ studio performance with a ‘live’ lead guitar/harmonica overdub. A repeated fast blues riff provides for lots of interplay, with only a short vocal interlude.  Jimi Hendrix liked to quote this version of the lick.

Four Until Late (Trad. Arr E. Clapton) Clapton’s arrangement of Robert Johnson’s (to whom it was credited on the original vinyl release) original

Eric – lead guitar, lead vocals; Jack – double bass, harmony vocals, harmonica; Ginger - drums

This style of song and arrangement was to become common in Eric’s solo career. With Ginger on brushes and Jack on acoustic it only needs acoustic guitar for it to be suitable for ‘Unplugged’. Really shows their versatility.

Rollin’ and Tumblin’ (Muddy Waters) Pedantic: actually Muddy copyrighted his songs using his real name of McKinley Morganfield.

Eric – lead guitar; Jack –harmonica, lead vocals; Ginger – drums

No bass i.e. fully ‘live’ in the studio. Power harmonica, but with little finesse, in the Sonny Terry style and great driving brushwork from Ginger. A high-energy performance of a Muddy Waters’ classic.

I’m So Glad (Skip James)

Eric – lead & solo guitar, harmony vocals; Jack – bass, lead vocals; Ginger - drums

A fine arrangement of a song by a contemporary of Robert Johnson. The finger style lead guitar entry is superb but it is the last we hear of it until the reentry. An unexpected emphasis on vocals at the bridge is redeemed by the stop, pause and restart device. The $US6,000 of royalties was of some assistance to Skip James until his death in 1969. Unfortunately his blues talent remains unrecognised in comparison to Robert Johnson.

Toad (Peter Baker)

Eric – lead guitar; Jack – bass; Ginger - drums

Unashamedly Ginger’s showpiece but it does have a good riff. With maximum miking and multi-tracking, especially of the double bass drums, the sound is very good. A coherent drums solo that remains unequalled in Rock Music. It influenced many contemporaries and innumerable budding drummers.

The Coffee Song (Tony Colton/Ray Smith) Note: not on original vinyl release

Eric – lead & solo guitar, harmony vocals; Jack – bass, lead vocals; Ginger - drums

Ginger’s tom tom runs underlay a basically vocals song. The lead fills are effective because of the use of channel swapping in the mix.  It isn’t an addition of any significance except that the production is at least reasonable.

Wrapping Paper (Jack Bruce/Pete Brown) Note: not on original vinyl release

Eric – lead & solo guitar, harmony vocals; Jack – piano, bass, lead & harmony vocals, double bass; Ginger – drums, harmony vocals

This first single did not fit the market image of Cream. It is pop song built around the piano accompanying Jack’s vocals instead of guitar and vocals from Eric on a blues song. The overdubbed solo at the bridge of duet arco double bass and electric guitar is undoubtedly unique in pop/rock music, and probably anywhere else. It was the first fruit of Jack’s and Pete’s long lived collaboration and a portent of things to come.

The Sessions
An Appreciation

Updated 17th Jan 1999

1999 by Graeme Pattingale