Live At the
I saw Cream at age 15, at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia on April 19th, on a Friday night in 1968. I can safely tell you that even now, almost 30 years later to the date, I will never forget the awesome power and thrilling musical high of that performance. My brother and I (both guitarists)sat approximately 12-15 feet in front of Clapton and his Marshall stack with the Marshall and Fender Dual Showman heads (carefully noted by us). Clapton came on stage donning an ominous looking black buckskin jacket, black leather trousers, sun glasses, and ponytail hair style. He was holding his famous painted Gibson, Les Paul SG standard which glowed brightly in front of us, especially when multi-colored lights hit it. At that time, the only Cream records out were Fresh Cream and Disraeli Gears. We also had a mono copy of Clapton's famous Bluesbreakers album. However,we had no clue as to how he (and the band) were going to sound live.
I'll NEVER forget when they launched into 'Rollin & Tumblin', with Clapton playing at only a moderate volume level and pretty much sounding (to my recollection) like the version on Live Cream LP. The next song was the beginning of a new awakening for me and probably a generation(s) of guitarists. He then cranked his guitar volume all the way up, and started 'Sunshine of your Love'. My reaction was one of shock, first of all just hearing a guitar that massive and loud to the extent of almost vibrating your spinal column! When he hit the first chords of the refrain "I've been waiting so long..." the thundering power chords were devastating along with Bruces monstrous bass, but you couldn't hear Baker very easily but we didn't care! When Clapton premiered the first solo of the night, his notes absolutely resonated through your entire body and when he hit those high register notes, they had a sound that has never been reproduced by any record or studio recording. They soared high in the air, and when he would bend a high note, it felt as if you were flying it was so intense. His notes were extremely loud yet rich and thick so as not to be shrill.
He went on to play one stunning solo after another, next doing 'NSU', then an unbelievable 'Sitting on Top of the World', which we had never heard not knowing it was to be part of their next album, but was so powerful, we easily recognized it when Wheels of Fire came out. On 'Sitting on Top of the World', Clapton reached incredible heights of excitement, with a devastating high register solo mixing unbelievable high bending notes with perfect finger vibrato's and blazing speed, bringing architectural perfection to a climactic final rush! We were in ecstasy, witnessing a guitar sound unlike anything we had ever heard and far surpassing anything Clapton had done so far on record.
Next he ended the night with a special treat we never expected......'Stepping Out'. I remember, when he started this song, he removed his Buckskin Jacket, and rolled up his sleeves, so we knew something big was on it's way. On this tune, (which we knew from the Bluesbreaker record) Clapton surpassed anything I have ever yet to hear him do to date. He weaved and burned our heads with a white hot 40 minute plus solo on that tune. At least 30 minuets of it featured him alone with Baker providing muted background drumming. I don't know how loud he was at other venues (with Cream) but during our performance he was incredibly loud, however the type of volume that is exhilarating and breathtaking like being lifted off on the space shuttle.
After 'Stepping Out', Clapton sat down and Bruce started 'Traintime'. At that point, my older brother felt Clapton had given his all, so since he was unlikely to play anymore, we left. I heard from friends that stayed on, that they finished up with 'Toad', so it looks like my brother was right.
Subsequently I saw Clapton (also at the small more intimate setting of the Electric Factory) with Bonnie & Delany and Friends than a year later with Derek and the Dominoes ( my friends and I sat right UNDER Clapton about one foot below the edge of the stage). But as great as he was with the Dominoes that night (even though he played the lousy Stratocaster) he couldn't even come close to the majestic power of the Cream performance with the magnificent roaring, raw energy tone exploding from that Gibson-Marshall stack combo. I also saw him with Blind Faith, but at the Spectrum sports arena with an awfull revolving stage. He used the Gibson ES-335 with one Fender dual showman amp and speaker cabinet. You could hardly hear him, and the only exciting thing I remember were snippets of a fiery solo on the Blues tune 'Sleeping on the Ground', which was not released on the LP.
Review and photographs © copyright 1998 by Jeffrey M. Aarons
Live in Detroit Oct '68
The Fender Dual Showman Head is on the right stack