Live 1970 (DVD) by Air Force

January 1, 2011

Ginger Baker’s legacy as one of the signature drummers of the rock era is secure. His time with Cream and Blind Faith elevated him to the top of the drumming fraternity. He was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame with his Cream bandmates, Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce at the 1993 induction ceremony.

When Blind Faith dissolved, his first project would be the formation of Air Force. Their first self titled album was a double vinyl, live affair. Steve Winwood, Ric Grech, Denny Laine, Graham Bond, Chris Wood, and a backing brass and vocal section would all be on stage. It would fuse rock, jazz, and African rhythms together into an interesting and creative mix. Their second studio album, minus Winwood and Laine, would be a more mundane affair and shortly afterward Air Force would be gone.

Live 1970 catches the band near the end of their career. They was in Europe to be recorded for German television. They were live in the studio but without an audience. They recorded 51 minutes worth of music which was severely edited for the October 20, 1970 broadcast. The full concert has rarely been seen but now returns in its entirety in DVD form. Live Air Force material is extremely rare so this is a welcome addition to the group’s and Baker’s catalogue.

This was third and final incarnation of the band. Joining Baker are vocalist/organist/saxophonist Graham Bond, keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Ken Craddock, sax/flutist Steve Gregory, sax player Bud Beadle, bassist Colin Gibson, vocalists Aliki Ashman & Diane Stewart, and conga player Speedy Acquaye.

The performance is heavy on the jazz. It is the brass that really drives the sound; for example the saxophones play Clapton’s guitar parts on the classic “Sunshine Of Your Love.”

Almost half of the concert was taken up with the long and sprawling “Early In The Morning/Sunshine Of Your Love” medley which clocks in at just less than 22 minutes. All the musicians step forward to take a solo.

The last four tracks are more of the same. They record another version of “Sunshine Of Your Love,” which was very similar to the one contained in their medley. The backing vocals by Ashman and Stewart serve to connect the different parts of the songs.

The real treat is the appearance of Graham Bond. He was one of the early important figures of British rhythm & blues. His Graham Bond Organization was one of the early proponents of a blues/rock fusion and would be a training ground for Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. Here, he was nearing the end of his life as he would pass away during May of 1974. His vocals and particularly his sax work present why he was an important, if often forgotten figure, in the development of The British blues.

Live 1970 may not be earth shattering but presents Ginger Baker back in his jazz comfort zone. Baker would relocate to South Africa and continue to emerge in various bands as the years passed. Air Force remains one of his better creations.

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Goodbye by Cream

October 1, 2009

As Groucho Marx once said, “Hello, I must be going.”

After only three studio albums, Cream decided to break up. The tension between Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce continued to fester until it became unbearable. Eric Clapton has had a history of not remaining in groups for very long but this time he tried to save the band. He even talked to Steve Winwood about becoming a member but little came of it and so in late 1968 they embarked upon their farewell tour.

Goodbye was released in March of 1969 after everyone had gone their separate ways. It consisted of three studio tracks—one written or co-written by each member—plus three live performances. It proved tremendously popular as it reached number two on the Billboard album charts in the United States while becoming the band’s only album to reach number one in their home country.

The quality falls short of their first three studio releases, especially Disraeli Gears and Wheels Of Fire. Still, even average Cream was better than most of what was being issued at the time.

The three live tracks are actually superior to their original studio versions. “I’m So Glad” is nine minutes of Cream at its best and Clapton’s solos on this one in particular should be required listening. “Politician” is a guitar jam that makes you forget about the political content of the lyrics. “Sitting On Top Of The World” finds a bluesy Cream and Clapton’s work, especially at the beginning, is classic.

“Badge” is the best of the studio tracks and equal to a lot of their previous songs. Co-authored by Clapton and George Harrison—who played guitar and provided backing vocals under an assumed name—it sounds different from a lot of their work as it’s more melodic and tightly structured. Bruce’s “Doing That Scrapyard Thing” and Baker’s jazzy “What A Bringdown,” however, lack any surprises and find the guys just going through the motions.

Cream’s decision to go out with a bang after such a short career has added to the group’s mystique. Clapton would quickly land in yet another very short-lived supergroup, but Goodbye remains a credible (if not spectacular) swan song.

Wheels Of Fire by Cream

October 1, 2009

I have fluctuated over the years as to whether Disraeli Gears or Wheels Of Fire is the better album. In the final analysis the point is moot as both are sixties rock/blues at their most creative and remain two of the best albums in rock history.

Wheels Of Fire may not be as cohesive as their first two studio albums but the parts have an individual brilliance. The combining of a studio and live disc on the original 1968 vinyl release catches Cream at their best in both environments. Fans would embrace the album as it would reach number one in The United States. It would also be the first double album to claim platinum status.

“White Room” stands as one of the classic songs of the psychedelic rock era and is rightfully included on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Clapton’s wah wah sound and distortion, all within the song’s structure, are worth the price of admission alone. When you add Bruce’s bass lines and vocals plus Bakers drumming you have all the elements of a superior rock song.

“Sitting On Top Of The World” is a traditional blues tune that has been recorded by probably hundreds of artists from many traditions including Howlin’ Wolf, Bill Monroe, Carl Perkins, Doc Watson, Chet Atkins, and Bob Dylan. Cream remains loyal to the original but does include some unique improvisation. “Politician” is topical and cynical as it attacks the elected officials of the day. “Born Under A Bad Sign” is a showcase for Clapton’s clear guitar sound. “Pressed Rat and Warthog,” written and narrated by Baker, is mostly tongue in cheek and well done. “Deserted Cities Of The Heart” is a mellow ballad that brings the studio section to a nice conclusion.

The live disc, recorded during their 1968 American tour, presents a totally different side of Cream. The time constraints of the studio are absent and the group is allowed to stretch their sound. Cream live was an improvisational band and here they lengthen four songs past the forty minute mark. “Crossroads,” a faster version than the Robert Johnson original, includes some of the best guitar playing of Clapton’s career which is saying a lot. “Spoonful” is Cream’s sixteen minute improvisational opus. “Traintime” contains Jack Bruce’s classic blues harp solo. “Toad” is Ginger Baker at his frenetic best as his drum solo spreads out over thirteen minutes.

Wheels Of Fire is an album that has withstood the test of time. It remains one of the essential rock albums and should be required listening.

Disraeli Gears by Cream

October 1, 2009

Cream’s debut album, Fresh Cream, was a creative fusion of rock and blues that gained the band a worldwide following. A year later “Sunshine Of Your Love” blasted from speakers all over the world and their popularity would ascend into the stratosphere. They would quickly become one of the best known and most popular bands in rock history.

Disraeli Gears, released in early December of 1967, would move the band in a psychedelic rock direction and fit the music of the late sixties perfectly. It would be their break through release in The United States as it sold millions of copies.

The albums cover art, created by Australian Martin Sharp who also co-wrote “Tales Of Brave Ulysses,” is some of the best ever produced. It is the main reason that for me vinyl LP’s, at least visually, remain superior to CD’s.

The name of the album is another matter. Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker were discussing a racing bicycle when one of their roadies commented that it has “Disraeli Gears” when the correct term was derailleur gears. Clapton and Baker thought it was so funny they used it as the title for this album.

Four of the five songs on side one of the original release are just about perfect psychedelic rock. “Strange Brew” has odd harmonies and Albert King type riffs by Clapton. “Sunshine Of Your Love,” which was a hugely successful single, remains one of the classic rock tunes of the psychedelic era. The opening riffs, the tone of the sound, and a signature solo make it one of Clapton’s must hear performances. “World Of Pain” has some guitar-bass interplay by Clapton and Bruce that is some of the best ever created inside a power trio. “Dance The Night Away,” complete with lyrical metaphors, matches the best of what was being released at the time. “The only miss was “Blues Condition” which was written and unfortunately sung by Ginger Baker. Nothing bad but after the first four tracks it was a bit of a let down.

Side two of the original release started out very strong. “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” finds Clapton using a wah-wah guitar sound for the first time. I have always liked the hard rock sound of “SWLABR.” It was short for “She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow.” It is a direction I wish they could have explored a lot more.

The traditional blues tune, “Outside Woman Blues,” by Blind Joe Reynolds returned the group to their early blues fusion sound. “Take It Back” is the Jack Bruce show as he wrote the song, provided the lead vocal, and contributes some hot harmonica playing.

Disraeli Gears is a five star album in every respect. It is one of the signature releases in rock history as it catches Cream at the height of their powers. It is essential listening for any fan of rock ‘n’ roll.

Fresh Cream by Cream

September 29, 2009

Eric Clapton had a busy three plus years. He had joined The Yardbirds and left. He had joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and left and come back and left again. I’m not sure what he had in mind when he left Mayall, for the last time but his next project would become one of the legendary rock groups in music history.

Cream may not have originated the term supergroup but they certainly fit the bill. Jack Bruce of Manfred Mann, The Bluesbreakers, and The Graham Bond Organization and Ginger Baker also of The Graham Bond Organization joined Clapton. Individually they were not very well known in The United States, but in their native England there was a lot of publicity attached to their union. Within a year they were one of the most popular bands in the world.

Fresh Cream is not my favorite Cream album. But having said that it is still very good and one of the more creative debuts in rock history. It lacked cohesiveness, yet all the elements of Cream at their best were present. It served as a fine jumping off point for what was to come.

“I Feel Free,” which was the lead track on the original American vinyl release, is one of my five favorite Cream songs, yet is still different from the sound for which they would become famous. The a capella beginning and its melodic nature make it fairly unique within their catalog. It is straight forward psychedelic rock with some pop leanings. “N.S.U.” is somewhat similar but it features some short jams, particularly by Clapton.

There are a number of old blues covers that set the table for Disraeli Gears and Wheels Of Fire. “I’m So Glad” may have repetitive lyrics but Bruce, Baker, and Clapton meld together well. “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” is the old traditional Muddy Waters tune that is given a percussion driven treatment. “Four Until Late” may be short, but Bruce’s harmonica and Clapton’s guitar fuse together in ways that were cutting edge at the time. “Cat’s Squirrel” finds a relaxed Cream with Clapton providing short bursts of brilliance.

That brings us to “Toad.” After a short guitar intro, Ginger Baker embarks on one of the first extended drum solos on rock history. He would become famous for his manic playing and these solos would become a permanent part of Cream’s live act.

Fresh Cream was the first step on a short but brilliant journey for Eric Clapton and Cream. It was a journey that would bring Clapton lasting fame and lead to Cream’s induction into The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

I Feel Free 45 by Cream

July 9, 2009

“I Feel Free” was the first single released by Cream and also the first track on the debut album in The United States. It would be a big hit in England but would not be commercially successful in The USA.

I did not know what to make of it when I heard it for the first time. Little did I realize that it would not be representative of what would follow for Cream or that it was the first release by one of the more influential groups in rock history.

“I Feel Free” is really mainstream rock and a little catchy to boot. Eric Clapton does provide some tasty short guitar solos which would look ahead to his inprovisational work with the group.

This single is still an interesting listen as it is a relic of a group that would eventially sell millions of albums and singles plus840j end up in The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.