If you haven’t heard of Cream before, you must live under a bloody rock. Although short-lived, the trio went on to write countless hits from “Sunshine Of Your Love” to “White Room” and perform the renowned blues cover “Crossroads,” originally by Robert Johnson. Moreover, The Cream’s third album, Wheels Of Fire, was the first LP to reach double-platinum status in 1968, shortly before their disband.
Sitting in a white room, backstage of Wall Street Theatre, we waited. Classic blues, the heart to rock n’ roll, turned in the background as if being scratched on an old Victrola. The bare walls left the mind open to get lost, solely in the music and a conversation-to-come. Will Johns, nephew of Eric Clapton, strolled in wearing black hoodie and tie-dye scarf, blending in with typical production-crew-attire. In fact, Will’s father Andy Johns was a seasoned engineer working with The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and, of course, all three Cream members’ solo releases. Humbling, for someone of such colourful lineage.
“I was practically born in the recording studio,” said Johns. “My earliest memories were of a multitude of little lights, the smell you get, of electricity and musical equipment. It’s a particular smell.” His London accent emphasised the details, little lights and smell, drawing to precise memories or tangible things. Having people around that were creative from day one overstimulated Johns with endless musical possibility. And then you’d have your normal life. After a split-second debate, Johns lands on “Shit or Shinola,” brightly. “You sort of go towards the light,” now smiling ear to ear.
Johns continued to recount his earliest musical memories, a story he would tell to the audience with his immense wit. “I started hitting on the drums, first of all. I used to go to Uncle Eric’s house; he had a studio and a drum kit set up. I used to smash on it,” again his accent broke through. “One morning he was like: hmmm, maybe you should play a different instrument.” May it be Clapton’s musical genius or fate, simply put, guitar was in Will’s DNA.
“People get a kick out of hearing that one note for note, and I know that I get a kick out of playing it, right.”Will Johns, On “Crossroads”
After his Uncle Eric tangent, Johns told the crowd how he just really wanted to play “Crossroads.” Johns fumbled over each note, learning them in real time, sucking us back when he was six years old. He would lean in and out stretching his thoughts into a literal expression along with the neck of his guitar. As the iconic riff became audible, the crowd roared. Johns energy built with each increasing BPM.
Musical spawn of Cream’s bassist, Malcolm Bruce enters backstage and sits alongside his brother, facing my father. His forefinger was beyond blistered from the furious bass-playing from the night before, kicking off the tour, also marking his birthday. He was as witty as his partner-in-crime, clever, and sophisticated in far more than music. The energy in the room was towering and their sinergy was overwhelming. Mind you, Kofi Baker, son of the infamous drummer, would make is first appearance on stage. The record played on.
Charles DeFilippo: You guys were born into this rich culture of music and…
MB: RICH! (pauses) Or rich, creatively?
Before the chance to complete the sentence, asking about his first sparks of musical inspiration as a child, considering, Will chimes in, digging into the ‘CH’ and chuckling.
WJ: Yeah! We haven’t seen any, RICH, yet ourselves.
Malcolm leads, “I hear a lot of music,” BUT I DON’T SEE NO MONEY, they completed in unison.
Not only is music of a way of communication, but also of self expression. Combine this with a musically supercharged childhood, raised by industry legends and tied with a unbreakable bond of brotherhood. It was baffling to witness firsthand. It was so strong in that moment. The sum of two persons, finishing each other’s sentences, quite literally, on and off stage.
“We weren’t running in the same circles until our late teens, early twenties. Having said that. Will’s dad and my dad were best buddies for quite a long time,” said Malcolm. Will confirmed.
WJ: Malcolm’s dad was actually the best man, at my Mum and Dad’s wedding.
MB: They were dear, dear friends.
“You don’t always think about what you have, do you? Whoever you are. There’s a perception of rockstars and their kids, a fascination with that stuff as a culture, but maybe we see it more of being a musician. That’s where my dad came from, his idea wasn’t to be a rockstar, he was a working class Scottish man who wanted to be a jazz musician, or play in a blues band. So the very early 60’s when he started out was a different thing…where everything flowered and changed.”Malcolm Bruce
In the midst of his breath, “Farewell Daddy Blues” turned in the background.
” I think it is amazing what my dad achieved as a writer and a performer. I am kind-of going my own way. This is just a great way to honour this amazing tradition. We just happen to be apart of that. Will came and jammed with my dad [back in the day], so it is all very natural for us.”
“[The music of Cream was] addressing anything from experimenting with drugs to baby boomer generations, before that, people were expected to live a certain way. There was that little window of opportunity for people to stand as equals with the middle classes, or whatever. We were born into that, but whether we saw ourselves as special or not, I don’t know. It was just what we knew,” Said Bruce.
On stage Malcolm and Will interject notes in between one another, copying syncopation and challenging each others’ melodies. Both of which fell in and far outside the worlds of Cream. Kofi’s whimsical speech about “now it’s time to take a break and go to the bathroom,” before a thunderstorm of a solo, only reeled the audience deeper into the second generation trio. Cream became a byproduct of this beautiful tradition, of musicians simply playing music.
“I wouldn’t say it has been smooth sailing. The original guys, our parents, our uncle, were ya know (snaps) – like that,” said Malcolm. That created an energy about the music. “With my dad and Ginger, they had a lot of history before Cream, had been in bands and thrown knives at each other on stage. In a similar way, without the knives, we have a certain freneticism between us. We are all quite strong personalities.”
“We all have thoughts… and feelings…,” said Will, cutting Malcolm’s words with a blade-sharp precision, as if they were his own.
Will’s counterpart continued. “For this kind of music, improvised rock, it’s a really good energy to have. You don’t want to make it too easy. The willingness to make mistakes. The willingness to put yourself out on the fringes of, beyond safety. That is part of the uniqueness, you get into the moment and see what happens.”
The guitarist weighs in. “It makes the music real, which I hate to say, is so rare these days. The motivation, and the actual, attack of the string, right down to every single note, is, very, important. What we’re doing is the old way,” said Johns. “It’s real music. It’s musicians playing with each other. It’s an equal footing. And like Malcolm says: A willingness to go there. Wherever there ends up. To listen and react, without control.”
After Kofi’s solo, Will was mickey-moucing to the resonance of each drum stroke, re-entering from behind the black curtains. Even on deaf-ears the music was heard in each exuberant motion. Their harmonies belted together as Kofi roared up and down the toms, as his father did in the 2005 live recording at Royal Albert Hall in London.
“We are not a tribute act,” said Malcom. “The overarching feeling is to take the music and play it, adopting it as our own. It is silly to be them. Who would want to be them anyway,” chuckling.
Johns will allude to exact Cream parts such as the “Crossroads,” solo, being hailed as one of the greatest guitar solos of all time. “People get a kick out of hearing that one note for note, and I know that I get a kick out of playing it, right.”
Fifty years from when the original Cream were around until now, nothing has really changed. It is so breathtaking to witness the lineage, not in tribute, but to commemorate the pivotal anchor of rock music and all that it stood for in the 1960’s. The Music Of Cream: 50th Anniversary World Tour is perfect for the non-Cream fan because what’s not to love about real music, and the digging edgy-blues of “Spoonful.”
Malcolm Bruce and Will Johns are deep into their own musical journeys, bioth with upcoming albums on the way. Furthermore, Bruce is half-way-funded to a full on London Opera production. Although it’s hard to beat Cream. Catch the The Music Of Cream as the second-generation trio carries on for the last leg of their tour with repeating dates across Florida and Texas, New Orleans and Nashville. Be sure to stay up to date with Kofi, Malcolm and Will on their solo endeavours.
All photos taken by NYS Photographer, Mickey Dehener Friday, March 29 in New York at Tarrytown Music Hall