Cream: The BBC Sessions
Some fit of nostalgia possessed me to pick up the album “Cream: The BBC Sessions.” These live, in-studio performances are all pretty tightly crafted, yet raucous, sticking generally to the length of their studio work—unlike the 10+ minute excursions they sometimes fell into. Its great to hear any new material of this quality after all these decades.
The liner notes point out that because of copyright restrictions the BBC wasn’t allowed to play album tracks and so got around this by having groups perform the songs for later broadcast. The album collects several such sets from 1966 through 1968, covering mostly material from “Fresh Cream” and “Disraeli Gears”, so you can sense their move from power blues into psychedelia.
There’s a really early take of “Crossroads” from 1966, before “Fresh Cream” had even been released. It’s a great rough version, not yet the tour de force Clapton famously put on display on the live portion of “Wheels of Fire”. He really opens up on a few tracks such as “Outside Women Blues” and “SWLABR”. The notes also mention a missing version of “Spoonful” from these sessions which is a real shame; I’ve always thought the solo work Clapton did on the studio version was way ahead of its time. I found this nice analysis:
Fresh Cream’s ‘Spoonful’ revealed his mastery of and ease with the quick release, which is heard at the climax point of the ‘Spoonful solo’. Here he creates anticipatory tension with the hanging second string stretch vibrato (E note) on the 15th fret and then rips into a fast minor modal riff that leads the listener back into a series of lashing bends and sharply picked notes, using hammer-ons and other finger tonalities, while slowly descending and tapering off to the close. This type of solo is masterful in its construction, execution, emotional intensity and attack.
This bit of video captures Clapton, Bruce and Baker at their peak, performing a blistering version of “Crossroads”:
Cream at the Royal Albert Hall, November 26th, 1968.
It always amazes me when I stop and realize that Clapton was barely 20 years old when these earliest recordings where made, and was not yet 23 when he set down his definitive solo at the Winterland Ballroom in March of 1968.