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Rock guitarist Eric Clapton pursues his musical wheels of fire

Published : Jul 30, 2018, 12:54 am IST
Updated : Jul 30, 2018, 12:54 am IST

Drummer Ginger Baker co-wrote three songs for the album with pianist Mike Taylor.

Eric Clapton
 Eric Clapton

For any rock music aficionado tracing the history of popular music, precisely 50 years ago, 1968 was indeed a landmark. There were an immense number of outstanding albums released in that eventful year, including debut albums by Jethro Tull, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Fleetwood Mac, to name just a few.

Adding to the list were albums that are now considered as classics; as examples - “Music From Big Pink” (The Band), “Astral Weeks” (Van Morrison), “Beggars Banquet” (Rolling Stones), “A Saucerful Of Secrets” (Pink Floyd), and “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”  (Iron Butterfly), but the one for me really was “Wheels Of Fire”, the third studio album by British rock band Cream.

It was released in July 1968 as a two-disc vinyl with one disc recorded in the studio and, the other, recorded live, eventually becoming recorded music history's first platinum-selling double album. With each member — drummer Ginger Baker, bassist Jack Bruce, and guitarist Eric Clapton - being heavy weights of their respective instruments, as well as having gained fame through their previous stints with established bands/players, led to an obvious and constant power struggle between the trio, resulting in a series of disparate tracks and, if not for the common thread in Clapton (who I have been fortunate to see performing live twice, first in 2007 and, again, in 2011), 'Wheels Of Fire' would have certainly fallen short. Just listen to Clapton's distinctive solos on the live tracks or his manic and, yet, paradoxically controlled guitaring on White Room. Nevertheless, there are several other memorable tracks too, such as:  As You Said, Deserted Cities Of The Heart, and Politician, all of which are, for me, among Cream's very best work.

Cream with member Eric Clapton.Cream with member Eric Clapton.

Drummer Ginger Baker co-wrote three songs for the album with pianist Mike Taylor. However, it is the architect of "White Room", bassist Jack Bruce, along with collaborator Peter Brown, who reaches a peak as a songwriter as he scores four songs on the double album, whereas guitarist Eric Clapton contributed by choosing two cover songs on vinyl discs 3 and 4, respectively — both recorded live — including Robert Johnson's “Crossroads” and Willie Dixon's “Spoonful”, the latter originally recorded in the early '60s by Howlin' Wolf and, a year later, by Etta James.

“Wheels Of Fire” is certainly filled with superior work from Cream, capturing the faith and fury of a band that was living or — dependent on your perspective — just surviving for the moment but, fortunately, the legacy of Cream lives on with Eric Clapton as bassist Jack Bruce passed away on October 25, 2014 and drummer Ginger Baker appears to have taken a sabbatical from music after undergoing an open heart surgery sometime in 2016.

Cover of the album Wheels of Fire.Cover of the album Wheels of Fire.

Although announcing that he is no longer going to be touring, Clapton has fortunately not eliminated live performances altogether and, so it was on July 8, when the musician returned on stage as he headlined the day's star-studded line-up at London's Hyde Park, for which several Indians known to me travelled the distance for the historic event and they were certainly not disappointed with Clapton running through a 15-song set with a tight backing band. Support acts included Carlos Santana and Steve Winwood, the latter with whom Clapton famously shared the same stage as a member of a band known as Blind Faith on June 7, 1969.

Meanwhile, returning to the sounds of Cream, there is a tribute band calling themselves the 'Music Of Cream' and, while neither surviving Cream members Eric Clapton nor Ginger Baker are involved, nevertheless, it is fair to say that the musicians involved on this trip to nostalgia have legitimate stakes to use the name of “Cream”. The trio involved are not only all accomplished musicians in their own right, but feature Clapton's nephew Will Johns, who is also the son of legendary recording engineer and producer Andy Johns, Bruce's son Malcolm, and Baker's son Kofi, performing together as the 'Music Of Cream'. The band have announced an ambitious North American tour in September, followed by England in November, coinciding with the anniversary of the original band's November 26, 1968 farewell concert at London's Royal Albert Hall. During the performances, images of their fathers and mentors will appear on a giant screen, along with never-before-seen footage and photos. So if you are a rock fan, but you have still have not indulged yourself in the sounds of one of the world's great classic bands, it is time for you to take stock of some fresh Cream!

The writer has been part of media and entertainment business for over 23 years. He continues to pursue his hobby and earns an income out of it.

Tags: rock music, music from big pink, eric clapton