October 26, 2018
Cream bubbled to the surface of the rock world as if from a nuclear reactor in the winter of 1966.
American blues, rock and pop sensibilities clashed in the form of a three-man English band. Rapturous fission and superstardom resulted.
Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce no longer tour as Cream. However, their kinfolk do. Offspring of the rock legends bring Music of Cream: 50th Anniversary World Tour to the Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol, Tennessee on Sunday.
“I get a kick out of playing ‘Crossroads’ note for note,” said guitarist Will Johns, nephew by marriage of Eric Clapton. “Sometimes I’ll play a lick that Eric played and go, ‘man, oh man!’ It’s incredible.”
Joining Johns as the band outfitted to play the music of Cream include Ginger Baker’s son Kofi Baker on drums and Jack Bruce’s son Malcolm Bruce on bass guitar. As with their famous ancestors, they’re all Englishmen. Each grew up in the familial shadow and presence of rock ‘n’ roll royalty.
For instance, in addition to Clapton being his uncle through marriage, Johns can also call the late George Harrison an uncle. Furthermore, his father, the late Andy Johns engineered nearly all of Led Zeppelin’s albums as well as several by the Rolling Stones.
“It’s been a crazy life for me, absolutely bat(stuff) crazy,” Johns said by phone from Richfield, Connecticut. “You couldn’t make it up. And it’s ongoing and sure to keep getting better and better and better.”
Take the times when Clapton drove to pick up Johns from school he was a kid.
“Sometimes he would come pick me up in his red Ferrari,” Johns said. “Like, see ya, guys! I was off in a bright red sports car with a rock star. I used to get a kick out of that.”
Clapton taught Johns how to fish. It’s a passion they shared then and now. Then came the guitar, rarefied skills from which earned Clapton the nickname of “God.”
“Eric was so encouraging,” Johns said. “We did a little concert when I was in school, and he sent me a Marshall stack (of amplifiers) to play through.”
Given that Johns will play Clapton’s guitar parts during the Cream show in Bristol, it’s a good thing he learned the songs decades ago. Attendees will hear such face-melters as “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room.”
“When I first started guitar, I asked Eric to show me the opening riff of ‘Crossroads,’” Johns said. “I learned that and went back to him, asked him to show me more. He said that’s what you need to find out for yourself. I taught myself. Trial and error.”
A flaming meteor, Cream split the sky as leaders during the apex of rock’s hard psychedelic scene in 1967. Songs including “Tales of Brave Ulysses” and “Sunshine of Your Love” coincided with Jimi Hendrix’ meteoric rise to form a revolution in rock.
“Every guitarist should have ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ in their tool belt,” Johns said. “The show is definitely challenging. We’re definitely not trying to copy their music note for note. Every night there are opportunities for improvisation.”
In their eclipsed history, Cream improvised, too. Alas, they folded in 1968. Generations passed by, and just as fans had given up hope, Cream regrouped in 2005 for concerts in London and New York.
Jack Bruce died in 2014, thereby ending whatever chance there was for another reunion of Cream. Enter their offspring. Presenting the music of Cream, stirred and stirring as a piping hot re-ignition of rock’s hard psychedelic beginnings, they summon the acid rock-drenched days of yore like mad scientists welcomed home.
“I’ve been surrounded by (rock and the music of Cream) from day one,” Johns said. “It’s always been like home. It just permeated. I’ve had challenges to overcome. I’m really lucky.”