The Music Of Cream is a family affair: just don't call it a tribute act

The Music of Cream
The Music of Cream (Image credit: Jimmy Laban)

“This is not a tribute band,” says Kofi Baker, son of Cream legend Ginger. “I think we push it further than it’s ever gone before.”

It’s an unusual proposition. Baker has joined forces with Jack Bruce’s son Malcolm and Eric Clapton’s nephew Will Johns (son of Led Zeppelin engineer Andy Johns) to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Cream. With a series of dates lined up in Australia and New Zealand lined up (dates below), the trio will be joined onstage by former Deep Purple bassist/singer Glenn Hughes and legendary guitarist Robben Ford. All of which suggests those those hoping to hear precise replicas of White Room and Sunshine Of Your Love are going to be severely disappointed.

“We are absolutely not interested in playing it note for note, mimicking what has already been done,” says Bruce. “There are tribute acts that can do this already, but I think that misses the point of what this music was about in the first place. As my Dad said on more than one occasion, Cream were a Jazz band… it’s just they didn’t tell Eric!”

So who better to explore Cream’s music further than a group who share the same DNA? “There are a whole lot of genetic neural pathways!,” says Johns. “It’s kind of hard to explain, but there is a timeless synergy. Its all further adventure for me anyway, but one thing I do recreate faithfully (sometimes) is Eric’s solo on Crossroads. People get a kick out of that one.”

All three musicians have pedigree: Baker first played alongside his father when he was six, and has performed with Jack Bruce, Tom Jones, Steve Marriott and on the Extreme Guitar Tour with Uli Jon Roth, Vinny Appice and Vinnie Moore. Meanwhile, Bruce has worked with Eric Clapton, Little Richard, Elton John and Dr John, and Johns has played with Jack Bruce, Joe Strummer, Ronnie Wood and Bill Wyman (he’s also the nephew of George Harrison and Mick Fleetwood: the Venn diagram is pretty complicated).

How did the project come together?

Malcolm Bruce: We’ve played the music of Cream together in various situations over the years, both in the UK and the USA, so it made a lot of sense for us to put this together when the opportunity arose to tour on a proper level over in New Zealand and Australia. And now we have Glenn Hughes and Robben Ford onboard it’s made it even more of an exciting proposition!

What can “family” bring to the project that other musicians can’t?

Kofi Baker: Obviously we grew up with our parents so we got to experience exactly how they thought and had real insight into how they created with the music, how they approached it. Nobody else has this very powerful connect.

Malcom Bruce: Well, in this case it’s partly nature, partly nurture. It’s definitely in the genes, and the sheer fact that we grew up learning, working and interacting with the original members of Cream gives us a particular sensitivity and insight into the music and how it should be approached.

What do Ginger and Eric make of this?

Malcolm Bruce: I think Ginger by all accounts is fully supportive. I asked him along to the tribute show that I organised with Pete Brown (Cream lyricist) last October at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, ‘An Evening For Jack’ (which included an all star cast of legendary musicians including Lulu, Mick Taylor, Steve Hackett, and many more). He came onstage and said some kind words about my Dad (Jack Bruce) and then played for a few minutes. I respect him for doing that and it feels like he’s got our back. We almost had him along for the tour in May down under which would have been amazing, but he’s still recovering from major heart surgery so it’s a little too much for him right now. I’m not sure about Eric, maybe one of us should ask him!

Do you think what you’re doing offers a template for other bands who wish to keep their legacy going?

Will Johns: If we can offer any hope by way of example, that could only be a good thing. Passion and dedication, as always, are key.

Malcom Bruce: The business of music is changing greatly, so this is a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness of each of us as musicians while bringing a tried and tested catalogue of incredible music to the fans. Cream, and of course other iconic bands, were so influential at a time in the industry when there was truly groundbreaking music being created, and in a way it is a responsibility to keep that legacy going, for us as well as the kids of other important acts from the past. It is music that was created in the popular genre by real musicians who could play as opposed to something manufactured or contrived, so in that sense it is a vital force and important to respect and preserve.

Kofi Baker: That’s what needs to be brought back to the music of today… actually playing songs differently each time and improvising and creating new music on stage every night.

The Music Of Cream

The Music Of Cream (Image credit: Jimmy Laban)

What do you say to those who are dismissive of “tribute” acts?

Will Johns: When I think of a tribute acts I think bands where the musicians dress up like the stars themselves, and try to play the songs in exactly the same way every show. I don’t think we fall into that category. The nature of the music is improvisational and different every night.

Kofi Baker: I dislike them too. It’s great to cover a song, but play it your own way and put your own spin on it.

Malcolm Bruce: This is not a ‘tribute’ act per se. Personally I’m not really into that genre myself. However, a specific tribute to something is a different approach, a bit like playing a chamber piece by Mozart; it is a tradition within a historical context. If it is done with the requisite respect I’m all for it. I’m kind of contradicting myself as I’m sure that is ultimately what all tribute acts attempt to do. (Funny side note, last time I played a show at The Cutting Room in NYC, the owner told me that the night before he had a top U2 tribute act performing, and the members of U2 themselves turned up and sat in. Sat in with their own tribute band. That would have been fun to witness).

Will you be bringing the show to the UK?

Kofi Baker: I hope so. I love playing with Malcolm and Will, and having Glen Hughes and Robben Ford involved is just icing on the cake . There’s lots of interest and scope for other musicians to guest with us as we take this project around the world.

Malcom Bruce: We’ve played a few shows over the last few years on a smaller scale, for instance we played a show at the 100 Club in London two or three years ago, but it would be fun to bring this over on a major theatre tour and bring it to all the fans who love the band.

Are there any plans to record original material?

Malcolm Bruce: Yes, we’ve been talking about that. Actually one idea is to make a record called Half and Half, which would consist of half Cream songs and half original material within a similar style to Cream. We are starting to work on material and should have something ready soon.

The Music Of Cream: 50th Anniversary Tour

May 23: Hamer Hall, Melbourne , AU
May 25: State Theatre, Sydney, AU
May 26: Concert Hall, Perth, AU
May 29: QPAC Concert Hall, Brisbane, AU
May 31: Opera House, Wellington, NZ
Jun 01: Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch, NZ
Jun 02: ASB Theatre, Auckland, NZ

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Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.