With the recent passing of Ginger Baker, there has been a lot of talk about the enduring legacy of Cream and the timelessness of their music. Having formed in 1966, Cream created a surprising amount of music in the three short years they were together.
But internal strife, particularly a complicated friendship and antagonism between Baker and bassist Jack Bruce, led the pair and their legendary bandmate Eric Clapton to announce their dissolution as early as 1968, but they stuck it out another year to tour one more time. The group accomplished enough in those years to earn a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, and there were, over the years, some reunions on stage and on television which kept them in the public consciousness.
Helping to continue the legacy are three young men who tour as the Music of Cream, and each of them has a special and unique connection to the original trio.
With Ginger’s son Kofi Baker on drums and Jack’s son Malcolm Bruce on bass, the pair needed one more piece of the puzzle which came thanks to Will Johns.
“Kofi started it with his pal Malcolm that he’d known all along his whole life,” Johns said in an interview with Whatzup. “They worked together in a band called Sons of Cream, but they had exhausted their creativity with that lineup. I got a call asking me to sit in with them, and it’s been a number of years now. Our now-manager Simon comes from New Zealand and had us touring Australia and New Zealand when we first got started.”
Johns himself has some serious music cred as the son of recording engineer and producer Andy Johns, who has worked with The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix. Johns is also the nephew of producer Glyn Johns, famous for his work with The Who, Clapton, and The Eagles.
Even more, Will Johns has his own special link to Cream: his uncle Eric Clapton. Clapton was his uncle by marriage — as was George Harrison — since Patti Boyd is the aunt of the younger Johns.
With all of that musical talent around him, it isn’t surprising that as a teenager he turned to music, most specifically to his guitar.
“I really got started when I was 15 years old,” Johns said. “It quickly became very important to me. It reached a point where you really couldn’t find me without my guitar.”
Johns admitted that since Baker’s death on Oct. 6, there’s been a different energy around their performances.
“For myself, I’ve always been a ‘feel’ player, so it’s been very emotional,” Johns said. “But I think it’s also made the music we’re playing more full of intensity and emotion.”
Baker’s death leaves Clapton as the only surviving member of Cream, but he has yet to see Music of Cream play live.
“He hasn’t seen us perform yet, but I let him know about it before we started a tour of the East Coast,” Johns said. “He’s happy for me and the guys and is happy that we’re flying the flag.”
Merging their musical styles has had a few challenges, but they have only added depth to the work they’re doing as they play one of the most beloved music catalogs in rock history.
“Playing the music itself is challenging, but we’re not just being carbon copies of the records,” Johns said. “We’re instrumentalists and improvisers. Kofi and Malcolm are more jazzers, and they’ve made some changes to the time signatures with some 5 over 8 or 7 over 8 or even 9 over 8. Those kinds of things are common in the jazz world but less so in the blues world which is where I come from. But we work incredibly hard to do this.”
In it for the long haul
Having formed officially in the spring of 2017, Johns and his partners in music aren’t treating this as a lark. They’re in it for the long haul and have plenty of plans for the future of the Music of Cream.
“This is a lifetime plan for me. I feel like most of what I did in my life before this was preparing me for this project. Next year we’re planning a Disraeli Gears tour, and we’ll see after that what other album we might like to do and how it evolves. It’s a lot of fun. The three of us have had different experiences, but we’ve also had a lot of shared experiences. I have a real synergy with them. There’s something unspoken between us and an understanding of each of our musical jobs. Being so ensconced in music has had a lasting effect on all three of us, so coming together to do this has felt quite natural for us. And the way we approach it and being able to improvise makes every show feel and sound different from the others. When you think about how many songs there are and how differently we can play each of them, we can keep doing this forever and a day.”
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