“It was a group of talented musicians that made up – three guys that expressed, power…creating a sound that everybody in this room can relate to and certainly set the stage for our outfit.” – Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top inducting Cream into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Formed in July 1966 and widely regarded as being the first successful supergroup, Cream was a British rock outfit made up of guitarist/vocalist Eric Clapton, bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. By the time the trio came together, they were far from rock and roll neophytes, as each member of the group had found success in other acts during the 1960s. Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were members of Blues Incorporated until the band broke up in 1963, while Clapton was a member of the Yardbirds from 1963 to 1965. The same year Clapton exited the Yardbirds, Bruce joined John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers (which also featured Clapton on guitar). By 1966, Bruce was a member of Manfred Mann and continued to collaborate with Clapton as a member of Powerhouse, which included Hall of Fame inductee Steve Winwood.
In their short 28-month run, Cream became a commercial success, selling more than 15 million albums worldwide and playing throughout Europe and the U.S. The group’s third album, Wheels of Fire, was the world’s first platinum-selling double album. Cream’s sound was a hybrid of blues, rock and jazz with a psychedelic twist, creating masterpieces such as “I Feel Free,” “Crossroads,” “White Room” and “Sunshine of Your Love.”
In 1993, Cream was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by ZZ Top. At the ceremony, they performed together for the first time in 25 years, delivering a powerful version of their classic, “Sunshine of Your Love.” The song was written by Bruce, Clapton and a poet who worked with the band, Pete Brown. It was originally released on the album Disraeli Gears in 1967 and was released as a single in January 1968. The song was Cream’s only gold-selling single in the U.S.
The genesis of the song was a Jimi Hendrix Experience show that Bruce and Clapton attended at the Saville Theatre in London. Inspired by the concert, Bruce went home and wrote the the song's signature riff. Most of the lyrics were written during an all-night session between Bruce and Brown. “I picked up my double bass and played the riff," recalled Bruce. "Pete looked out the window, and the sun was coming up. He wrote ‘It’s getting dawn and lights close their tired eyes…’” Later, Clapton wrote the bridge of the song, and in doing so gave the track its title.
For the guitar solo, Clapton played the opening lines from the standard ballad, “Blue Moon,” creating a balance between the sun and the moon. “Sunshine of Your Love” is renowned among guitarists as being among the best example of Clapton’s legendary “woman tone” – his distinctive overdriven, thick yet articulate sound created by playing his Gibson SG solid body electric guitar fitted with humbucker pickups through a Marshall tube amplifier. Clapton’s “woman tone” and playing technique are largely restrained, though punctuated with bright and twangy distortion, and complementary licks – a style many players have tried to emulate. According to legend, Atlantic Records, Cream’s American label, did not originally like the song and was not going to release it, but changed their tune when Booker T. Jones of Booker T. & the M.G.s, whose Stax label was distributed by Atlantic at the time, said that he liked the song.
Many artists have covered “Sunshine of Your Love,” including Santana, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Frank Zappa, Ella Fitzgerald, the 5th Dimension, Living Colour, Ozzy Osbourne, the Goo Goo Dolls and the Police. Jimi Hendrix performed an instrumental version of the song as a setlist staple, and in 1969, during an appearance on the Happening for Lulu television show, Hendrix stopped his band near the end of the set and broke into “Sunshine of Your Love,” causing the show to run past its scheduled end time. That memorable moment inspired Elvis Costello’s rendition of “Radio Radio” on Saturday Night Live in 1977.
In their brief career, Cream made a significant impact on popular music and inspired everyone from Rush, the Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead, to Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.