The Concert Review That Destroyed Cream’s Career
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It Stunned Eric Clapton
Even at a time when there was no shortage of stellar live acts, few could match Cream’s caliber. The trio of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker are virtuoso musicians who, at the height of their career, could outperform anyone. But even while they’re widely considered as rock gods, they weren’t exactly immune to criticisms.
By 1968, they already released two studio albums – Fresh Cream and Disraeli Gears – and their concerts were well-received and successful. The year saw them embark on a US Tour and one particular gig on March 23 at Boston’s Brandeis University marked the beginning of the end of Cream.
Because of weather conditions and other factors, Cream was late for the show and fans waited for hours. In the audience was a young music critic Jon Landau who wrote for Rolling Stone. He was just 20 years old when he began writing for the magazine and from the start, he was never particularly impressed with Cream especially Clapton.
It was 2AM when they finally hit the stage and they powered through a two-hour set that featured some of their best works. Cream brought their A game but Landau found it all rather underwhelming. He wrote a review for the student newspaper The Justice that was published on March 26.
He didn’t mince his words and explained that when Cream turned “Sunshine of Your Love” into a lengthy jam, his “disappointment with the group was beginning to stare [him] in the face.” He was even more unforgiving when it came to Clapton. He called the legend “a master of the blues cliches.”
Landau revised his review for the Rolling Stone May issue. This time, he took it to the next level. He wrote that Clapton’s “problem is that while he has vast creative potential, at this time he hasn’t begun to fulfill it.” He added, “He is a virtuoso performing other people’s ideas. One got the nagging feeling that [“N.S.U.’’s] whole solo could be charted out to show the source of every phrase.”
Clapton, who was always sensitive to other people’s criticisms, was stunned when he read the review.
“All during Cream I was riding high on the ‘Clapton Is God’ myth that had been started up. Then we got our first bad review, which funnily enough, was in Rolling Stone,” Clapton recalled. “The magazine ran an interview with us in which we were really praising ourselves, and it was followed by a review that had said how boring and repetitious our performance had been.”
“And it was true! The ring of truth just knocked me backward; I was in a restaurant and I fainted,” he continued. “After I woke up, I immediately decided that it was the end of the band.”
“The article had a very detrimental effect on Eric because he thought Rolling Stone had a lot of credibility. He was a very sensitive fellow, and I’m convinced the article did him a great deal of harm,” Baker explained to Guitar World. “It was his favorite magazine, and to read something like that in it hurt him.”
Towards the end of 1968, Cream played their final shows and called it quits.