Cream was one of the greatest bands of all time. Back in the late 60’s they ruled the rock charts and the attention of anyone who loved guitar music and the blues rock style that Cream practically invented. And if you love blues guitar you probably already know that.
And Cream was one of the bands that turned American white audiences on to the blues… their own music. I talk about how the blues became white on this page.
And everyone knows the great live version of “Down To The Crossroads,” a variation on the Robert Johnson song of a similar name that Cream recorded and released on their live disc of the Wheels of Fire album. The solo Eric Clapton played on that song may be one of the most lauded and talked-about solos of all time. However, Clapton doesn’t like to talk about it much. Here’s why.
As great as the solo is, and it is great, Clapton says that the band lost the time somewhere during the 3rd chorus of the solo in the song. So Clapton is playing along with no sense of time and his phrasing is totally off according to him. Each band member is unconnected rhythmically from the other and thinks they are in some other part of the measure.
Now this may not be a bad thing in the end. It’s probably what gives the solo that out of control and over the edge feel. This is one of the great things about the solo. And is pretty typical of the Cream arrangement of the song anyways. It is really one of the band’s strengths.
Here’s The Record Version Of The Song Performed by Cream
You can almost hear how the song is always on the edge of “losing it” anyways and how it would be easy to lose the groove.
Here’s A Later Live Performance of The Song
You can almost see Eric struggling to follow Bruce and Baker.
You could even argue that this is poor version…
If you are blues purest you might feel this is not very good really. It could be a good example of how whites may have ruined the blues. It certainly takes this song to entirely different place.
But perhaps it really does just reflect the era and the musical styles of the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if Robert Johnson might have approved.
Has It Ever Happened To You?
Now if you ever played in a band you know that panic feeling. You may be playing a lead and totally lost in the moment, and the bass and drums try to follow you, and pretty soon no one knows where they are in the song. Each may be playing somewhere different in the chord progression. As you come out of the solo you realize that you’re a beat or two ahead or behind everyone else. Or worse yet. Everyone is in a different place.
At that point is usually takes listening to the bass player to find your place again. They are usually playing a specific phrase that stays within the right measure of the song. Or worse yet, everyone adapts and just follows the singer back to “the one” or first beat of the song.
But the Cream rhythm section was not a “typical” rhythm section. Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce were always playing “out there.” They were one of the first “jam bands” really. They seldom played the same part twice and often improvised their parts within the feel of the song. This was common during the psychedelic era when music was pretty improvisational anyways. And of course, they were often high on some “medication” during that time (1968) and might be having a hard time staying on planet earth anyways.
So this “on the edge” musical style back then sometimes led to happy accidents… to magical moments that came from the musical gods. Eric Clapton’s Crossroad’s solo probably falls into this category.
And so what anyways. From this listener’s point of view it just sounds great.
And if you’d like to hear more about this story and the very interesting story of Cream’s short-lived career, check out this very good DVD about Cream. It has over 3 hours of behind the scenes information about the history of each member of the band and how they got together… and how they fell apart.