Blues Transformation in
the Music of Cream
In 1966, guitarist Eric Clapton joined with bass player Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker to form the rock trio Cream. While Clapton tended toward a style of electric blues close to the Mississippi Delta and Chicago blues songs he venerated, with the combination of Bruce's elaborate bass lines and Baker's jazz-influenced drumming Cream quickly became the best known of the original "power trio" blues-based rock bands and prepared the ground for the later group Led Zeppelin to begin the transition from blues-based rock to heavy metal. Cream's assimilation and transformation of blues songs and styles is part of the widespread influence of American popular music--jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, and rock 'n' roll -- on the development of British rock music in the late 1950s and 1960s. While this influence has been well documented in its biographical, historical, cultural, and sociological aspects, the purely musical features of the various transformations, such as Cream's recasting of blues songs into rock songs, have received less attention. 1 However, in view of the reception of rock music by audiences who knew little of its background or context but responded primarily to the music itself -- the rhythm, volume, and timbres -- it is clear that these features deserve serious consideration. In this article I will focus on some musical aspects of Cream's adaptations of blues songs into rock and also comment on some of the band's original but blues-based compositions. The conclusion outlines some of the problems inherent in a such a music-analytical approach and suggests some avenues for further study.