For the members of this band, Cream is in their blood.
Malcolm Bruce, the son of late Cream bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce; Kofi Baker, the son of Cream drummer Ginger Baker; and Will Johns, the nephew of Cream guitarist/vocalist Eric Clapton are touring North America as The Music of Cream, paying homage to the legendary blues-rock trio on the 50th anniversary of its farewell show in 1968 (Cream reunited for some shows in 2005).
With concerts coming to Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe, PA (Sunday, Oct. 14), the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, NJ (Tuesday, Oct. 16), The Paramount in Huntington, NY (Wednesday, Oct. 17) and the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA (Thursday, Oct. 18), we recently chatted with Johns.
Here are the highlights from our interview with the British guitarist and singer — whose aunt Pattie Boyd was married to George Harrison then Eric Clapton. If that’s not enough rock royalty in the family, his dad was producer/engineer Andy Johns, one uncle is Glyn Johns, a legendary figure who has produced or engineered Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles and has recently worked with the likes of Ryan Adams and Ray LaMontagne, and another uncle is Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac.
Tell me a little bit about the structure and presentation of the show. Are you following the setlist of the 1968 farewell tour?
We’re definitely deviating from that farewell tour. We’re playing sort of our construction of what we consider the best songs for the job from the catalog, which as you can probably imagine is a varied amount of material. Some of the things that we tried didn’t work or come across live. There’s very different aspects of the show, as far as some of the songs are akin to the studio versions that Cream released, so that’s one sort of formula, but then again within some of the songs we’re really stretching out and there’s experimental jams and a lot of improvisation within them. I must say we worked quite hard going through a lot of material to find what we thought would make the best show.
I understand there’s a video component to the shows, including some never-before-seen footage.
That’s right. We are providing some pieces and bits of some footage from our youth, and the lights and visuals are incredible. Our incredible lighting director Steve Fallon, who’s worked with everyone from Dolly Parton and Michael Jackson to just everybody, he creates an incredible wealth of experience on top of that with really freaking cool lighting, both in the retro sets and some of the modern technology that’s available.
(The videos) are a very heady mix of family footage, whether it be stills or otherwise interspersed with footage from the band, which is very carefully molded to the show.
How long had you been playing with Malcolm and Kofi before you put this band together?
Not so much Kofi, I only really met him in 2013, whereas Malcolm was slightly different because his mum was there and held my hand when I took my first steps. So she was a dear friend of my mum’s as well, and I also used to play with Malcolm’s late brother Joe in a couple bands in the ‘90s in London.
It was really in 2013 when I got a call from Malcolm asking if I’d like to come in and sit in with him and Kofi in Sons of Cream, and I was quite honored and maybe a little shocked that he thought I was good enough. It evolved slowly because we’re all complicated people (laughs).
In some ways is this music in your blood?
Yes, I myself am a blues player and I play what we might call sort of classic blues, but I also have my albums of original material and I’d really call that contemporary blues or blues rock, and that has a modern sound to it, once again marrying up with the technology of the day. But with this particular band it’s very organic. There’s a synergy between us. We’re like brothers from different mothers and kind of psychic musicians there.
Have Eric or Ginger commented on your tour?
Just before the tour I thought it would be polite to let Eric know what I was doing. Without going into too much detail, he let me know that he was pleased that I was doing it.
You’ve said Eric showed you your first guitar riff.
He showed me a riff of “Crossroads.” I learned that bit, and he just told me I had to figure the rest out for myself. It kind of set me on the path of self-discovery.
Did you have the opportunity to know George Harrison?
I met him a couple of times. He was a very nice gentleman, a very generous, very lovely guy.
Ginger is known for being a wild and difficult man. Do you have any relationship with him? (Watch the trailer for “Beware of Mr. Baker.”)
I have a fond memory of Ginger when I was younger at Eric’s house. He was great fun to play with. I found him lovely. But once again, that was a very long time ago. I was probably 6 or 7 years old. And that’s all I have to say about that, really.