Hello there! This week our blog features a great blues rocker, Sunshine of Your Love. We will first discuss the original version by Cream. Next, we will review a cover by Jimi Hendrix and then a version by Kofi Baker, Steve Fekete and Dan Rothchild.
Cream and Sunshine of Your Love:
In June 1966 my college at Oxford held a formal “Commemoration Ball.” The college installed a series of large tents, one in each quadrangle of the college. Several of the tents would feature bands playing throughout the evening. The centerpiece of the event was a “headliner” group, supplemented with a number of minor musical acts. At this time, the headliners were generally British Invasion rock and blues groups. Merton College’s headliner was the Spencer Davis Group featuring vocalist Steve Winwood, who had just turned 18.
During the evening I found a progressive blues-jazz quartet, the Graham Bond ORGANisation (GBO), one of the “minor” groups. They sounded terrific – organ, bass, saxophone and drums. Their music was powerful and very sophisticated. It featured Bond on organ and vocals, but also included an exceptional bassist and an inspired drummer. I remarked to the fellow next to me how fickle the music business was – you could be as talented as this bunch, but still be virtually unknown. “You better enjoy this group now,” he replied (it turned out he was a rock journalist) “because it’s their last performance. The drummer is breaking away to form his own group.” After a pregnant pause, he added “EVERY drummer is breaking away to form his own group.” Below is a photo of the Graham Bond ORGANisation.
Well, perhaps not every drummer was as successful as this one – rock legend Ginger Baker. Two weeks later he teamed up with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce to form the super-group Cream. This post will focus on their drummer Ginger Baker.
I have been telling friends for the past 50 years that I saw Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker immediately before they formed one of rock’s most famous groups. Alas, this was not entirely true. Jack Bruce had been thrown out of GBO a few months earlier because – get this – he and Ginger Baker hated each other! So it was apparently quite a shock to Baker when Eric Clapton said he would join up only if Baker included Bruce as the third member of their power trio. Below is a photo of Cream.
Cream combined hard-rock covers of blues standards with compositions by Baker and Bruce. Sunshine of Your Love was one of their earliest signature hits. After the members of Cream attended a Jimi Hendrix concert in January 1967, Jack Bruce was inspired to create the melody for this song, which was an homage by Cream to Hendrix. Peter Brown supplied the lyrics for the tune, and Eric Clapton contributed a guitar solo.
However, Ginger Baker supplied an iconic drum accompaniment that relied heavily on the tom-tom. This song was a bit of a departure for Cream. Their first album, the 1966 Fresh Cream, was composed mainly of hard-rock covers of traditional blues songs and rock ‘n roll with pop sensibilities. Their new album, Disraeli Gears, would feature more hard-rock songs, and Sunshine of Your Love was also influenced by psychedelic rock.
Sunshine of Your Love was the second single to be released from Disraeli Gears. Here is Cream in a live performance of Sunshine of Your Love; this was from a performance at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in March 1968.
This is a great example of Cream at their best. Clapton and Bruce share the signature beginning riff, Bruce supplies the vocals, while Eric Clapton produces an inspired 2-minute guitar solo. The song then builds to a final crescendo.
However, I want to focus on Ginger Baker’s drumming on this tune. He emphasizes the first and third beats, rather than the downbeat (beats two and four) as on most R&B tunes. In addition, his drumming is heavily influenced by jazz, as would be appropriate for someone who considered his mentors to be jazz legends such as Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones and Max Roach.
In fact, Baker disliked being called a “rock drummer,” and might punch you if you referred to him as a “hard rock drummer” (Baker had a famously short temper). In rock music, he was known for using two bass drums in his drum kit (shown below); he picked up this from the drummer in the Duke Ellington Band.
Baker’s jazz-inspired drumming had a tremendous impact on hard-rock drummers who followed him, including John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, Peter Criss of KISS, Stewart Copeland of The Police, and Alex Van Halen.
Cream’s ascendance coincided with a revolution in sound technology. The tiny amplifiers that were used by rock bands such as the early Beatles were rapidly replaced by gigantic Marshall stacks. This resulted in a tremendous increase in the decibel power in a live concert, and in the studio. This was a major technical advance for rock and roll; however, it needed to be accompanied by sophisticated techniques to balance the various instruments, and also to protect the hearing of the participants.
Jack Bruce’s reaction to the new sound technology was to turn his bass volume up to ‘11’ in concerts. For Ginger Baker this was a disaster. First, his jazz-inspired drumming was relatively subtle, thus his drum licks were being drowned out onstage. Second, his hearing was dramatically impaired during his years with Cream (didn’t we all suffer hearing loss from rock concerts – I said, DIDN’T WE ALL SUFFER HEARING LOSS FROM ROCK CONCERTS?).
Atlantic Records was reluctant to release Sunshine of Your Love as a single, figuring that it did not have much commercial potential. The song turned out to be the highest-charting song ever released by Cream. It also appeared on several Cream albums of live performances. The tune ranked #65 on the 2004 Rolling Stone list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time; VH1 rated it #14 on their 2009 compilation The 100 Greatest Hard-Rock Songs; and the song is included on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
Cream lasted only about two and a half years, from July 1966 until late 1968. It is difficult to determine the date of their breakup, as a final album was released in 1969 after the group had actually disbanded, and there is some debate whether the group still “existed” by the end of their protracted farewell tours.
In retrospect, it is easy to catalog issues that drove the group apart. First, the animosity between Baker and Bruce continued, and Clapton found himself repeatedly trying to negotiate between his feuding bandmates. Second, all three Cream members were dealing with extremely heavy drug usage, while simultaneously coping with their burgeoning fame and adulation.
At their best, Cream delivered incredible improvisation: creative twists and turns; imaginative collaborations with the melodic lead shuttling between guitar, bass and drums; and jazz-influenced free-form sets that provided stunning new takes on classic blues tropes. At their worst they produced repetitive, seemingly interminable drug-induced noise. However, they were so talented that even when far below their peak they could still delight and amaze.
After Cream imploded in 1968, the group members went their separate ways while also attempting to kick their drug addictions. Baker and Eric Clapton formed the quartet Blind Faith, which was arguably less a band than a brief partnership between good friends Clapton and Steve Winwood. Baker formed the group Ginger Baker’s Air Force. He then moved around considerably. He set up a recording studio in Lagos, Nigeria that eventually failed.
Baker spent much time trying to kick a long-term heroin addiction. By his own estimate, he sobered up and relapsed 29 times. He finally quit in the 1980s when he temporarily retired from music and took up growing olives in Italy. In the 1990s Baker moved to Colorado where he became obsessed with polo and spent a fortune on polo ponies and supplies.
In 1993 Cream were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where they played together for the first time in 25 years. This immediately sparked interest in a Cream reunion. The group eventually reunited briefly in 2005, when they played 4 shows at Royal Albert Hall followed by another 3 shows at Madison Square Garden. To no one’s surprise, tickets for the concerts sold out almost instantly. Despite rumors that other reunion concerts might follow, the group never again played together.
Jack Bruce died from liver disease in Oct. 2014. Ginger Baker began experiencing serious health issues, and in 2013 announced that he had COPD, a result of his long-time smoking, and also degenerative osteoarthritis. Three years later he mentioned serious cardiac issues and underwent open-heart surgery. This year Baker’s family announced that he was gravely ill, and he passed away at age 80 on October 6, 2019.
Modern Drummer magazine referred to Ginger Baker as “one of classic rock’s true drum gods”. We agree – he was a legendary figure in rock music, and we dedicate this post to Ginger.
Jimi Hendrix and Sunshine of Your Love:
Jimi Hendrix is generally considered the greatest rock guitarist of all time. He had a meteoric career – Jimi seemed to appear out of nowhere; took the field of rock music by storm; and died less than five years after the start of his solo career.
James Marshall Hendrix was born in Seattle in Nov. 1942. He was a shy, introverted youth who spent considerable time in foster care as his parents were both alcoholics who became violent when they were intoxicated.
Jimi Hendrix’s first musical instrument was a ukulele with just one string. In 1958, he got his first guitar and taught himself to play by copying the guitar parts to famous rock ‘n roll songs.
Below is a photo of Jimi Hendrix performing at Royal Albert Hall, in Feb. 1969.Embed from Getty Images
After being discharged from the Army, Jimi moved to Nashville, where he performed at a number of black venues on what was known as the “Chitlin’ Circuit.” He also worked as a session musician for artists such as Wilson Pickett, Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke.
In 1964, Hendrix moved to New York and began frequenting clubs in Harlem. He was hired as a guitarist with the Isley Brothers band, and later worked with Little Richard’s backup group The Upsetters. Hendrix had trouble with both bands, as he persisted in showing off his flashy guitar technique when he was supposed to be toiling in the background for the headliners. So he assembled his own band and began performing in Greenwich Village.
There, Hendrix caught the eye of Chas Chandler, who had been the bass player for the British Invasion group The Animals, and was looking for groups to produce. Chandler brought Hendrix to London, and hooked him up with guitarist Noel Redding, who agreed to play bass with the group, and drummer Mitch Mitchell. They formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
After rehearsing for a couple of weeks in fall 1966, the band was ready to go. Their first performances must have been phenomenal, because in November 1966, when the Jimi Hendrix Experience appeared at London’s Bag O’Nails Club, the audience included
Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, and Kevin Ayers.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience released three hit singles in the U.K. – Hey Joe, Purple Haze, and The Wind Cries Mary – before they ever issued an album.
Jimi Hendrix’ American break-through occurred at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was included at the festival largely through the urging of Paul McCartney. Hendrix gave an unforgettable performance at Monterey, capped off when he set his guitar on fire at the end of his set.
So here is the Jimi Hendrix Experience playing a cover of the Cream song Sunshine Of Your Love. I enjoy this video because you can see how he produces the amazing sounds that he coaxed from his Fender Stratocaster. Since Jimi was left-handed, he simply turned his axe upside-down. Note that this reverses the ‘normal’ positions of the high and low strings on the guitar.
First, note that Jimi plays this as an instrumental; I am told the group liked the tune but didn’t know the words. Jimi enjoyed this song and included it frequently in live concerts. Parodixically, Jack Bruce never informed Hendrix that Jimi had inspired the Cream tune! Hendrix plays his signature electrifying runs and trills, showing off his inimitable technique. After a while Noel Redding produces a bass solo. At the end of his solo Redding provides some interesting runs and shows flashes of talent; however, the beginning is extremely boring.
This reminds me of an old joke. A colonial explorer is being led through the jungle by his native guides. The explorer is disturbed by the constant native drumming that occurs every night, and complains to his lead guide, who says “Drums stop, very bad.” This is repeated several times, until finally the explorer insists on a more complete explanation. He is told “Drums stop, very bad – then, bass solo begin.”
Hendrix followed up his Monterey coming-out with a sensational performance at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969, at a time when he was the highest-paid rock musician in the world. Probably the highlight of his set at Woodstock was Jimi’s explosive performance of the Star-Spangled Banner, which featured
copious amounts of amplifier feedback, distortion, and sustain to replicate the sounds made by rockets and bombs.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience lasted for three stunning albums. After that, the trio broke up at the end of June, 1969 due to personal and musical differences.
Jimi Hendrix performed with various groups of musicians. In 1970 he assembled a new trio, replacing Noel Redding from the original Jimi Hendrix Experience with Billy Cox. In mid-1970 this group commenced the City of Love tour.
In September the City of Love tour had reached Europe. Hendrix spent the night of Sept. 17 with girlfriend Monika Dannemann. Dannemann testified that they had a bottle of wine, visited some friends, and returned to her apartment.
The following morning, Dannemann found Hendrix unconscious and unresponsive. He was taken to a hospital, but pronounced dead early that afternoon. A post-mortem autopsy revealed that Hendrix died of asphyxia while intoxicated with barbiturates.
Jimi Hendrix’ tragic death was a major loss for rock music. Although he only performed as a solo artist for about five years, his creative contributions were truly mind-blowing. He was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Both Rolling Stone magazine and Guitar World rank Hendrix #1 on their list of the greatest guitarists of all time.
Kofi Baker, Steve Fekete & Dan Rothchild and Sunshine of Your Love:
A club called Lucky Strike Live, on Hollywood Boulevard in LA, put on a series of concerts called Soundcheck Live. The shows featured guest artists who performed cover versions of classic rock hits. Three of the artists who appeared in Soundcheck Live (Take 48) were drummer Kofi Baker, guitarist Steve Fekete and bassist Dan Rothchild.
All three had performed with various bands, either as studio musicians or on tour. Fekete is currently the guitarist on tour with the pop group America, and Rothchild has performed with Heart and with Nancy Wilson.
Kofi Baker is Ginger Baker’s son. He first appeared with his father on the BBC2 music show The Old Grey Whistle Test at age 6. In the 1980s Kofi toured with the hard-rock group Humble Pie led by Steve Marriott, and in the 1990s Kofi toured with Jack Bruce, the former Cream bassist. He also participated in duets with his dad Ginger. Below is a photo of Kofi Baker.
When Ginger Baker moved to Colorado in the early 1990s, Kofi joined his dad there. And Kofi was the drummer for The Extreme Guitar Tour that included a number of hard-rock guitarists. Kofi has more recently moved to LA and set up a drum school there.
So here are Steve Fekete, Dan Rothchild and Kofi Baker in a cover of Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love.
Steve Fekete sings lead vocals and plays guitar on this piece. It follows closely the Cream original. Kofi Baker is quite a capable drummer. Fekete sings a couple of verses and then segues into a guitar solo, while Rothchild and Baker chime in on bass and drums, respectively.
The song is enjoyable but does not approach the unmatchable excitement of the Cream original. At the very end, Fekete launches into some technically impressive but not particularly thrilling runs on guitar.
Dan Rothchild is the son of Paul Rothchild, who was a producer for artists such as The Doors, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Janis Joplin. It is fun to see memorable songs passed down from one generation to the next. We wish these three rockers all the best.