Writings About Music
My title refers to Cream and two of the bands they spawned - Mountain and Led Zeppelin. Particularly noteworthy for Cream were the lyrics, emanating from an actual Beat-spawned poet, Pete Brown, and Gail Collins, the wife of Cream’s original recorder producer, Felix Pappalardi, who became the bassist and vocalist for Mountain along with guitarist Leslie West, born Leslie Weinstein. Collins also created both song lyrics and compelling paintings for the album covers of Mountain representative of that genre's peak. (It was stunning and horrifying to learn she was later convicted of shooting Pappalardi to death with a silver pistol he had gifted her.)
Cream astonishes with pristine clarity of texture, sharply yet smoothly delineated, recalling the finest performances of Dimitri Shostakovich string quartets, Lenny Tristano and Lee Konitz. Their blues interpretations, including Strange Brew, Sunshine of Your Love and Crossroads, are astonishingly original and potent.
Not enough credit has been afforded the lyrics gracing songs composed by Cream's Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton. This poetry was perfectly intoned by the singing voices of the composers, often projected with eerily floating falsettos, suggesting a fantastical imaginary realm of London warlocks and witches, and angels too, conjuring William Blake.
And Ginger Baker! How sad that he and Clapton were not allowed full shares of Cream’s revenues, unlike The Doors, where songwriters Jim Morrison and Robby Krieger rightfully allotted equal shares to all members, recognizing the truth of their equally essential contributions.
Back to music: Baker, following in the percussion emancipation led by Alla Rakha by way of Ravi Shankar from India, and Kenny Clarke, Max Roach and Elvin Jones in America, elevates the drums to their rightful equal prominence with empyrean timbres, articulation and complexity, forging a fiery triage of invention together with Bruce’s anaconda-like electric bass and Clapton’s jewel-like, luminescently gyring electric guitar melismas.
From the prodigiously powerful model built by Cream, both Mountain and Led Zeppelin followed, each creating entirely new forms. All the best music of these three bands will continue to thrill until the end of time!
- Michael Robinson, April 2017, Los Angeles
© 2017 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).