BOOTLEG SERIES #12: Cream – Winterland, San Francisco, CA. 10th March 1968.

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Before I get on to the second set, I spoke to Billy Stapleton who attended both shows at Winterland on this day. He also took a number of photos, of which can be seen in this article. He had the following to say:

Billy Stapleton – Stage Hand

“Cream were my absolute heros. I’d been a huge Clapton fan since the release of the Bluesbreakers album. I attended their first tour shows at the Fillmore in 1967 and was astonished at how full and powerful they were with only three pieces. I wound up being a stage hand for the Wheels of Fire 1968 engagement in San Francisco. I was in heaven.

I remember them opening with “Tales of Brave Ulysses”, the music bubbling up in the first verse, Eric’s wah wah pedal, the light show permeating the stage, and Baker’s drums thundering in, magic! Their sets were very well paced, lots of show pieces for each member. “Politician” was a wonderful showpiece for Eric’s blues licks as as “Sitting On Top Of The World.” Jack’s voice was in great form. For me “Spoonful” was their improvisational masterpiece. The shifting time signature and accompanying bass and guitar work is most impressive. The song starts in a very slow 4/4 with all these huge drum breaks, it climbs to ‘double time’ very cleverly. You know they are going there, but they keep playing with it, Baker might play a double time figure against Eric’s still slow tempo solo, then Jack joins it for a minute with double time accents and they all go back to the slower tempo and the suddenly they all take off, the double time tempo they achieve in the middle of the song is perfect, still playing off one another they are now playing almost as fast as they can together, but it still grooves, and then on an unseen musical understanding they descend the ladder gracefully back to the slower tempo and the songs last verse. “Crossroads” was a wonderful treat. Eric singing and the tempo of the song just let’s him go, he played that so well, incredibly articulate, a milestone in guitarmanship.

They were extremely tight, very very familiar with what each other was doing. Baker’s drumming was so polished. His fills and rhythms were just amazing. No other drummer has sounded like him. Cream’s sometimes simple riffs with big holes for Baker’s drum fills was incredibly powerful. The San Francisco gigs were filled with all of city’s rock royalty and aspiring young musicians. There was no doubt that you were seeing something very unique, the pinnacle of musical teamwork and virtuosity in one package. Their ability to improvise as a unit was so comfortable for them, they made it look easy (it wasn’t). Many of the San Francisco bands tried to incorporate this improvisation into their music. I won’t name names, but it hurt them more than it helped them. Cream were literally three of the best musicians in the world and they proved it night after night.

The two weeks that I attended and worked the shows, I never saw another guitar other than “The Fool” Eric’s painted Gibson SG Standard. There are tons of pictures from those shows on piles of websites and reference sites and San Francisco was loaded with photographers, the great Jim Marshall who attended the shows among them. But there are no shots or Eric playing another guitar. I am a complete guitar maniac, if he had played another guitar, his Gibson Firebird or Gibson ES-335, believe me I would have noticed.

Baker had these steel pieces added to his bass drum front rims, they had holes in them and I was astonished to see Micky or Peter (their two roadies) hammer nails though them into the stage. Ginger’s drums weren’t moving when played! Eric played these huge tortoise shell picks at the time, I remember finding one on the stage, I still have it. Jack was very open and funny I have a great picture of him smiling backstage that I took.

Much as been made of their fighting and bickering. I never saw any evidence of it even under some slightly stressful situations. One night in particular, during the first week, Blood Sweat and Tears was onstage, the other dressing rooms were filled with people partying and carrying on, Winterland was packed to the doors. While in Cream’s dressing room, it was very dimly lit and the three of them were hunkered around a small black and white TV glued to the Paul Newman movie “The Hustler” completely silent listening to the dialogue. I’ll always remember that, three friends watching the television in the middle of rock history.”

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3 thoughts on “BOOTLEG SERIES #12: Cream – Winterland, San Francisco, CA. 10th March 1968.

  1. Jack says:

    Hello Tom,a comment on the “BOOTLEG SERIES #12: Cream – Winterland, San Francisco, CA. 10th March 1968.” There has been a myth that the song “Crossroads” on the official “Wheels of Fire” 1968 release was edited for release,there is even a Wikkipedia page stating that the song was edited,well this bootleg of Crossroad which is an audience recording is identical as the official release which proves that there was no editing on the Wheels of Fire release.How this rumour or myth got started is unknown,but it is totally false.Thanks.

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    • Michael Katz says:

      Absolutely! The song couldn’t be more natural and perfect the way it is. Cream really actually played a few 4 minute songs! Ironically, they rarely every played this version again…….Ginger changed the beat around in future versions, and this, up to what I’ve heard to date, was never recreated, but that was what made Cream unique, right?

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  2. Terence M. Doherty says:

    Wow, what a wonderful article chronicling a truly historic series of shows. I clearly clearly remember how Cream burst on the scene and forever changed the course of rock music, and really legitimized it because of their tremendous musicianship and unparalleled virtuosity. The success of “Sunshine of Your Love” and then “Crossroads” and “Spoonful” just laid to waste every rock guitarist around, and forced them back to the drawing board. Many are oblivious to the fact that Cream ctrl-alt-deleted the entire rock music culture. There are so many bands, so many guitarists, drummers, and bassists who were directly or indirectly profoundly influenced by these recordings. And, many who were indirectly influenced never even realized that fact. People today who were not around at that time often don’t realize how Cream changed everything. If you ask me, rock music can be subdivided into two parts: B.W. and A.W. (Before Wheels of Fire and After Wheels of Fire). Professional and amateur rock musicians who were around at that time invariably wore out several copies of that album, all with the same slack-jawed question in mind that I STILL have to this day: “How in God’s name did they do that?”

    You just can’t overstate the tremendous effect of these series of concerts. This was Cream at the utter pinnacle of their devastating musical powers laying their indelible mark on the history of rock music.

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