For all their astonishing music, it's pretty well known that the members of Cream - Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton - don't have much fun together. For that matter, it's probably even fair to suggest that Bruce and Baker, at least, really hate each other.
Of course, it's been argued that such tension was part of why Cream was so stinkin' great.
In any case, Cream's brief existence was rather like Edna St. Vincent Millay's candle, burning at both ends, not lasting the night, but by God giving off a lovely light for a while there.
After a short reunion tour in 2005, the individuals in Cream again went their separate ways, and odds are probably not good the three of them will again collaborate on any major projects.
Which makes a new trio called Sons of Cream intriguing. The band indeed includes Malcolm "Son of Jack" Bruce on bass and vocals, Kofi "Son of Ginger" Baker on drums, along with New York guitarist Godfrey Townsend. While Townsend isn't a son of any Creamies - and is not, for the record, related to Pete Townshend - he has played extensively with Bruce Sr., and The Who's John Entwistle, and stars in his own ongoing nightclub tribute to Clapton.
All three are terrific musicians, and, beyond the genetics, they have great affection for the Cream legacy. The idea of a collaboration seemed natural to Townsend. He reached out to the younger Bruce and Baker, received enthusiastic responses, and the three gathered last week in New York to begin rehearsals for a tour that brings them Tuesday to the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook.
Townsend spoke by phone on a variety of relative - pun intended - topics before they head to the Kate.
In concert, Cream was known for virtuosic and extended jams that immortalized their performances. At the same time, that format meant a lot of terrific studio material was never played live. How will Sons of Cream decide what to play?
"We really don't have much of an idea of an exact direction. Being that we've never played together before, it kind of lends itself more towards that improv thing. On the other hand, though (Malcolm and Kofi) are proud of what their fathers have done and want to live up to the legacy, they don't want to do an exact replica of a Cream concert, either.
"Six months ago, after we decided to do this, I sent out a master list to Kofi and Malcolm of every Cream song - studio and live - and we whittled it down to about 20 songs. We'll try to stay away from material any of us have done with other Cream-style projects, but obviously you have to hit some of the expected songs."
Does the fact that there are biological connections make it easy to reach out to Jack or Ginger for inside perspectives on arrangements, or is it more fun just to work it out yourselves?
?For example, Kofi wants us to do a song of his dad's from 'Wheels of Fire' called 'Pressed Rat and Warthog.' Well, I don't think Kofi has been in touch with his father in a while, but Malcolm told me he was talking with Jack about the song. You have to remember, Kofi and Malcolm are really good players. And Malcolm asked his dad about this Scottish classical line Jack had thrown in on six-string bass at the very end of the tune, and Jack said something like, 'Ah, you picked up on that, did you?' Stuff like that's pretty fun."
What else are you guys thinking about that can enhance the idea of the Cream experience given your unique connections to the original band?
"Well, I don't think a lot of fans know, for example, that Jack's wife at the time, Janet Godfrey, actually co-wrote lyrics for songs like 'Sleepy Time Time' and 'Sweet Wine.' And Malcolm can not only talk to Jack about stuff, but he can also just ask his mother.
"So one idea might be that, after every few songs, Kofi and Malcolm can share an anecdote or tell a story about their fathers and the Cream legacy. That would help the audience come away with more than just watching the band live."
Townsend's earlier, extensive and respective work with Entwistle and Bruce is pretty unique. He's logged time with two of the most muscular, innovative and influential rock bassists of all time. Thoughts?
"I say this all the time. When you've been in the business a long time, you can get jaded. But I'm still a fan, and there's a substantial reality that comes when you're onstage and you say, 'Hey, that's Jack Bruce or John Entwistle over there!' You know, when I was a kid, they were demigods to me. I'd read about them in Creem or Circus magazine and just absorb everything they did. It's obviously an honor to have played with both, and I pinch myself because, in each case, they approached me.
"One other thing that's even better: as a guitarist, when I was onstage with either Jack or John, I didn't have to compete. The bass is their turf, and it's not like I was fighting with Pete Townshend or Eric Clapton for guitar space. You're just doing your part and enjoying what they're doing. It's going to be that way, too, with Kofi and Malcolm."