Concert Review – Kofi Baker’s Cream Experience

Cream were one of my (and a lot of other people’s) favorite bands ever. They introduced me to the blues, and with their long, freewheeling jams, also paved the way for me to appreciate jazz. I still sometimes put on Wheels of Fire or their more recent live reunion at Royal Albert Hall and cruise around.

Alas, while I’ve seen Clapton, I never had a chance to see Cream. So it was a pleasant surprise to find out that drummer Ginger Baker’s son Kofi had taken up the reins and was out on the road doing some of their tunes.

Kofi first appeared with his father in 1975 on the live UK TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test, and he’s been playing before the public ever since. After seeing the Cream reunion in 2005, Kofi was inspired to form his own tribute band to continue where Cream, and his father, had left off.

In addition to Baker, Fran Bannish takes on (and quite well) the Clapton guitar hero role and Frankie May holds down the bass. (A good player but not, I think, as virtuosic as Jack Bruce.)

I’ll let the music speak for itself here and then a few more comments. Here’s a great tune, “Politician.”

So, across the board, these guys nail the sound and the feel without – and this is important – seeming like some fucking Las Vegas tribute band. They’re the real deal. But with tribute bands, there’s always something lacking. In this case, as good as Bannish is, he is not Clapton. But he’s an excellent player.

What was missing, I think, was the Jack Bruce role overall. Bannish is a fine singer but Bruce had a unique quality to his voice. And the other thing is that when they really got cranking, Cream had what I would call – for lack of a better expression – a rollin’ and tumblin’ effect.

Basically, you had three guys soloing at the same time and it all worked. It didn’t seem to me that May on bass – as good as he was – had that level of fluidity in his playing. So, in this case, it was less three guys jamming and more like two guys backing one guy up.

But I quibble! Who gives a shit? It still sounded great and the audience really dug it. (Though I could have lived without the “Sunshine of Your Love” singalong. My generation will all be in the nursing home someday and they’ll be leading us in singing “Light My Fire.” Or for that matter, “My Generation.”)

Here’s “Outside Woman Blues.”

Kofi regaled the audience with tales of his and his father’s relationship. Which from the sound of it, ain’t very good. He said it all jokingly and with a smile. But when he tells you that he once hitchiked all the way to Italy to see his father and brought a joint so his father would be happy to see him, that doesn’t sound cool. Or that Ginger liked Jimi Hendrix but not Paul McCartney. “Hey, at least my old man likes somebody.” Hmm.

Speaking of those guys, Baker went to some lengths to tell us that even though his band is the Cream Experience, he has every right to play Blind Faith tunes (Ginger was the drummer); Hendrix tunes (his father liked him); and Beatles tunes. (Hmm.)

They played a really cool version of the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” which, by coincidence, I’ve been learning that massive lick to lately. They also played Hendrix’ “Manic Depression” which I didn’t record. So here they are doing “Little Wing.” (Different bassist.)

Fun story – They played “Crossroads” and the guitarist pretty much nailed the solos. After the show, I happened to catch up with a couple of guys who were sitting near me. They were talking about how great those solos are and how Fran nailed them. I said yeah, but he veered off a little bit. I told the guy I can play both those solos.

He turned to me and said, “I’m sure you can,” in that tone that says, “Yeah, right, so can I.” I can’t blame him for not believing me (why should he) but it’s true. I play them two or three times a week as a warmup and so that I don’t forget them. The only difference is I ain’t as good as that guy and I am no longer up on that stage.

One more thing – it occurred to me about halfway through that Baker being a drummer would probably play “Toad” which can be, like, a twenty-minute drum solo. Fortunately it was only fifteen. 🙂

Check these guys out. Currently touring the MidWest.

Setlist: White Room, Outside Woman Blues, Politician, I’m So Glad, Badge, Pressed Rat and Warthog/I Want You (She’s So Heavy), Can’t Find My Way Home, Presence of the Lord, Do What You Like/Toad, Sunshine of Your Love/Crossroads. Encore: Manic Depression.

27 thoughts on “Concert Review – Kofi Baker’s Cream Experience

  1. Blimey…. I mean these guys are, as you say, clearly able to bring it and it sounds like a good gig to have caught, but what a strange concept: Kofi playing in a tribute band to his father’s band while telling stories of their fractured relationship… I’ll restrain from dusting off my psychology hat and just say “it’s a bloody strange world”. No ‘Super Cream’ Blind Faith covers?

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    1. I was obviously caught up in the family drama and have just noticed the Blind Faith double header in there. Odd for what is essentially a cover band to justify having a right to play songs.

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      1. Right. According to Kofi, the fans’ take is sometimes “But you’re the Cream experience! Why are you playing Hendrix?” Fans always come in with expectations and expect them to be exactly met. Arlo Guthrie has sometimes had to deal with people who only come to hear ‘Alice’s Restaurant.’ Which he doesn’t play all that often. We went to see Stevie Wonder who was billed to play ONLY ‘Songs in the Key of Life.’ Some woman griped that he didn’t play ‘Ma Cherie Amour.’ So tribute or not, there are always fan expectations.

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    2. It was a bit odd. It may have been – as you lot are wont to say – taking the piss out of the old man. But despite his smile I never heard ‘I love me dad.’ We were talking about this after the show. But then there’s also a video out there of them drumming together. Maybe it’s just the way they both express affection, don’t know. Let’s just say that if my son were talking about me from the stage like that I’d be a tad embarrassed.

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  2. Cream epitomized electric blues rock, in my opinion. Nobody better, including Beck, Zeppelin, and Hendrix’ Experience (though the axemen are equally brilliant). These tribute bands, even with progeny involved, are embarrassing, one step removed from a “clone” band. This one sounds like they connect all the dots, but it’s like a gin & tonic without the gin. The power and majesty are completely absent.

    Lastly… you can play Clapton’s “Crossroads” solo? I’m truly impressed, Jim. I used to be able to do a sloppy rendition of part of the verse. Then I got married, and my amplifier disappeared. 🙂

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    1. I think you nailed it there, Pete. Tribute bands hit the letter if not the spirit. But it was a fun night out anyway. Where do you go to hear those tunes? Yeah, I can actually play both Crossroads solos. I literally warm up by playing the first one. I know, it’s crazy. I thought those songs came down from the gods. Saying that I could some day play Clapton or Hendrix solos would be like having said some day I’ll hang out with the Beatles. The second solo is harder because it is up way higher on the neck and Clapton just varies among the same relative handful of notes. (Was that A to G to C? Or C to A to G?) But they are both great solos and I literally am like a slave to them because if I don’t play them every week I will forget them. But I just love learning solos. I’m currently working on SRV’s 3 minute+ “Testify” and that is taking some time.

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  3. Lots of stuff in that take. Kofi even looks like the old man behind the kit. Same mannerisms. I love the “at least my old man likes somebody” quote. I could dig hearing an evening of these guys. You are without a doubt the most supportive music guy that I’ve come across. I like your style. That would have been so cool if you pulled a guitar out of somewhere and busted out those licks for those guys.

    Coincedently I was over on Christians takes yesterday and he had a clip of Cream, It was a 93 performance. All I could think of was how much I loved what and how they played. You kept touching on Jack Bruce above. I absolutely dug his style in playing and singing. What a band.

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    1. You might remember in ‘Annie Hall’ when Woody Allen quotes Marshall McLuhan. And when somebody questions him, he pulls McLuhan out from the shadows. It was just too funny that I said, casually, that I could play those solos and the guy was like, sure grandpa, they’re coming to take you back to the home any moment. Ha! Anyway, yeah, Cream were the cream for sure. Like Pete sez, it ain’t quite the same. But it was close enough.

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      1. I’ve seen a few bits like that. Harpo Marx like.
        Yeah I was thinking yesterday about my intro into this music thing. I BS a bit but the fact is my older brother had this great collection of records. Not a dud in the pile. So it was that pile that formed my tastes. It was like I grabbed and listened to what I dug the most. They were all there Doc, Beatles, Stones, Hendrix,….. but the ones i listened to the most were Cream, Mayall, Beck, Zep (#1,2), The Who, Mac, Sanatana, Traffic… Cream was probably the most listened to. So there it is. Why I’m who I am.

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  4. Jings. To echo Tony’s comment, this a very strange concept. Have you seen Beware Of Mr Baker? It’s really quite something… but Kofi appears in it and they seemed to be reconnecting when he got to Colorado (I think). There’s footage of them both jamming and playing together… then Kofi crest fallen cause Ginger basically says his playing is dog shit!? (Not his actual words). There’s no reconciliation, so I’m assuming they’ve reconnected on some level since… but my word, an odd one. (He clearly can play).

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    1. I did see it but it was back when it first came out about 5 or so years ago so my memory is dim. I literally don’t even remember Kofi being in it. i am going to have to watch it again.

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      1. He looked a bit different, but aye, he was in it. The lasting image I have of him is eating cereal and looking sad that his dad basically told him he was useless and fucked off.

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  5. I think seeing tribute bands can be a lot of fun, especially when you talk about bands you can no longer see either since they’re no longer around or you can no longer afford paying the ticket prices they charge!

    Capturing the extraordinary musicianship of Cream must be a formidable challenge. It sounds like this guys did a nice job. Unless they charged Clapton-like ticket prices, I’d go see them if they’d come to my neck of the woods.

    I think you’re generally right about tribute bands. If you carefully look at them long enough, you can pretty much always find deviations, in particular when it comes to vocals. Oftentimes, they are the hardest to replicate, especially when it’s such a distinct voice like Jack Bruce.

    As for Ginger Baker, I have to say the thought of having a father like him is depressing, and I feel really sorry for Kofi. While there is no doubt that Ginger was a hell of a drummer, he also seems to be one of the biggest jerks. The excellent documentary “Beware of Mr. Baker,” which based on your recommendation (thanks again!) I watched a few months ago, made that abundantly clear to me.

    I don’t know whether drugs fucked up his brain, but there is something seriously wrong with the man. I think I’d actually be scared to meet him!

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    1. You are exactly right about the vocals..As I think I mentioned before. I’ve seem a few good Beatles tribute bands and the vocals are never quite right. As to Ginger, yeah one of the all-time great drummers but a lousy guy. Hopefully Kofi’s mother is cool.

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    2. I just saw the documentary. Very well made. I don’t think there’s anything “seriously wrong” with him (drummer Jim Gordon, different story). Baker’s obviously a lousy family man, but then again, so was John Lennon (for a while). Seems to me he has a finely tuned bullshit detector, similar to interviewee John Lydon, which is kind of refreshing. The scene where he cries when discussing that his four drum heroes are also friends is really cool.

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  6. I just got a ticket to Cream tribute band Music of Cream (https://www.musicofcream.com/), which is doing a fall tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Cream. Their members include Kofi Baker (son of Ginger), Malcolm Bruce (son of Jack) and Will Johns (Eric’s nephew).

    Based on a few YouTube clips I watched, they’re not exactly like Cream (which I honestly think isn’t even possible) but they sound pretty decent – and I’m okay with this. Even if it’s only the equivalent of 80% of Cream, which seems to be the case, this tribute band still easily beats today’s mainstream music – of course, you could argue that’s a relatively low bar.:-)

    But I’m sorry, I’m just not willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket to see Eric Clapton, as much as I would love to!

    Below is Music of Cream’s tour schedule – looks like all small-to-midsize venues.BTW, the ticket prices are very reasonable!

    Fri, 28 Sep | Ottawa, ON – Centrepointe Theatre
    Sat, 29 Sep | Montreal, QC – Corona Theatre
    Sun, 30 Sep | Quebec City, QC – Imperial Bell
    Tues, 2 Oct | South Burlington, VT – Higher Ground
    Thurs, 4 Oct | Ridgefield, CT – The Ridgefield Playhouse
    Fri, 5 Oct | Woonsocket, RI – Stadium Theatre
    Sat, 6 Oct | New Bedford, MA – Zeiterion Theatre
    Sun, 7 Oct | Portland, ME – State Theatre
    Tues, 9 Oct | Northampton, MA – Calvin Theatre
    Thurs 11, Oct | Lynn, MA – Memorial Auditorium
    Fri, 12 Oct | New London, CT – Garde Arts Centre
    Sat, 13 Oct | Concord, NH – Capitol Centre for the Arts
    Sun, 14 Oct | Jim Thorpe, PA – Penn’s Peak
    Tues, 16 Oct | Englewood, NJ – Bergen Performing Arts Centre
    Wed, 17 Oct | Huntington, NY – The Paramount
    Thurs, 18 Oct | Glenside, PA – Keswick Theatre
    Fri, 19 Oct | Waterloo, NY – Del Lago Resort & Casino
    Sun, 21 Oct | Albany, NY – The Egg
    Tues, 23-Oct | Red Bank, NJ – Count Basie Theatre
    Wed, 24 Oct | Harrisburg, PA – Club XL
    Thurs, 25 Oct | Baltimore, MD – Rams Head Live
    Fri, 26 Oct | Greensburg, PA – The Palace Theatre
    Thurs, 1 Nov | Cleveland, OH – KeyBank State Theatre
    Fri, 2 Nov | Newark, OH – Midland Theatre
    Sat, 3 Nov | Indianapolis, IN – The Vogue
    Wed, 7 Nov | Des Moines, IA – Civic Centre
    Thurs, 8 Nov | St. Charles, IL – Arcada Theatre
    Fri, 9 Nov | Milwaukee, WI – The Pabst Theatre
    Sat, 10 Nov | Cedar Rapids, IA – Paramount Theatre
    Sun, 11 Nov | St Paul, MN – The Fitzgerald Theatre
    Tue, 13 Nov | Wausau, WI – The Grand
    Wed, 14 Nov | Madison, WI – The Orpheum Theatre
    Thurs, 15 Nov | Louisville, KY – The Brown Theatre
    Fri, 16 Nov | Cincinnati, OH – Bogart’s

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    1. I appreciate the update. I saw that in my inbox but having just seen Kofi I’ll be passing on that. But it sure is great to hear those numbers live. One day there’ll be as many Cream trib bands as Beatles.

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      1. Sure. If I had seen Kofi, I probably wouldn’t have gone for Music of Cream.

        And, yes, it seems like all for a sudden, folks are rediscovering Cream. I feel it’s part of a broader nostalgia trend in this country. So if you’re a capable tribute band, you definitely will find an audience and can make some money in the process.

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        1. Yeah, I think you’ll find the great preponderance of people at the show will be baby boomers with a smattering of those who have heard of them and are interested. You never know who will dig somebody. I heard a town hall call-in with Springsteen and a 19-year-old girl called in to talk to him.

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        2. Like McCartney, I find that Springsteen is one of those rare artists who attract both young and mature audiences. I suspect with Music of Cream, it will mostly be folks my age and older. As long as the music is good, I generally don’t care much about the audience. Plus, old guys rock!😜

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