Tour itineraries are fascinating to me—where bands went, who they played with along the way, what happened to them while they were on the road. Thanks to Christopher Hjort’s Strange Brew: Eric Clapton and the British Blues Boom 1965-1970, we can follow the progress of that era’s top groups around England, Europe, and the United States.
Cream began their second tour of the States on February 23, 1968, about the time “Sunshine of Your Love” was released as a single, opening in Santa Monica, California. Right away on the second day came a great pop-culture collision, almost: Cream was scheduled to appear on the CBS variety show hosted by comedian Jonathan Winters, but the appearance fell through at the last minute.
Cream began a 11-day visit to San Francisco on February 29: three nights at Winterland followed by two more at the Fillmore and then another three back at Winterland. The Winterland shows were recorded, and many of the songs would eventually be released, including the famous Wheels of Fire performance of “Crossroads,” a song that was not a regular part of Cream’s setlist at the time.
On March 20th, after a few more dates in California and one in Arizona, there was time for R&R in Los Angeles. How Eric Clapton spent his time nearly ended the tour. A loud jam session with the Buffalo Springfield at the Laurel Canyon home of Stephen Stills brought out the cops, who smelled marijuana and started making arrests. After a short visit to the police station in Malibu, Clapton was inexplicably freed, although the others (except Stills, who had gotten out of his house through a window) had to spend the night in jail. If he had been officially busted, Clapton would likely have been sent home.
So the next day, Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker flew halfway across the country to begin the next leg of their tour. It opened at little Beloit College in Wisconsin, about an hour down the road from Madison, where the band didn’t go on until after 10:00 because they were late arriving from the airport in Chicago. The next night, they were in Indianapolis, then Waltham, Massachusetts. The Waltham show would be the subject of a scathing review in Rolling Stone that helped confirm the wisdom of what Clapton, Bruce, and Baker had already begun to discuss: whether to break up the group. Clapton would say later that they made the decision official during a weekend in Texas at the end of March, as Bruce and Baker continued to bicker and he grew tired of playing peacemaker.
It’s widely remembered that the night after Martin Luther King was murdered (April 5, 1968), James Brown played a show at the Boston Garden credited with helping keep the lid on racial tensions in that city. Cream was also in Boston, at a theater near the Garden. “We never left a gig so fast as that night,” the band’s tour manager would say. They played the next night in Lowell, Massachusetts, and two nights later (April 8) in Ottawa, Ontario. Tired of Baker and upset by the terrible sound at the theater in Ottawa, Bruce snapped. After the gig, he headed for the airport to fly home. This was enough to persuade Cream’s management to give the band a 10-day furlough in England.
They were back in the States on April 19th, however, and the next two months must have been grueling. The first leg included a two-night stand in the Chicago area, sharing a stage one night with Frank Zappa. During their Chicago stay, they also visited a recording studio and cut a jingle for Falstaff Beer. Then it on to was St. Louis, then the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and a club called the Scene in Milwaukee. During a second western swing, on May 20th, they taped a TV appearance with Glen Campbell in Los Angeles. A gig in Calgary, Alberta, drew just 900 fans, but they did better the next night in Edmonton, where the Grass Roots opened the show. Still to come: Vancouver, Detroit (three nights), West Hempstead, New York, Wallingford, Connecticut, and finally—on Sunday, June 16, 1968, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where the tour came to an end.
During the tour, Clapton had told one reporter that the band was breaking up, but swore him to secrecy. On July 13, the split was announced in the British music press and became official. Although a farewell tour and album would follow, Cream was finished. Night by night during an American spring, the last of the damage had been done.