Italian musician and music journalist Edoardo Genzolini may have only been born in 1991, but he’s got the heart, soul and dedication of the most diehard and more experienced Classic Rock fans. In a pair of books, he focuses with intensity on his two favorite bands—Cream and The Who—and their live performances over a select period of time at San Francisco venues.
Genzolini cites Jack Bruce as both his musical inspiration and reason for playing the bass—and even had what he remembers as one brief and awkward personal interaction with the man backstage after an Italian gig.
He details it early in the somewhat unwieldly-titled Cream: Clapton, Bruce & Baker—Sitting on Top of the World: San Francisco, February-March 1968 (144 pp., $24.99, Schiffer Publishing). It also features written contributions from filmmaker Tony Palmer and sound engineer Bill Halverson, both present at gigs during the run and documenting them.
Often cited as the first “Supergroup,” the three members of Cream—Eric Clapton (guitar/vocals), Jack Bruce (vocals/bass) and Ginger Baker (drums)—came together in 1966. All had come from previously successful blues and jazz bands. They took their name not-so-modestly as a statement on how they viewed their own musical level and proficiency compared to their peers.
And though many heads were scratched when high audience expectations were scuttled by the release of the tame, vocal-harmony heavy debut single “Wrapping Paper,” the band would of course produce an enviable list of Classic Rock Warhorses including “Sunshine of Your Love,” “White Room,” “Crossroads,” “Strange Brew,” “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” “Spoonful,” “I’m So Glad” and “I Feel Free.”
But by early 1968, the “wheels of fire” were coming off the Cream machine, a combination of relentless touring, egos, drugs, and sometimes physical altercations. Especially between Bruce and Baker (carrying over a practice from their previous shared group, the Graham Bond Organisation).
The trio decided to break up a few months after the gigs detailed in this book. And by the end of the year, they had already finished up the proclaimed “Farewell Tour,” which stuck until a one-off short set at their 1998 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a handful of lauded UK/US reunion gigs in 2005.
Genzolini gives a short (if familiar) course in the band’s history. But he focuses on two months in early 1968 when Cream played gigs at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium and Winterland, both owned by empresario Bill Graham. The book itself was sparked by his discovery of some live tapes surreptitiously recorded at Winterland. Official live tracks were also recorded, and appeared on the band's Wheels of Fire, Live Cream and Live Cream Vol. II. What is of greatest interest to the Cream fan here are the scores of informal photos of the shows from a variety of mostly audience members, along with stills from Palmer’s film footage of the group. Most seem to have never been published before, but what they lack in “professionalism” they make up for in the reality, energy, enthusiasm and grittiness of the shows.
There’s also a highly entertaining reflection from Billy Stapleton, then a teenage music store employee/temporary roadie who brought equipment to the venue and spent time with the band.
He writes how an increasingly frustrated Baker bellowed at him backstage that he wanted “free Cokes…FREE COKES!” It wasn’t Stapleton could decipher from the thick Cockney accent that what the drummer was actually demanding was three Cokes. And he didn’t care of Stapleton had to pay for them himself.
Larger in physical size and page count, Genzolini’s Teenage Wasteland: The Who at Winterland, 1968 & 1976 (256 pp., $45, Schiffer Publishing) takes a similar approach to the band that featured Roger Daltrey (vocals), Pete Townshend (guitar/vocals), John Entwistle (bass) and the wildly unpredictable in life-and-music Keith Moon (drums).
Here, there’s plenty of in-depth written by Genzolini and contributors about the Who’s earlier forays into San Francisco, Townshend’s musical and spiritual headspace around the time of the 1968 shows, and more background on the venue and Bill Graham along with firsthand audience accounts.
The majority of the 1968 photos are from the lens of Douglas Kent Hall, who shot the band both onstage and in more casual backstage/hotel settings. An especially informative essay on the band’s “years between” lead into the 1976 shows, by which time the band had ascended into the highest level of rock bands in terms of popularity and acclaim.
A favorite photo here is Dave Hori’s shot from the group’s infamous November 20, 1973 at San Francisco’s Cow Palace when Moon—fueled by a combination of brandy and elephant tranquilizers—passed out cold at his kit in the middle of the show.
Frustrated and angry, Townshend asked if anyone in the audience could play drums. Enter fan Scott Halpin, who jumped up onstage and finished out the show. Hart’s photo captures a both terrified and awestruck Halpin behind Moon’s kit, trying to follow Townshend’s lead.
The 1976 color and black and white photos are almost all by Sansara-Nirvana Murphy, capturing singer Roger Daltrey’s long, curly, flowing locks and rainbow suspenders over a white shirt in all their glory. Bearded and a bit pudgy—but full of life—these would be among Keith Moon’s last batch of live shows before his 1978 death by overdose of pills—ironically prescribed to wean him off booze.
Both books are beautifully laid out and produced on quality glossy paper. They are definitely aimed more at diehard fans whose knowledge of the music goes beyond the “greatest hits” compilations and often go granular But they delve into a deep and new nook and cranny in the histories of both Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted groups.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.