NEW YORK Now that Eric Clapton has sworn off future world tours, a full-scale Cream reunion seems a distant possibility. Add that drummer Ginger Baker was denied re-entry into the United States following a squabble with the Immigration and Naturalization Service two years ago, and the odds diminish substantially.
For a few brief days in London last December, however, Clapton and Cream bassist Jack Bruce reconvened with instruments in hand for the first time since their 1993 performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the majesty of Cream was reborn.
The two entered the studio to record new versions of their late-'60s hits "Sunshine of Your Love" and "White Room" for Bruce's new solo record, Shadows in the Air, which also features guests such as Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, Dr. John, blues guitarist Gary Moore and various Cuban horn players. Bruce originally planned to have Clapton sing "Sunshine" while Reid played guitar. Then he reconsidered.
"I thought, 'Well, I can't ask Eric to come down without bringing his guitar,'" he said recently. "So we did it, and it was great just like old times. It definitely didn't feel like work."
Like the rest of the record, the tracks are embellished with Latin flavor, courtesy of Cuban percussionist Jose Luis "Changuito" Quintana, who didn't know much classic rock before he entered the studio.
"He had never heard of 'White Room' or 'Sunshine of Your Love,' but he really liked them," recalled Bruce. "That was another little seal of approval that these songs are still valid."
Working again with Clapton on tunes that jump-started their rock careers made Bruce crave a more substantial Cream reunion.
"I would love to do a couple of concerts with Cream," he said. "We could raise a lot of money for some very good causes, and I think it would be real fun."
When they were together in the studio, Bruce asked Clapton if he might be interested in scheduling a few Cream concerts to benefit Baker, who has suffered financial and personal problems Bruce was unwilling to describe.
"I said to Eric, 'Do you think we should do something to help Ginger out?' And Eric said, 'I think it's time he helped himself out.'"
As uninterested as Clapton now seems in playing live with Cream again, Bruce still hopes that he and Clapton will someday work again on a full album together, with or without Baker.
"After the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performance, Eric and I talked about maybe doing a record," Bruce said. "There was a magic with that band, and it would be a blast to do it. Maybe it will still happen."