Will Johns and 50 Years of Cream Coming to The Count Basie Theatre

Will Johns and 50 Years of Cream Coming to The Count Basie Theatre

Interview by Danny Coleman

“It’s going over really well I think,” says Will Johns of Cream. “We’ve got a really nice range of age groups coming to the shows and a lot of young guitar players as well; which is really great to see; every young guitar player that I know plays that riff from, “Sunshine of Your Love.”  

Smack in the middle of a, “50th Anniversary Tour” celebrating the music of one of rock’s first power trios, these three men not only bring the music of Cream back into focus but do so literally through their blood lines.  

Kofi Baker, the son of drummer Ginger Baker, Malcolm Bruce, the son of bassist Jack Bruce and guitarist Will Johns, nephew of Eric Clapton have combined to pay homage to the music of their fathers and uncle.  

Johns, an avid fisherman was working on fishing vessels in the English Channel when he got the call from his buddy Malcolm asking him to stop out at a show he and Baker were doing near his home town.   

“A few years ago, I’d say 2013 just after I lost my dad, I was in a pretty sad place and the phone rang and it was Malcolm Bruce. He phoned to say that he was coming to England on tour with Kofi and a great guitarist that they were playing with at the time named Godfrey Townsend and they were going to be doing a show fairly near to where I live and he invited me to come sit in on one of the shows; at the time I was really flattered that he thought that I could do something like that. So, I went along to the show and had a jam with the guys and things progressed kind of slowly from that point. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride; we had a tour of England but there were visa complications for Kofi so Malcolm and I ended up doing a couple of runs in the UK with another drummer. Then it all kind of came together last year with our new manager who put this particular project together and we toured Australia and New Zealand last year.” 

Being the nephew of Eric Clapton; does Johns feel any additional pressure in his presentation of the material and has he received any help from old, “Slow Hand” over the years? 

“I started out hitting the drums downstairs at my Uncle Eric’s house at stupid o’clock in the morning and I think I pissed him off a time or two and he’d come down at like six in the morning and say, “What the fuck are you doing? I’m trying to sleep; what are you learning and why don’t you learn a proper instrument? (Laughs)” I don’t think he meant the didgeridoo. Which by the way, all the time we were on tour in Australia I don’t think I saw anyone playing a didgeridoo; I didn’t see a kangaroo either.”  

“He actually showed me the opening part of, “Crossroads” as a young guitarist and once I figured that out, I went back to him and said, OK I’ve got that bit, he nixed it and that was when he put me on the path of,”You’ve got to figure that bit out for yourself.” A little tough love but I guess it went a long way because here we are,” he said with a laugh as he recounted those earlier days.  

” I think I may have felt some pressure before but I’ve been doing it for quite a while now and seems I’ve come to terms with that aspect of it. It’s a big pair of boots to fill but I don’t think that we as a band are necessarily trying to emulate or copy what’s been done before; it’s just more of an honoring of it and tipping our hat to it while still retaining our own musicianship and sense of personality; if that makes sense. We’re not wearing the clothes of the era or using big Marshall stacks of amps to recreate that sound; however Gibson Custom Shops have been very, very generous and sent me out a very beautiful cherry ES-355 to play on the tour and of course that’s the guitar that Eric used at the farewell concert back in November of 1968.” 

Unlike many other classic acts these days, this lineup gives those who come to the show more than their money’s worth. 

“You know, it’s a little bit elasticated where we can stretch it out or pull it back, there’s a lot of jams in the show but right now it’s running about two and a half hours. Sometimes it depends on what the venue requires, sometimes we have a break and sometimes we just run all the way through. Sometimes it’s a bit long to concentrate and be hit over the head with loud guitar, bass and drums,” he explained with a hearty laugh. “What we’re working on is a basic premise, Kofi is doing, “Toad”  which features a drum solo that can be anywhere from 12 minutes to 20 minutes depending on the night and to be honest, there hasn’t been a night where after he plays his drum solo that he hasn’t pretty much gotten a standing ovation. I have to say, hand on heart that he’s probably one of the most phenomenal drummers in the world today. I think he has probably surpassed his father, so yeah.”  

After two earlier shows at the Bergen and Mayo PACs, they will wrap up their New Jersey run with an October 23 show at Red Bank’s famed Count Basie Theatre. Johns reiterated once again the band’s pleasure with the diversity of the audiences. 

“I think we’ve probably got one of the broadest age ranges of interest. Younger people are coming in, younger people with their grandparents and they’re obviously young players just starting out wanting to see where the riffs have come from.” 

Even though they are technically not Cream, they are cut from the same cloth and Johns is very pleased with how they are being received and what they present every night on stage.  

 “The show is definitely a multi-media experience; we’ve got an incredible light show. Once again, it tips its hat to the lighting effects of time; the oil lamp and the psychedelia but then it also has modern contemporary aspects too. Included in that is footage and stories from our experiences and our upbringing with our respective parents and my uncle; combined with that we cover a lot of the Cream material and the well-known songs, so there’s some set pieces and also a lot of jam and free form. Both Kofi and Malcom have what I might call a genetic bond musically; it’s almost spiritual and bordering on telepathic and as a blues guitarist and somewhat of a simpleton, sometimes for me that can be a bit of a challenge (laughs). We turn it up and I’d like to think that we do our best to honor the music.” 

To obtain tickets or discover more about Cream and this current tour, please visit www.musicofcream.com

Danny Coleman (Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 10 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.)