Singer/guitarist Godfrey Townsend’s resumé screams for itself. The list of classic rock luminaries he’s backed up onstage around the globe includes John Entwistle, Jack Bruce, Alan Parsons, Todd Rundgren and Ann Wilson. For the past several years, in between tours, Townsend has helmed an Eric Clapton tribute band called Clapton Is Godfrey, which has performed to sellout shows at B.B. King Blues Club and other venues. Now, he’s launched Sons Of Cream, featuring the offspring of Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker—Malcolm Bruce on bass and Kofi Baker on drums. Word has quickly spread about this new power trio and they’ve already been offered dates outside of the New York area. I visited the Townsend mansion in Glendale, Queens, and was greeted by his mother and his dog before sitting down to do this interview.
How did Sons Of Cream come about?
On the middle of last year’s Happy Together Tour, I was thinking I needed a change. I knew both Malcolm Bruce, Jack Bruce’s son, and Kofi Baker, who is Ginger Baker’s son, so I sent them an email about doing some shows together, and both of them came back with, “Yeah, let’s do it.”
Who put together the setlist and worked out the logistics?
I did most of that. I sent them a master list of every Cream song and Blind Faith song, just to start out. Eventually we decided to do just Cream songs, since Malcolm didn’t know the Blind Faith songs and I didn’t want to give him an extra workload. Let’s get together once, arrange endings, and do some shows. That’s what Cream was as far as a live band. Never did a song the same way. I had a reputation for the Clapton tribute thing at B.B. King’s. So that’s how it came together. Malcolm and I had met a few times, and I’d also did some recording with Jack Bruce around 2002 and ran into Malcolm that way in some pub in SoHo, and he also played with Leslie West and we met at B.B. King’s.
You told me during our initial phone conversation that you’re going to get them into the studio and rehearse for eight hours. Is that still happening?
Malcolm’s gonna come in two days early to work out the vocal specifics, the preliminary work, and then Kofi will arrive, and then the next day all three of us will get together and work on maybe the dozen songs on the list. We have 90-minute shows. Of course, we could do “I’m So Glad” for 90 minutes, but we want to give them variety.
I wanted to talk to you a little about your technique. When I see you do the Clapton stuff, you don’t try to sound like Eric Clapton. You play “like” him, but somehow it doesn’t come off as “Close your eyes and you’ll think you’re listening to Eric Clapton.” It’s Godfrey, and it’s very clear. That prevents it from becoming cheesy, and makes it better than most so-called “tributes.” Maybe you have a word to say about that?
It’s kind of weird. If I try to play like Eric Clapton, if I say to myself, “Try to play the way Eric Clapton would play,” I might sound more like him, because I’m thinking about it. I’m thinking, “Oh, he would do this, he would do something like this, he would do something like that.” When it comes to music, people should understand that it’s a language, just like anything else is a language. So if you are learning Italian, you start off with learning a few catchphrases, a few major words. How do you say cat, how do you say dog? So when you’re learning to play a particular style of guitar that someone plays, you learn a lick, a riff, a little phrase, and you learn another phrase, and you put all those phrases together, and you’re speaking that language. Like I said, if I try to play like Eric Clapton, I could sound more like him. If I just don’t think about it and play whatever I want to play or whatever I’m feeling. It probably sounds different because I’ll just start playing a little more complicated or just something closer to what my style is. But my style is just a combination of maybe six guitar players’ styles.
Clapton, Beck, and Page, that’s the holy trinity. Then you got Hendrix, who is in a class of his own. And guys like Robin Trower, Leslie West, who are different sounding than your average blues rock guitar players. Even though Beck, Page, and Clapton are three blues rock guitar players, they all did something different with what they heard and took it to three different levels. Then there’s Hendrix, who did what he did. Then there’s Robin Trower who kinda did like a Hendrix thing in another way. Leslie West kinda did his thing, but it was more about tone and feel or whatever. And later on it was guys like Stevie Ray Vaughan, who were masters. And once the newer guys were coming who were just shredding a million notes a minute, it was like, “Well, that’s impressive, but it doesn’t really do anything for me. I’d rather go back and a listen to Jeff Beck.”
When I was young and learning how to play lead guitar, I was listening to particular guitar players. Of course, that’s how you develop that style of sounding like someone. It’s like talking to a parrot, and you tell it words to say, and he’s gonna say them and repeat them. And if you say them in certain ways, accent here, phrase it like that, the parrot will pick up on those little inflections as well.
It’s funny how I got introduced to those guys. I got turned on to Page by discovering Led Zeppelin myself. That was my first influence. I remember listening to The Who—Tommy, and the first two Zeppelin albums, more than just chords. Abbey Road, The Beatles. Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour. When we got to Abbey Road, that’s when I started figuring out solos. The other guitar player in the band I had, one of my buddies, was taking lessons, but he couldn’t play lead guitar. I had an ear for that stuff, so I would default to playing the lead part in the song. I didn’t know anything about chords. I knew some theory from playing piano.
So you knew leads but not anything about chords?
Yeah. They still have it probably, the Fake Book. The friend’s dad was in a wedding band, and he would get Fake Books for us. Of course, they were illegal, you know, someone goes and buys the sheet music, photostats it all and makes a book out of it and sells the book for five or 10 bucks, so we would save up and buy Fake Books from his dad. They had chord diagrams in there, and we’d know the songs from the radio, so we’d play along and strum them. And we’d learn chords from there.
After you had learned lead?
Lead first and ask questions later. Never heard of that before.
My son is the same way. My son, when he first started playing, started playing by ear. He plays piano and bass just by ear.
Aside from working with the sons of the original Cream, how does this band differ from Clapton Is Godfrey?
Malcolm Bruce is more of a singer-songwriter guy. To fill his father’s bass virtuoso shoes is a bit of a stretch for him. Cream lends itself to improvisation, though, and that’s why this is much more than a note-for-note tribute. There is some real creativity to it. The great thing about this is it’s just kind of an idea. Up to this point, it’s just been on paper. We got a pretty good reception from the booking agents, clubs. Friends on Facebook are asking us to come to Florida and all that. At the moment, we don’t have time to do more than a week’s worth of shows. If we don’t kill each other by then we’ll book more shows for the fall.
You haven’t come anywhere near close to the killing each other thing yet, have you?
No. We’ve never worked with each other yet. We’ve spoken on the phone a few times. I’m the guitar player and singer but I’m also advancing the gigs, booking the flights and hotels, making the itineraries, renting gear. Everybody has endorsements so we’ll pick up some equipment, but there are prep fees and all that paperwork. Now I know why my tour manager is always so somber. Always has two phones in each ear. It’s really the only way to do it, to have things run as smooth as you possibly can without Murphy’s Law interfering. There will always be something that’s gonna slip through the cracks, but hopefully it won’t be anything major that we can’t resolve in a couple minutes.
What is this for, anyway?
The Aquarian Weekly.
Sons Of Cream will play at B.B. King Blues Club on Friday, May 25. For more information, go to sonsofcream.com.