On a sweltering summer day in 1969, over 100,000 people crammed into Hyde Park in central London for a first look at what promised to be the next great thing in rock and roll: Blind Faith.
It was an amazing lineup. The band was made up of two-thirds of Cream (guitarist Eric Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker) along with the frontman of Traffic (keyboardist and vocalist Steve Winwood) and the bassist from the progressive group Family (Ric Grech). The free concert on June 7, 1969, shown above in its entirety, was promoted with a great deal of fanfare and hyperbole. Expectations were high, so perhaps disappointment was inevitable. In any case the band came off sounding hesitant and unsteady. For a “supergroup,” they seemed surprisingly unsure of themselves.
“It was our first gig,” Winwood said later, “and to do that in front of 100,000 people was not the best situation to be in. Nerves were showing and it was very daunting. We couldn’t relax like you can on tour.” The band showed none of the verve or audacity of Cream. Clapton stood behind the drums and seemed reluctant to let loose. “In rehearsals and during recording,” said Baker, “Eric had been doing amazing stuff, but in Hyde Park I kept wondering when he was going to start playing. It wasn’t a brilliant start, obviously.”
The band avoided playing anything by Cream. The set list included one Traffic song (“Means to an End”) and another by the Rolling Stones (“Under My Thumb”), but was otherwise made up entirely of original songs written for their yet-to-be-released album, Blind Faith:
- Well All Right
- Sea of Joy
- Sleeping in the Ground
- Under My Thumb
- Can’t Find My Way Home
- Do What You Like
- Presence of the Lord
- Means to an End
- Had to Cry Today
Later that year the band toured Scandinavia and America, and their debut album was a commercial success despite considerable controversy over its strange cover image of a topless pubescent-looking girl holding a toy airplane. But it was clear from the start that Blind Faith wouldn’t last. Clapton’s heart, in particular, wasn’t into it. “I’d left The Yardbirds because of success,” he said later, “and Cream ended as a direct result of its false success. So with Blind Faith I wanted no more to do with success. I wanted to be accepted as a musician.” At the end of Blind Faith’s American tour Clapton made the unusual career move of quitting a supergroup to become a sideman for its supporting act, the relatively obscure Delaney & Bonnie. In a 1996 Mojo article on Blind Faith called “Born Under a Bad Sign,” rock journalist Johnny Black sums things up:
In retrospect, Blind Faith was cursed almost from the outset. This was a band whose members rarely seemed to tell each other anything. A band at loggerheads with its management. A management at loggerheads with itself. A heroin addicted drummer. A guitarist who wanted out almost from the word go. A stadium tour that the keyboard player didn’t want to be on. A record cover scandal. Worst of all, though, they were mind-numbingly successful when they didn’t want to be.