Blind Faith were an English blues rock band, composed of Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood, and Ric Grech. The band, which was one of the first “super-groups”, released their only album, Blind Faith, in August 1969. They were stylistically similar to the bands in which Winwood, Baker, and Clapton had most recently participated, Traffic and Cream. They helped to pioneer the genre of blues/rock fusion.
Formation and early history
The beginnings of Blind Faith date from mid-1968, with the break-up of Cream. In retrospect as the first “super-group,” Cream had become a financial powerhouse, selling millions of records within a few years and raising the group’s (and each member’s) repertoire to international popularity. Despite that success, the band was crumbling from within because of frequent animosity between Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, with Eric Clapton doing his best to mediate. In addition, Clapton had tired of playing commercially driven blues and hoped to move forward with a new, experimental, less straitjacketed approach to the genre.
Steve Winwood was facing similar problems in The Spencer Davis Group, where he had been the lead singer for three years. Winwood wanted to experiment with the band’s sound by infusing jazz elements, but left due to his musical differences, instead forming a new band—Traffic—in 1967. That band split temporarily in 1969, and Winwood started to jam with his good friend Clapton in Clapton’s basement in Surrey, England. Winwood and Clapton had previously collaborated on the “Powerhouse” project.
Clapton was pleased with the jam sessions, but was hesitant to start a serious group. Ginger Baker turned up again one day to sit in with them in 1969, and the band took near-final form. Clapton questioned letting Baker in the band, because he had promised Jack Bruce that, if they were to work with one another again, all three of them would play. Moreover, Clapton didn’t want to reunite with Cream barely nine weeks after the break-up, and also didn’t want to deal with another “Cream-like” super-stardom situation. Winwood ultimately persuaded Clapton to finalize Baker’s inclusion in the line-up, arguing that Ginger Baker strengthened their musicianship and that it would be hard to find an equally talented drummer. Baker was a participant in sessions and public appearances
By May 1969, Ric Grech, bassist with Family, was invited to join them (leaving Family in mid-tour).
Debut and touring
News of the group’s formation created a buzz of excitement among the public and press, which even heralded the band as “super Cream”. The group debuted at a free concert at London’s Hyde Park on 7 June 1969. The performance was well received by fans there, but troubled Clapton, who thought that the band’s playing was sub-par and that the adulation was undeserved and reminiscent of his Cream days when the crowds would applaud for nearly everything. Clapton, knowing the band had not rehearsed enough and was unprepared, was reluctant to tour and feared that the band would develop into a Cream repeat.
Because Steve Winwood was signed to Island Records, he had to be “leased” to Polydor Records (to whom Clapton and Baker were signed in the U.K.). Possibly as part of this deal, a promotional single was released by Island, although the promotion was for Island itself. It was a single announcing the fact that they were moving their offices. Titled “Change Of Address From 23 June 1969”, the one-sided promo featured an instrumental jam by the group who were not mentioned at all on the label (the only other label info is the new address, phone number, and new cable address of Island). Recorded at Olympic, probably sometime between March and May 1969, it is thought that around 500 copies of the single were pressed, mostly sent to UK disc jockeys and other music industry insiders. The track was finally released widely when it appeared as a bonus track on the two-CD “Deluxe Edition” of the Blind Faith album in 2000 (titled “Change Of Address Jam”).
The recording of their album continued, followed by a short tour of Scandinavia, where the band played smaller gigs and were able to rehearse their sound and prepare it for bigger audiences in the U.S. and the UK. After Scandinavia, the band toured the United States, making their debut at Madison Square Garden on 12 July before more than 20,000. The band toured for seven more weeks in the U.S., finishing their tour in Hawaii on 24 August 1969.
A major problem with the tour was that the band had only a few songs in their catalogue – barely enough to fill an hour. They were forced to play old Cream and Traffic songs, to the delight of a crowd which usually preferred their older, popular material to their new Blind Faith material. Clapton was now exactly where he didn’t want to be – stuck in a “super Cream” that was causing riots during their live shows. They were playing the same material from his Cream days, to appease the audience and to fill the void left by the lack of adequate new material.
Opening acts for the band included the bands Free, Taste and an R&B-based rock act called Delaney & Bonnie. Clapton particularly liked the soulful, folksy-sounding blues of Delaney & Bonnie; he began spending most of his time with them instead of Blind Faith, letting Winwood take a more prominent role in the band. Clapton even began sitting in on their opening sets, sometimes simply playing percussion, and showing more interest in them rather than his own band. Baker has since said it was obvious that Clapton was going to leave the band as soon as the tour was over.
Album release and controversy
Upon its release in July of 1969, Blind Faith topped both the UK chart and Billboard’s chart for Pop Album in the U.S., and peaked at No. 40 on the Black Albums chart – an impressive feat for a British rock quartet. The album sold more than half a million copies within the first month of its release and was a huge profit-making device for both Atlantic Records (on their Atco label in the U.S.) and for Clapton and Baker (Blind Faith sales were helping to stimulate demand for Cream albums, also distributed by Atco).
The release of the album provoked controversy because the cover featured a topless pubescent girl, holding in her hands a silver space ship designed by Mick Milligan, a jeweller at the Royal College of Art. Some perceived the ship as a phallic symbol. The U.S. record company issued it with an alternative cover which showed a photograph of the band on the front. In the UK an alternate cover was also issued simultaneously with the topless one, a thin and laminated cover with the back and front consistent with the inside of the foldout version. The original record number on the alternate cover is the same but ends with a “B” (583 059B). The record is the same and, since this was only issued for a short time, always had early matrix numbers and mothers.
The cover art was created by photographer Bob Seidemann, a personal friend and former flatmate of Clapton, who is known primarily for his photos of Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead. Rumours about the girl’s relationship to the band fuelled the controversy; among them were that she was Baker’s illegitimate daughter, and that she was a groupie kept as a slave by the band members. Actually, the young girl was a London suburbanite, who posed upon consent by her parents and for a fee, as described in Seidemann’s mini essay about the origins of the Blind Faith album cover artwork.
The cover was nameless – only the wrapping paper told the buyer who the artist was and the name of the album. Though initially banned in some countries, the original artwork was quite popular and collectible. It also became available later in the 1970s on the RSO label worldwide. Under licensing agreement during the mid-1980s, the Blind Faith album was remastered to high definition vinyl and gold compact disc by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab. During 2000 the entire album was remastered and re-released as a two-CD deluxe edition release from Polydor that includes alternates, out-takes and studio rehearsal versions of the band’s music created during the early months of 1969.
Dissolution and separate paths
After the tour finished in August, the band returned to England surrounded by rumours of break-up or a possible UK tour. By October, the band had effectively dissolved within a year of its creation, and it did not produce another studio or live album – though several live tracks from the band can be found on Steve Winwood’s 1995 retrospective album The Finer Things. Out-takes and other recordings were included in the two-CD issue Blind Faith – Deluxe Edition mentioned above.
Thereafter, Clapton stepped out of the spotlight, first to sit in with the Plastic Ono Band and then to tour as a sideman for Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, with whom he had become good friends during the U.S. tour. This freed him of the limelight that he had considered a plague to both Cream and Blind Faith. After his sideman stint, he took several members from Delaney & Bonnie to form a new super-group, Derek and the Dominos. Clapton never dropped his Blind Faith repertoire completely, as “Presence of the Lord” and “Can’t Find My Way Home” have been performed occasionally throughout his solo career.
1969: Rock band “Blind Faith” pose for a portrait in 1969. (L-R): Steve Winwood, Ric Grech, Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton. Photo by Bob Seidemann.
Unlike Clapton, Ginger Baker had enjoyed his Blind Faith experience and looked to carry on an offshoot of the band in the form of Ginger Baker’s Air Force with both Grech and Winwood. After a few shows together, Winwood left with Grech and went to Island Records to reunite and reform Traffic (Grech is featured on bass on the Traffic albums The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys and Welcome to the Canteen). Winwood would later go on to have a successful solo career and Grech was a member of various groups before his death in 1990 due to a brain hemorrhage.
Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood both appeared in the movie Blues Brothers 2000.
Clapton and Winwood would later look favourably on their work in the band and featured several Blind Faith songs in the Clapton (Crossroads) and Winwood collections and catalogues.
Clapton and Winwood together again
In July 2007, Clapton and Winwood reunited for a performance during the second Crossroads Guitar Festival held at the Toyota Park Center of Bridgeview (Illinois), where the duo performed a number of Blind Faith songs as part of their set. Their inspired performance led the two to announce plans to perform three reunion concerts at Madison Square Garden that took place on 25, 26 and 28 February 2008. It was not an official Blind Faith reunion; rather “Winwood and Clapton”. They performed primarily Blind Faith songs as well as some selections from Traffic, Derek and the Dominos, Clapton’s solo career and some Jimi Hendrix covers. Their band consisted of Willie Weeks on bass, Ian Thomas on drums and Chris Stainton on keyboards. A DVD and a 2 disk CD of these performances was released in 2009.
Clapton and Winwood
On 10 June 2009, Winwood and Clapton began a 14-date United States summer tour at the Izod Center in New Jersey. Their backing band was similar to the one at Madison Square Garden, with Ian Thomas replaced by Abe Laboriel Jr. and backing vocalists Michelle John and Sharon White added. The former Blind Faith bandmates ran their third European tour from 18 May to 13 June 2010 with drummer Steve Gadd.
Winwood and Clapton met again for a series of five concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall from 26 May to 1 June 2011. The former Blind Faith members then performed on a 15-date tour in Japan from 17 November to 10 December 2011.
Eric Clapton – guitar, vocals
Steve Winwood – organ, bass, guitar, piano, keyboards, vocals, harmonica
Ginger Baker – percussion, drums
Ric Grech – bass, violin, vocals
Blind Faith August 1969 No. 1 (US) (Platinum), September 1969 No. 1 (UK) (Gold).
London Hyde Park 1969