Blind Faith - Biography
The aptly-named Blind Faith is a textbook example of unrealized potential. Formed in 1968 from the remnants of other high-profile groups, this "supergroup" brought together some of rock's greatest talents. The quartet issued one hastily-recorded album, did a quick tour and disbanded. In some ways, Blind Faith is no more than a footnote to the careers of three of its members. Yet in its lineup, approach and songs, the group possessed immense potential to push popular music in new and exciting directions. They made tentative steps in those directions, but left fans wondering what could have been.
The volatile rock/blues power trio Cream played its farewell concert (2005 reunion notwithstanding) at London's Royal Albert Hall at the end of November 1968. The trio (guitarist/vocalist Eric Clapton, bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker) had always experienced a tenuous relationship; fights—especially between Bruce and Baker—were not uncommon. While this tension arguably served to heighten the explosive nature of the music (personal discord was working for The Who, after all), the group was destined to fracture. Meanwhile, Steve Winwood's group Traffic was falling apart yet again, and not for the last time. Winwood and Clapton had worked together in an earlier one-off 1966 project called Powerhouse; that group recorded a handful of tracks for a superstar compilation on Elektra called What's Shakin'. Despite misgivings, Clapton brought along Baker for this new project. Ric Grech (bass, violin) left Family to complete the new group.
With Blind Faith, the players would have the opportunity to capitalize on their individual and collective fame. Securing a recording contract and tour booking was effortless; the music industry's unquestioning willingness to promote a group that had (as yet) not recorded anything was an article of…blind faith.
While similarities exist between Blind Faith's musical approach and that of its forebears Cream and Traffic, some important differences would emerge. Tracks like "Sea of Joy" served to meld disparate styles: the memorable heavy riff of the song's refrain calls to mind Cream tracks like "White Room" and "SWLABR," while the pastoral verses of “Sea of Joy” (featuring Grech's violin on the studio recording) exhibit the best characteristics of Winwood's work with Traffic. On several songs from its self-titled 1968 album (Billboard #1), Blind Faith managed to combine these elements into cohesive songs. A surprising quality of Blind Faith's work was the showcasing of a subtler side of Baker's drumming; this was a quality of Baker’s that Cream rarely explored.
This dramatic tension between the pastoral and the visceral was showcased on other tracks. "Can’t Find My Way Home" features more of Baker's novel delicate approach; his sparing use of cymbals makes their rare appearance even more effective. "Had to Cry Today" is distinguished by a Cream trademark: a lengthy riff (a la Cream's "Politician") over a standard blues pattern; yet Winwood’s soulful vocal take sets the song apart from blues-retread territory.
The group excelled at reinterpretation of the work of others. An album highlight is a cover of Buddy Holly's "Well…All Right," in which Clapton—knowingly or otherwise—mimics the style of the Allman Brothers. (Guitarist Duane Allman would work with Clapton several months later.) In a live setting, Blind Faith often performed a re-imagined version of The Rolling Stones' classic "Under My Thumb," slowing it down and transforming it into something much funkier, with a vibe similar to Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay.” This strength in interpretation is one direction the band could have exploited, had they remained together.
With the talented Winwood handling vocal duties for Blind Faith (Clapton does not sing on the album, and only “Well…All Right” features vocal harmony overdubs from Winwood), Clapton was free to concentrate on guitar. His recorded work on Winwood's songs (plus Baker’s “Do What You Like” and the Holly cover) shows Clapton successfully applying his talents to the work of others. Employing a method similar to his treatment of blues standards, Clapton plays with taste; in a departure from his approach with Cream, he rarely overplays. Clapton saved his most incendiary (and Cream-like) playing for his own composition, "Presence of the Lord." That track maintains a gospel feel throughout its verses and choruses, but when Clapton solos, the song reaches new heights. Near its end, the song features a piano-led jazzy arrangement that foreshadows a direction Winwood would explore more fully with a re-formed Traffic on subsequent albums.
The album was not without padding. Baker's repetitive “Do What You Like”—little more than a rewrite of his "What a Bringdown" from Cream's Goodbye—wears out its welcome quickly, inciting tedium even before the obligatory drum solo. The track meanders for some fifteen minutes; in concert it would drone on even longer.
The UK album packaging did not feature the band's name; instead it displayed a controversial photo of a topless eleven-year-old girl holding a stylized metallic model airplane. Many found the cover shocking, especially with its (arguably) phallic imagery. An alternate cover (with the band's name and a group photo) was issued for US markets.
Blind Faith's live debut was at Hyde Park, on June 7, 1969. In between sessions for the album, the quartet played dates in Scandinavian countries, plus the UK and USA. A mere seven months after they formed, Blind Faith broke up.
Upon the group's dissolution, Grech and Winwood briefly joined Ginger Baker's new supergroup project, Ginger Baker's Air Force, and then took part in a new version of Traffic. Clapton went on to a low-key association with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, then to session work (including George Harrison’s All This Must Pass) before forming another short-lived outfit, Derek and the Dominos.
In the late 1960s, many rock musicians were seeking to push the boundaries of music, tiring of the band format and searching for something new. Blind Faith represented a musical way station for four of those British musicians, a brief interlude that allowed them to collaborate with musical peers while they contemplated their next moves. But in the process of this one-off project, the group left behind an important musical document in their self-titled album.