By July 1966, Eric Clapton's career with the Yardbirds and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers had earned him a reputation as the premier blues guitarist in Britain. Clapton, however, found the environment of Mayall's band confining, and sought to expand his playing in a new band. In 1966, Clapton met Ginger Baker, then the leader of the Graham Bond Organisation, which at one point featured Jack Bruce on bass guitar, harmonica and piano. Baker felt stifled in the Graham Bond Organisation and had grown tired of Graham Bond's drug addictions and bouts of mental instability. "I had always liked Ginger", explained Clapton. "Ginger had come to see me play with the Bluesbreakers. After the gig he drove me back to London in his Rover. I was very impressed with his car and driving. He was telling me that he wanted to start a band, and I had been thinking about it too."
Each was impressed with the other's playing abilities, prompting Baker to ask Clapton to join his new, then-unnamed group. Clapton immediately agreed, on the condition that Baker hire Bruce as the group's bassist; according to Clapton, Baker was so surprised at the suggestion that he almost crashed the car. Clapton had met Bruce when the bassist/vocalist briefly played with the Bluesbreakers in November 1965; the two also had recorded together as part of an ad hoc group dubbed Powerhouse (which also included Steve Winwood and Paul Jones). Impressed with Bruce's vocals and technical prowess, Clapton wanted to work with him on an ongoing basis.
In contrast, while Bruce was in Bond's band, he and Baker had been notorious for their quarrelling. Their volatile relationship included on-stage fights and the sabotage of one another's instruments. After Baker fired Bruce from the band, Bruce continued to arrive for gigs; ultimately, Bruce was driven away from the band after Baker threatened him at knifepoint.
Baker and Bruce put aside their differences for the good of Baker's new trio, which he envisioned as collaborative, with each of the members contributing to music and lyrics. The band was named "Cream", as Clapton, Bruce, and Baker were already considered the "cream of the crop" amongst blues and jazz musicians in the exploding British music scene. Initially, the group were referred to and billed as "The Cream", but starting officially with its first record releases, the trio came to be known as "Cream". Before deciding upon "Cream", the band considered calling themselves "Sweet 'n' Sour Rock 'n' Roll". Of the trio, Clapton had the biggest reputation in England; however, he was all but unknown in the United States, having left the Yardbirds before "For Your Love" hit the American Top Ten.
The band made its unofficial debut at the Twisted Wheel on 29 July 1966. Its official debut came two nights later at the Sixth Annual Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival. Being new and with few original songs to its credit, they performed blues reworkings that thrilled the large crowd and earned it a warm reception. In October the band also got a chance to jam with Jimi Hendrix, who had recently arrived in London. Hendrix was a fan of Clapton's music, and wanted a chance to play with him onstage.
It was during the early organisation that they decided Bruce would serve as the group's lead vocalist. While Clapton was shy about singing, he occasionally harmonised with Bruce and, in time, took lead vocals on several Cream tracks including "Four Until Late", "Strange Brew", "World of Pain", "Outside Woman Blues", "Crossroads", and "Badge".