Pete Brown, Songwriter and Cream Collaborator, Has Died at 82 – Reactions + Tributes
English poet, musician, songwriter and film writer Pete Brown – who co-wrote several of Cream’s biggest songs – has died at 82, as confirmed by a post made on Brown’s official Facebook page yesterday (May 20). The post clarifies that he passed following his “courageous battle with cancer.”
The post reads:
Pete Brown; Beat Poet, Author, Musician, Film Maker and Songwriter died last night at the age of 82 after a courageous battle with cancer.
Brown started his artistic career as a Beat Poet in the late 1950s. By the mid 1960s he had sold out The Royal Albert Hall with both his British and American contemporaries including Alan Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Michael Horowitz at the poetry happening Wholly Communion. Several collections of his poetry have been published, from Few in 1966 to his most recent collection in 2016, Mundane Tuesday and Freudian Saturday. His contribution to Pop-Culture transcended the boundaries of poetry with songs he co-wrote with the band Cream, including lyrics for White Room, Sunshine of your Love and I Feel Free.
While he continued to work with Jack Bruce for another 45 years after the breakup of Cream in 1968, with songs including Folk Song and Theme for an Imaginary Western, he also pursued a music career in his own right as a singer/songwriter, becoming a cult figure with bands including Piblokto, The Battered Ornaments, Bond and Brown (with Graham Bond and Dick Heckstall-Smith), The Interoceters and Psoulchedelia. He had a longstanding creative partnership with his great friend Phil Ryan, the composer and keyboard player who started his musical career with the Man band. In the 2000s Pete formed a film company with Mark AJ Waters (Brown Waters Pictures) having previously been encouraged by Martin Scorsese to write screenplays. In recent years he featured in two documentary films; White Rooms And Imaginary Westerns, a loose adaptation of his autobiography, and The Cream Acoustic Sessions, a documentary on the re-working of many of the Cream songs.
He collaborated on the latter with both Ginger Baker and Malcolm Bruce, son of Jack Bruce, as well as many guest stars including Joe Bonamassa and Bobby Rush. An accompanying album, Heavenly Cream is due for release later this year. Pete was known to repeat the mantra “I come from a long line of worriers, not warriors”. One of his other favourite expressions, passed down from Spike Hawkins was ‘that’s life – up one minute, down the next twenty-five years.’ Despite his tendency towards Jewish pessimism, he lived the life of a warrior poet. He was proudly anti-establishment, and dedicated his life to his creative endeavours, in an uncompromising way.
He continued working until the end, collaborating with Joe Bonamassa on the album Royal Tea, and most recently with John Donaldson on the final mixes of their new album Shadow Club. The album features guest performances from Eric Clapton, Joe Bonamassa, Bernie Marsden and is produced by long-time collaborator Rob Cass. Pete was an animal lover. He was known as Papa Pete to Henry dog, the Hungarian wire-haired Viszla, and to his ever-increasing family of cats, to whom he was devoted. He was also a loyal and generous friend, and a huge supporter of other musicians, at every stage of their careers.
He is survived by his beautiful wife and life partner Sheridan, his daughter, the singer and writer Jessica Walker, and his musician and restauranteur son Tad.
Born in Ashtead, Surrey on Christmas Day 1940, Brown began his artistic career as a teenage poet. In fact, he eventually became a major part of the 1960s Liverpool Beat Poetry scene, and he eventually performed at places such as the Morden Tower and Royal Albert Hall amidst partnering with German artist Michael Horovitz, influential folk guitarist Davey Graham and the “New Departures” group.
Before long, he co-founded the First Real Poetry Band with bassist Binky McKenzie, drummer Laurie Allan (Gong), percussionist Pete Bailey and most famously, guitarist John McLaughlin (Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra).
As luck would have it, the ensemble got the attention of legendary rock trio Cream, who – Brown’s official site specifies – initially saw Brown as a writing partner for drummer Ginger Baker. However, they soon decided that he’d work better with bassist Jack Bruce, who later reflected: “Ginger and Pete were at my flat trying to work on a song but it wasn’t happening. My wife Janet then got with Ginger and they wrote ‘Sweet Wine’ [from 1966’s Fresh Cream] while I started working with Pete.”
Across Cream’s four studio LPs, they’d pen lesser-known gems such as “Wrapping Paper,” “As You Said,” “Politician,” “Dance the Night Away” and “Take It Back” and at least three of the band’s biggest songs: “I Feel Free,” “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room.”
Touchingly, Brown and Bruce continued to work together after Cream’s 1968 disbandment. Actually, Brown was the sole or co-lyricist for all of Bruce’s solo albums (from 1969’s Songs for a Tailor to 2014’s Silver Rails) except for 1970’s instrumental Things We Like.
Over the last few decades, Brown also spearheaded his own groups – including His Battered Ornaments, Flying Tigers and Piblokto! – with whom he cumulatively put out a handful of albums. In the late 1970s, he started writing film scripts and scores, too, and launched his own label, Interoceter. He also collaborated further with Piblokto! bandmate Phil Ryan, started his own film production company (Brown Waters) and issued several printed and auditory collections of poetry.
Naturally, Brown has received a few heartfelt tributes since the news of his passing.
Specifically, the family of Jack Bruce (who died in 2014, at the age of 71) posted to Twitter yesterday: “We are extremely saddened to learn of the death of Jack’s long term friend and writing partner Pete Brown who passed away last night🌹 We extend our sincere condolences to Pete’s wife Sheridan and Pete’s children as well as all his family and friends. Love from the Bruce family.”
Likewise, revered guitarist Joe Bonamassa tweeted: “Rest in Peace my friend. One of the coolest blokes who wrote the best lyrics. It was an honor to write and work with you. My condolences to Pete Brown's family.”
Per The Guardian, iconic filmmaker Martin Scorsese even made an “as-yet unreleased” documentary about Brown; in its trailer, Scorsese remarks: “Pete was a great songwriter. Whenever the lyrics are repeated in my head . . . these images stay with me.”
You can relive some of Brown’s greatest musical contributions, as well as see some social media tributes, below.
Loudwire wishes to extend our condolences to Brown’s friends, family, fans and everyone else who’s been touched by his life and work.