Pete Brown, a British Beat poet who wrote the lyrics to songs by the rock supergroup Cream, including the hits “White Room,” “I Feel Free” and “Sunshine of Your Love,” and who after the band’s breakup collaborated for nearly five decades with Jack Bruce, its lead vocalist and bassist, died on Friday at his home in Hastings, on the southeast coast of England. He was 82.
His manager, Peter Conway, said the cause was cancer.
Mr. Brown entered Cream’s circle at the request of Ginger Baker, the band’s drummer. They knew each other because Mr. Brown performed his poetry backed by jazz musicians and Mr. Baker had gotten his start in jazz combos; Mr. Baker asked Mr. Brown for help on the lyrics to the group’s debut single, “Wrapping Paper,” which preceded the release of “Fresh Cream,” its first album, in 1966.
Mr. Brown quickly discovered a career-long writing partner in Mr. Bruce, whose fluid and propulsive playing provided counterpoint to Mr. Baker’s explosive drumming and the guitar pyrotechnics of Cream’s third member, Eric Clapton.
In a short documentary about the making of “White Room” seen on Dutch television in 2018, Mr. Brown recalled, “It became evident that Jack and I had a chemistry, and when we wrote ‘I Feel Free,’ which was a big hit, so everyone went, ‘OK, that’s a team, let it roll.’”
Mr. Brown did not provide the lyrics to all of Cream’s songs, but he was the group’s primarily lyricist. On its second album, “Disraeli Gears” (1967), he wrote the words to “Sunshine of Your Love,” a collaboration with Mr. Bruce and Mr. Clapton, as well as “Dance the Night Away” and two other songs.
“White Room,” one of four songs he wrote with Mr. Bruce on the band’s third album, “Wheels of Fire” (1968), rose to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968. It was the second-highest ranking a Cream single achieved; “Sunshine” had peaked at No. 5 earlier that year.
“White Room” began as a poem Mr. Brown wrote, inspired by his stay some years earlier in an actual white room, in an apartment.
“I had been semi-destitute, a semi-bum, living on people’s floors, and eventually I began to earn some money from songwriting, and the white room was the first place I moved into,” he told the culture website Please Kill Me in 2022. In the Dutch documentary he added that he had stopped drinking and taking drugs in the room and decided to be a “songwriter rather than an itinerant poet.”
“White Room,” begins with these lines:
In the white room with black curtains near the station
Black roof country, no gold pavements, tired starlings
Silver horses ran down moonbeams in your dark eyes
Dawn light smiles on you leaving, my contentment
I’ll wait in this place where the sun never shines
Wait in this place where the shadows run from themselves
Peter Ronald Brown was born on Dec. 25, 1940, in Surrey, England, with World War II underway. His parents had moved there after fleeing London during the Blitz. His father, Nathan Brown, whose birth name was Nathan Leibowitz, and his mother, Kitty Cohen, sold shoes.
Peter started writing poems as a teenager, fired up by the works of Dylan Thomas, Federico García Lorca and Gerard Manley Hopkins. But he detoured, at least temporarily, to journalism, which he studied for nine months in 1958 at the Polytechnic-Regent Street (now the University of Westminster) in London.
He returned to verse and published his first poem in 1961 in Evergreen Review, the boundary-breaking literary magazine based in the United States that filled its pages with work by luminaries like Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller and William Burroughs.
In one early poem, “Few,” composed under the fear of nuclear war, Mr. Brown wrote:
Alone and half drunk hopeful
I staggered into the bogs
at Green Park station
and found 30 written on the wall.
Appalled I lurched out
Into the windy blaring Piccadilly night
Surely, there must be more of us than that.
Over the next few years, he was a working poet. He was part of the First Real Poetry Band, which included the guitarist John McLaughlin, and he had a jazz poetry residency at the Marquee Club in London.
In 1965, he and more than a dozen other poets from around the world, including Mr. Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, Michael Horovitz and Andrei Voznesensky, read their work at the International Poetry Incarnation, which filled Royal Albert Hall in London. On its website, the venue recalled the event as one “where beatniks met the emerging hippie culture.”
The call for help from Mr. Baker jump-started a long songwriting career, first with Cream and then, when Cream split up after two years, with Mr. Bruce on his solo work. He wrote the lyrics to songs on nearly all of Mr. Bruce’s albums, from “Songs for a Tailor” (1969) to “Silver Rails” (2014). One of their collaborations, “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” became a staple in the repertoire of the band Mountain.
“I was in awe of Jack,” Mr. Brown told The Guardian in an interview last month. But, he said, “Sometimes we had to have a rest from each other — two very big personalities in the same room sometimes wasn’t good, plus his addictions got in the way.”
Mr. Brown found his own voice, as a singer, in the decade after Cream broke up. He performed with the bands Pete Brown & His Battered Ornaments, Piblokoto!, Back to the Front, Flying Tigers and Bond & Brown, which he formed with the British rock and blues musician Graham Bond. He also began a long songwriting collaboration in the early 1980s with the keyboardist Phil Ryan, a former member of Piblokto!, that produced several albums through 2013.
He also helped write most of the songs on “Novum” (2017), Procol Harum’s last studio album. (He replaced Keith Reid, Procol Harum’s longtime lyricist, who died this year.)
Mr. Brown’s autobiography, “White Rooms & Imaginary Westerns: On the Road With Ginsberg, Writing for Clapton and Cream — An Anarchic Odyssey” (2010), is being adapted as a documentary by the director Mark Aj Waters but has not yet been finished. Mr. Brown had recently been working on an album, “Shadow Club”; one of his collaborators was Mr. Bruce’s son Malcolm, an electric bassist like his father. (Jack Bruce died in 2014.)
“We’ve naturally gravitated to each other,” Mr. Brown told The Guardian, adding that he was planning to write songs with Malcolm Bruce for his next album “as long as I can stay alive for a reasonable amount of time.”
Mr. Brown is survived by his wife, Sheridan MacDonald; his daughter, Jessica Walker; his son, Tad MacDonald; and a grandson.
Even after he began singing, Mr. Brown said, his admiration for Mr. Bruce initially led him to avoid singing the Cream songs he had helped write.
“You know, ‘I’m not good enough,’” he told Dutch television. “Then I suddenly thought, ‘OK, I wrote those songs as well,’ and I thought, ‘It’s kind of about time I started singing some of these songs.’”
Richard Sandomir is an obituaries writer. He previously wrote about sports media and sports business. He is also the author of several books, including “The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper and the Making of a Classic.” @RichSandomir
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