In March of 1967, Cream made their first trip to America. They were invited to play ten days on the Murray the K Show.
The idea was to fit in as many acts as possible in a one hour|
time frame, and then change the audience. The shows were pretty much a fiasco, and played before a half empty RKO Theatre most of the time.
Murray had intended to use the theatre's PA system for the shows, and so advised the performers not to bother bringing along any of their own equipment. When Cream arrived in
New York, they learned that the theatre would not be providing the sound system after all!
Fortunately, The Who had chosen to ignore Murray's directive and had brought along their equipment, which they shared with Cream for the duration.
The shows constantly ran over the scheduled times. Cream performed I Feel Free and I'm So Glad, at least at the outset.
As Jack recalls it, 'We started off having two songs in this show. Then they said,"Sorry, you'll have to cut it to one song". Then they said, "Sorry, that song's too long, you'll have to
cut that song down a bit".'
Cream didn't go over particularly well with the audience, and weren't exactly what Murray had in mind when he had booked them.
"He hadn't bargained for our casual English approach and expected us to be leaping around doing a James Brown thing," says Eric. "It just wasn't our show."
Murray ended up losing $27,000, and eventually abandoned the shows.
With little time left on their visitors visa, the group entered Atlantic Studios to record Disraeli Gears. Popular myth has it that the album was recorded in just three days.
The album was, in fact, recorded from the eighth to the nineteenth of May.
Ahmet Ertegun had reached an agreement to distribute Stigwood's Reaction label in America, and dispatched the band to the Atlantic studio in Manhattan.
Felix Pappalardi,"by arrangement with Robert Stigwood" as the album cover reads, replaced Stigwood as producer.
Tom Dowd was the engineer for the sessions. Dowd had worked on such recordings as Bobby Darin's Mack the Knife and Aretha Franklin's Respect. When Cream walked in, he|
was amazed by the amount of equipment they brought in with them.
"They were incredible. It was as if 'I've got two of everything here'. They recorded at ear shattering levels. I never saw anything so powerful in my life and it was just frightening...
I don't think they were cognizant of the fact that they had more tracks. They just went about recording in their own method".
While Pappalardi was the perfect producer for Cream, and Dowd provided the engineering expertise, Ahmet
Ertegun didn't quite seem to understand what the group was all about.|
Ertegun thought of Cream as Eric Clapton's band, with Jack and Ginger as the backing musicians. This was hurtful to both Ginger, who had in fact formed the band, and to Jack,
the group's main composer and lead singer. Jack and Ginger began to feel that there was a hidden agenda to make Eric the "star" with them as the backing people.
Jack was particularly bothered by the attitude towards his songs.
"I came up with things like Sunshine of Your Love and White Room and Ertegun would say 'No, that's no good, it's psychedelic hogwash, and anyway you shouldn't be singing,
Eric has to be the lead singer. You're just the bass player'."
By virtue of the fact that the band didn't have enough material to fill an album, the studio had to record Sunshine of Your Love, which then became the biggest selling single that
Atlantic had ever had !
A single, Strange Brew/ Tales of Brave Ulysses was released in June of 1967, in advance of the album. It only reached number 17 on the charts. The album was released in
November of '67, and went on to be a huge success, reaching the top five in both the UK and US charts.
Upon their return to England, Cream continued to play inappropriately small venues. One such "gig" was the Oxford University ball,
in May of '67. Pete Brown remembers that |
show. "Cream played at some ridiculous time. Nobody was listening. All the Hooray Harrys were out of their skulls and had turned into pumpkins by then. But, in front of about
nine people, they played all the songs like Dance the Night Away, rather than the big show pieces, which they'd never done before and never did again".
After the "show" the band set out to have a little fun of its own. Ginger rode a bike through the bar, scattering the suits in every direction. Jack left a bucket of something disgusting
in the Dean's office, (not as good as a dead horse, but close), and Eric spent his time, in a somewhat more traditional manner, in the company of a young lady.
At this point in the life of the group, the three musicians were about as close as they would ever be during Cream's existence.
They embarked on a short tour of Germany in June, and even Jack and Ginger enjoyed going off to see the sites together.|
"I remember", Jack says,"we were in West Berlin and we wanted to go to East Berlin and check it out. We got as far as Check
Point Charlie, saw all the Russian troops, got the horrors and decided not to bother!"
Eric says,"That was the time of Disraeli Gears, shortly after, and I think that was the height of it, that was the peak of the
mountain when we were so together, and so tight, and loved one another so much, and we just never spent a minute apart from
each other's company.
We were talking in tongues at that point. We'd invented a language that no one else could get in on. It was quite a long period,
maybe it was about six months, that we went on like that. I think part of the downfall was when we became so popular".
Ironically, at about this time, the band seriously thought about breaking up altogether. They were still little more than a "cult"
band, their success on the record charts were minimal, and their first trip to America was pretty much a disaster. Fortunately, the
Fillmore was to be their next stop!
1) Strange Brew was co-written by Eric, Felix Pappalardi and his wife, Gail Collins. Cream had recorded a song called Lawdy Mama.
The number was a traditional blues and had|
been a fixture of Cream's live set. Felix brought the tape home and wrote the lyrics to Strange Brew to the tune of Lawdy Mama. The lyrics were then super-imposed over the music.
Jack is still irritated by this. "If you listen to the song, it sounds like I'm playing the wrong bass line, but it's because I'm playing a different tune !"
The decision to use Strange Brew as the band's next single was also viewed as another attempt to put Eric up front, as the leader. Eric sings lead on the track, and the B side of the
single was Tales of Brave Ulysses, a song which Eric had co-written. Jack had submitted Sunshine of Your Love and probably expected that song to be the next single.
The two versions of Lawdy Mama recorded during these sessions were subsequently released, the first on Live Cream and the second, a very different, (and very good) version
on Those Were the Days.
2) SWLABR was originally entitled She Walks Like a Bearded Rainbow, but that was just too weird for Eric's liking, so the band simply took the first letter of each word and strung
them together to form the title. Most dee jays didn't know this, and struggled to pronounce SWLABR as if it were a proper word.
3) Sunshine of Your Love was another of the many Bruce-Brown collaborations. Pete explains how the song came about.
'Jack and I had been up all night, trying to get something together and it hadn't been going well. In desperation, he picked up his string bass and said,"well, what about this?", and
played this riff, and I said "wait a minute" and looked outside-"it's getting near dawn, when lights close their tired eyes"... and that's absolutely how it happened. It was five o'clock in
the morning, the birds were twittering and we were feeling terrible'.
Eric wrote the bridge to the song, 'I've been waiting so long / to be were I'm going / in the sunshine of your love'.
Jack's riff, to this day, remains one of the most instantly recognizable "hooks" in music, rivalling Led Zep's Whole Lotta Love and even, dare I say it, the gran' daddy of them all,
Beethovan's Fifth Symphony!
Clapton would joke, years later, that the only reason he recorded Cocaine was because J.J. Cale had "stolen" the opening riff from Sunshine of Your Love.
Of course, Eric himself had deftly incorporated an instrumental quote from the Rodgers and Hart pop classic Blue Moon into his Sunshine solo!
4) Ginger sings lead vocals on Blue Condition. The band also recorded a version of the song with Eric as vocalist, perhaps at the insistence of Ahmet Ertegun.
For years now, I have believed that it was Ginger who asked, at the end of Mother's Lament, "Do you want to do it again ?"
Recently, having listened more closely, I now think it may well have been Jack!
In any event, it still remains a mystery to me why they did it the first time!
5) The title of the album, Disraeli Gears, was actually a bit of an inside joke. Eric had been thinking of getting a racing bike, and was discussing it with Ginger, when Mick Turner,
one of the roadies, commented on the performance of "those Disraeli Gears" meaning to say "derailleur gears". The lads thought this was hilarious and decided that it should be the
title of their next album. Had it not been for Mick, the album would simply have been entitled, Cream.
6) On April 17,1983, Pappalardi was shot and killed by his wife. For more on Felix visit The Felix Pappalardi Dedication Website.
7) Disraeli Gears was re-issued as a double CD in October of 2004.
Disc one of "Disraeli Gears – Deluxe Edition" features the album, including demos and songs that did not make it onto the original LP. Disc two features the album in its original
mono format along with nine performances from the BBC radio session. A 24 page booklet was also included in the set.
Photo Credits; Disraeli Gears; album art, Martin Sharp
Center photo; Onstage: Photographer unknown.
Bottom photo; Jam with King and Bishop, Don Paulsen.