Unlike their first two albums, Wheels of Fire was recorded over a period of months and featured extensive overdubbing.|
During July and August of '67 the band had laid down four tracks at IBC Studios in London (one of these being the Falstaff beer commercial released on Those Were the Days).
In September and October they returned to Atlantic Studios in New York to continue work on the album, and then again in January and February of '68.
As soon as these sessions were complete, Cream started out on their second American tour, which began in Santa Monica, February 23.
They returned to the studio in June for the final overdubs on the album.
"Eric used to do wonderful overdubs," Jack says."We did a rough vocal track, and then Eric used to go out into the studio and work on overdubbed guitars for quite a time, and think |
about just what the guitar should do. And the ability to play more than just one guitar part is nice".
This was most evident on Politician, on which Eric plays three solos which were then mixed into the final track. The solos weave through the song, with an almost hypnotic effect.
On one of the final overdubs, for the intro of White Room, Eric removed all the strings but one, and then bent that one string, unrestrained by any other, as far as he could.
Eric says,"We were all very much into experimentation. The intro of White Room was made up of me feeding back on every string, so it was like six tracks of single strings feeding
back. I thought that was a landmark in recording history. We were all going places we didn't think any one had been before".
From their humble four track recordings of Fresh Cream, they had progressed to eight tracks for Disraeli Gears, with no real knowledge as to how to best utilize the extra tracks.
By the time they were ready to record Wheels of Fire they had begun to appreciate the benefits of the techniques available to them.
For the first time, Cream filled out their sound with the addition of cello, trumpet, viola, organ, and a multitude of bells.
It was decided to record several shows of the group's second American tour for release as the second disc of the double album. It is interesting that, although the live part of Wheels
of Fire is called "Live at The Fillmore", most of the set came from the Winterland shows. Only Toad was taken from the Fillmore shows (March 7). Traintime (March 8) Crossroads
and Spoonful (March 10) were recorded at the Winterland.
1) Wheels of Fire was released in August of '68. It became their biggest selling album,
reaching number 1 in America and number 3 in the U.K. It also resulted in a renewed
interest, and sales, of their previous albums.
2) Wheels of Fire was released as a double album featuring the studio recordings as well as "live" recordings from their second tour of America. It was also released as two single LP's,
"In the Studio" and "Live at the Fillmore".
The "In the Studio" album featured a psychedelic Disraeli Gears type of cover, predominately
blue as opposed to the pink of Disraeli Gears.
I can still remember holding this album in my hands, but I was only earning $50.00 a week
back then, and buying the single LP when I already had the double didn't seem to be good
money management at the time.
In retrospect, I wish I had bought it. The single is very rare, and quite a collectors item by now.
3) It has long been rumoured that the version of Crossroads on Wheels of Fire was edited from a longer recording of the song. Tom Dowd himself appears to lend credence to this|
claim. In an interview with Guitar Player magazine (July,1985) Dowd says: "Crossroads, onstage, was never under seven to ten minutes long. So, the solos between the vocals were
In spite of Dowd's recollections, there is no evidence of an edit, and other versions recorded in concert during the tour run for approximately the same length of time. I think it safe to
say that the version of the song that appears on Wheels of Fire is, note for note, as Cream played it that night.
4) Eric does not play on As You Said. Jack plays acoustic guitar on the track.
"I wanted Eric to play guitar on that track but he encouraged me to do it. I was always embarrassed about my acoustic guitar playing, especially when you had Eric Clapton
in the band..."
5) Rolling Stone ran a review of Wheels of Fire at the time of its realease. The review was written in the haughty elitist style that Rolling Stone critics seemed to favour.
Jann Wenner, the author of the article, seems more intent on dissecting Cream's music than listening to it, and sets out to impress upon us just how much more he knows about music
than does the "average" listener. He doesn't seem to think that they should have even bothered to record White Room (yeah, good call buddy). And, is it really necessary to compare
Sitting On Top of the World to the original Howlin' Wolf version? Isn't it possible to like either, or both? Why must one be declared "the winner".
The author reserves his sharpest criticism for Jack. He clearly feels that Jack doesn't have a good singing voice, and refers to Cream's lack of "good original songs", (i.e. Jack's songs).
Incredibly, he dismisses Jack's harmonica playing as "amateurish" and wonders why he bothers to play the instrument at all!
Personally, I don't think this critic should be allowed anywhere near a sharpened pencil, but that's just my opinion, and shouldn't be taken for anything more than that.
You can read the review by clicking here.
6) During the time they spent in New York working on Wheels of Fire the group had a chance to explore the city.
On one of these nights, Eric jammed with B.B.King at the Café A Go Go. The entire session was recorded, but it has never been realeased!
Photo Credits; Wheels of Fire; album art: Martin Sharp.
Middle photo; At the Fillmore, photographer unknown.
Café A Go Go photo; photographer unknown.
Bottom photo; At the Fillmore, Jim Marshall.