...just the right amount of weirdness...
Chris Jones 2007-04-17
It started as a joke. Mick Turner one of Cream’s roadies was discussing with drummer, Ginger Baker, how he fancied one of those bikes with’ Disraeli gears’. He meant, of course, derailleur gears, but the band found the mistake hilarious and so the name of one of one of the UK’s premier psychedelic albums was born.
By 1967 Cream had had one rather false start. Fresh Cream, their first album had been a rushed and rather too purist collection of blues standards and curios, and as such was already by 1966 considered out of step with what was occurring around them. “I Feel Free” had hinted at the wild lysergic undercurrent, but they’d yet to find their heartland in the London underground. One reason this had happened was because of the band’s backgrounds, not only in the blues (as Eric Clapton defected from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers) but also in Jazz; both Jack Bruce and Baker having served time with Graham Bond. Luckily this wide-ranging set of backgrounds was invaluable in their next step.
Second time around it was far different. Chemicals had been imbibed, Clapton had struck up a friendship with Australian artist Martin Sharp who not only provided the lyrics of “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” but also came up with the splendidly baroque cover. Meanwhile Jack Bruce was now working with underground poet, Pete Brown, whose lyrics were equally trippy. “SWLABR” (it stands for ‘She walks like a bearded rainbow’), “Dance The Night Away” and “Sunshine Of Your Love” were perfect encapsulations of the point where the blues got psychedelic and in turn got heavy. “Sunshine…”’s riff is at once iconic and defines the power trio aesthetic that was to prove so popular with the band’s many disciples.
The other creative catalyst was producer Felix Pappalardi. Co-writing both "World Of Pain" he also helped transform the blueswailing “Lawdy Mama” into the slinky “Strange Brew” – a contender for best album opener of all time. Clapton’s guitar had by now been exposed to the effects heavy stylings of Jimi Hendrix and his heavy use of wah-wah gives Disraeli Gears just the right amount of weirdness, making this probably the most experimental album he ever made. The modish inclusion of Ginger Baker’s rendition of “A Mother’s lament” was the edwardiana icing on the cake. By the band’s demise, two years later Clapton had returned to his first love – straight blues and the band had become the barnstorming power trio hinted at here. For a short time they were bringers of peace and love.