Saturday, 21 December 2019

Tiny Purple Fishes Run Laughing Through Your Fingers – Cream's Disraeli Gears at 50

by  Stuart Penney

This essay was originally written in 2017 for the 50th anniversary of Disraeli Gears and was heavily revised and expanded in late 2019 following the death of Ginger Baker.
"I have heard Ginger Baker play drum solos more times than I have switched off Coronation Street" - Chris Welch, Melody Maker, August 1968.
1967 was an exciting time to be a record buyer.  It was a year when sales of long-playing records began to overtake 45 rpm singles for the first time, as the pop album established itself as a legitimate art form within a youth-driven cultural revolution.  Psychedelia and electric blues moved from the clubs into the mainstream where it met the first stirrings of progressive rock, electric folk and jazz fusion.  The pivotal album of the year was, undoubtedly, The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  But we also saw genre-busting records by The Rolling Stones, Velvet Underground, Donovan, Frank Zappa, Doors, Incredible String Band and a multitude of others.
*Cream formation announced, June 1966
If that weren’t enough, 1967 gave us the remarkable debut by a new band named Pink Floyd and no less than two life-affirming albums from Jimi Hendrix.  An embarrassment of riches, you might say. In fact, the only artist of note to buck the trend was Bob Dylan who, supposedly recovering from his motorcycle accident up in Woodstock, almost failed to release any new material at all in 1967, with John Wesley Harding sneaking out on virtually the last day of the year.  
Then, in November, as the flickering embers of the summer of love were almost extinguished and it seemed like a perfect musical year couldn’t get any better, Disraeli Gears arrived.  2017 sees the 50th anniversary of Cream’s landmark second album, so what better time to step back and re-evaluate one of the most significant records of a very special year. 
The Debut:

Discounting posthumous live LPs and compilations, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker released just three full albums during their 30-month tenure as rock’s first supergroup.  Their eagerly awaited Fresh Cream debut arrived in December 1966 and while it was a breakthrough album in many ways (the seeds of heavy rock can be found here on tracks such as “N.S.U.” and “Sweet Wine”, for example) it was basically their stage act committed to vinyl.  
The moody sleeve photo shows the band in half shadow, decked out in what can only be described as World War II aviator outfits.  Jack has the full works, including a vintage Type B leather pilot's helmet, complete with goggles and matching flying jacket.  Eric also sports airman's goggles, plus a Leica M3 Rangefinder camera around his neck (state of the art technology in 1966 and a rare collector’s item among camera buffs today).  Meanwhile, Ginger’s fur hat and military jacket (purchased from the vintage clothing store I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet in the Portobello Road) foreshadows the Carnaby Street outfit of choice by several months.  In his 2010 autobiography Hellraiser Ginger remembers buying the headgear on a Notting Hill shopping trip with Eric.  “We went to many ‘funny’ shops then and this is when I found the old SS fur hat from the Russian Front complete with skull and crossbones that I wore on the cover of our first album Fresh Cream.”
In a nod to a rapidly fading era, Fresh Cream also contains some rather quaint liner notes.  Without a hint of irony, we are told: 
Eric Clapton epitomises all that is ‘blues’.  From far shores he is hailed as brilliant, and he is truly a great guitarist and personality.  Originally a rustic, Eric pursued his musical ideas and became a figurehead with The Yardbirds and John Mayall." 
Heady stuff, if a little florid.  To this day I have no idea what “Originally a rustic” means, but it sure sounded impressive at the time.  
No sleeve photographer is credited for Fresh Cream and the artwork is attributed to, simply, Paragon Publicity & Public Relations Ltd (London).  Established in November 1965, Paragon were an all-purpose design and publicity agency used extensively by Polydor in the late 60s.  Their name can be found on many Bee Gees LPs from the period, as well as UK releases on the Buddah, Atlantic, Stax, MGM and Marmalade labels, all of which were under the Polydor umbrella at that time. 
Fresh Cream sold well in Britain where it peaked at #6 on the LP charts, while in the US, where the single “I Feel Free” replaced “Spoonful” on original pressings, it reached only #39.  Other tracks recorded during the 1966 sessions, “The Coffee Song” and Cream’s debut single “Wrapping Paper”, would be added to later pressings of the album.  But even as Fresh Cream hit the stores a young American guitarist landed in London and prepared to send shock waves through the British rock establishment.  Jimi had arrived. 
Until Jimi Hendrix burst onto the scene Cream had been lords of all they surveyed.  But everything was about to change. Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton and the other British guitar gods were instantly forced onto the back foot by Jimi’s arrival.  Hendrix was doing outrageous things with the instrument their inherent British reserve simply wouldn’t allow. He played behind his head, dry humped it, hurled it across the stage and even set fire to the thing.  Jimi was cool enough to get away with such antics, but well-bred English art school lads, no matter how talented, were simply too inhibited to throw caution to the wind like that. It was time for a rethink.
 *Fresh Cream - UK Reaction label
Psychedelia was the new big thing in early 1967 and almost everyone, including Jimi, fell under its spell.  In what seemed like a shameless attempt to copy the Hendrix image, Clapton jettisoned his jeans and leather jacket in favour of the latest far-out Kings Road threads and together with, seemingly, half the young white male population of Britain, permed his hair to emulate Jimi’s afro.  Eric’s guitar and Jack’s bass, together with Ginger’s drums, were given a hand-painted psychedelic makeover by Marijke Koger and Simon Posthuma, a Dutch art collective known as The Fool, soon to become famous for their work with The Beatles.  
It was this new dandified Cream which came to New York in April 1967 to record their second album at the Atlantic studios on West 60th Street and Broadway.  Although Cream’s manager Robert Stigwood is credited as producer on Fresh Cream his involvement was minimal and almost certainly more administrative than musical.  What’s more, their debut had been recorded mostly at a tiny London studio above a chemist shop at 64 South Moulton Street, Mayfair, which they couldn’t use during store opening hours because of the noise, a situation hardly befitting rock’s first power trio supergroup.  This time around they planned to get serious. The Atlantic studios were already using 8-track recording technology, for example, something almost unknown in the UK at that time.
With legendary engineer Tom Dowd at the controls they brought in a young producer named Felix Pappalardi.  Roughly the same age as the band, Pappalardi had worked with Tim Hardin, Fred Neil and Richard and Mimi Farina, although his only rock production credit of note to that point was the debut album by the Youngbloods.  But he was a classically trained musician/arranger and Atlantic boss Ahmet Ertegun felt he would work well with Eric, Jack and Ginger. This proved to be the case as Pappalardi ended up with two co-writing credits on the new album.
Although their early records appeared on Stigwood’s hip new Reaction label in Britain, Cream were licensed to the Atlantic records subsidiary Atco in the USA.  As part of a move away from their black R&B roots into the growing white rock market, Atlantic would also sign Led Zeppelin, Yes, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Vanilla Fudge, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and other big-name rock bands before the decade was out.
The Songs:
The Disraeli Gears recordings got off to a shaky start when Ahmet Ertegun reportedly described “Sunshine Of Your Love” as “psychedelic hogwash”.  Ertegun had initially been attracted to Clapton’s virtuoso guitar playing via his work with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers on the 1966 so-called “Beano Album” and was under the mistaken impression that he had signed a blues trio with Eric as the leader.  We can only imagine how this news went down with Jack and Ginger. 
The first track they recorded was a shuffle version of the traditional blues standard “Lawdy Mama” with Ertegun himself at the controls.  This didn’t turn out as planned so Felix Pappalardi took over for the rest of the two recording sessions running over six days in April/May 1967. 
A second version of “Lawdy Mama” (in straight time) was then recorded.  Pappalardi took the tapes and, with new lyrics by his wife Gail Collins, asked Clapton to overdub a revised vocal and some tastefully authentic Albert King-style guitar lines.  The result was the album’s powerful opening track “Strange Brew”. Issued as a single in June 1967, five months before the album was released, it scraped into the UK charts, peaking at #17.  Despite this promising start Jack Bruce was never happy with “Strange Brew”, claiming Pappalardi’s studio wizardry had created a subtle change in the chord progression which threw his pre-recorded bass line slightly out of kilter.  Hardly anyone but Jack appeared to notice, however.
With scarcely time to digest the majesty of “Strange Brew” it’s straight into track two and undoubtedly the most famous Cream track of all.  Mostly written by Jack Bruce and Cream’s in-house poet/lyricist Pete Brown, with additions by Clapton, “Sunshine of Your Love” features one of rock’s timeless guitar riffs and a great co-vocal from Eric and Jack, who sing alternate lines.  
This track has undergone decades of classic rock radio saturation and survived a multitude of good, bad and indifferent cover versions.  Among them were Ella Fitzgerald’s 1968 incongruous big band jazz recording, the 5th Dimension’s 1969 MOR sunshine pop workout and Santana’s heavy metal hatchet job on the 2010 album Guitar Heaven.  Strangest of all was Frank Zappa’s irreverent 1988 version with vocals delivered in a bizarre African American vernacular patois, borrowed from Frank’s 1984 album Thing-Fish. 
Those of a certain age will never forget the events of January 4, 1969 when Jimi Hendrix appeared live on the lightweight BBC TV show A Happening for Lulu.  In the middle of his performance Hendrix suddenly brought proceedings to a screeching halt and launched into an impromptu tribute to the recently disbanded Cream, announcing "We'd like to stop playing this rubbish [“Hey Joe”] and dedicate a song to the Cream, regardless of what kind of group they might be in – dedicate this to Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce."  As the TV producer frantically signalled for him to stop playing, Jimi began an instrumental version of “Sunshine Of Your Love”, at one point mischievously declaring “We’re being put off the air!” The show ended abruptly with no time left for Lulu’s closing song. It was one of the all-time great pop TV moments and inspired Elvis Costello to do a similar thing in 1977 on the US show Saturday Night Live.  Elvis stopped playing “Less Than Zero”, proclaiming "I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but there’s no reason to do this song here" and went into “Radio, Radio” in the same way Jimi had eight years earlier.  This led to Costello being banned from the show for 12 years. 

Entertaining though they were, none of these versions (not even Jimi’s) came within a country mile of the Disraeli Gears original.  Listen to the way Ginger’s loose, swaggering drum pattern (emphasising beats one and three) cuts across that stiff, wooden guitar motif and show me another rock anthem to compare with this. 
“World Of Pain” is the second Felix Pappalardi/Gail Collins co-composition and was written in tribute to a tree growing in their Greenwich Village garden (something of a rarity in that part of town, apparently).  Light on substance, it’s rescued by Eric’s backwards wah-wah guitar and some massive drumming from Ginger. Likewise, the pop psych of “Dance The Night Away” would be a throwaway track in the hands of any other band, but the sheer musicianship of Cream saves the day.
*Disraeli Gears - US Atco label
“Blue Condition” is Ginger Baker’s only writing credit on the album and to the dismay of many (even at the time), he elected to sing it as well.  Just like Ringo in the Beatles, Ginger was allowed to display his vocal prowess once on nearly every Cream outing, no matter how unusual the results.  In terms of sheer off-the-wall quirkiness “Blue Condition” is not quite up there with Ginger’s “Pressed Rat and Warthog” from the Wheels Of Fire album, but it’s close.  The Deluxe Edition double CD of Disraeli Gears features an alternate take of “Blue Condition” with Eric on vocals which works much better.
With music by Eric Clapton and lyrics by Australian graphic artist Martin Sharp, side two kicks off with “Tales Of Brave Ulysses”, the third absolute stone cold classic track on the album.  The story goes that Sharp wrote the lyrics as a poem in Greece en route overland from Australia to Britain. In London he met Clapton at the Speakeasy club and gave him the poem written on a napkin (other accounts place this event at the Pheasantry in King's Road, Chelsea, where both men lived). 
*1967 ad for the Vox Wah-Wah pedal
Eric added music based on the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City” and Voilà, the psychedelic wah-wah extravaganza that is “Tales of Brave Ulysses” was born. I suspect such a timeless song wouldn’t happen quite so effortlessly today. A similar chord progression with wah-wah guitar would appear on “White Room” the following year.  Martin Sharp also collaborated with Clapton on Cream's 1968 non-album single “Anyone For Tennis”.  

The descending chord pattern of “Tales of Brave Ulysses” gives full rein to Jack Bruce’s blood and thunder bass work which sits perfectly alongside Eric’s snaking guitar lines.  Together with Jimi’s “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp” single (August 1967) this track raised the profile of the newly invented wah-wah pedal and instantly boosted sales of the guitar effect worldwide.  The first Vox wah-wah pedals had gone on sale in late 1966 and both Eric and Jimi received early examples, putting them well ahead of the game.
“SWLABR” is next up and the hits just keep on coming.  This Jack Bruce/Pete Brown full-tilt rocker with a killer double tracked solo from Eric also appeared as the B-side of the single “Sunshine Of Your Love”.  It reached top five in the US, but barely made the top 30 in the UK. For decades we thought that “SWLABR” was an acronym for "She Walks Like a Bearded Rainbow", but Jack Bruce later confirmed that the “W” stood for "Was" rather than "Walks" and this correction was also referenced by Pete Brown in a 2006 interview.  The sleeve notes of the 2004 deluxe CD edition of Disraeli Gears stick with “Walks”, however.
The slow minor key psychedelic drone of “We’re Going Wrong” is the only Jack Bruce track on the album written without Pete Brown’s involvement.  The unhurried pace of the song is belied by Ginger’s rolling drum pattern in 6/8 time, which is relentless throughout. This was a highlight of the 2005 Cream reunion concerts when Ginger played it using timpani with mallets.
Eric Clapton stumbled across “Outside Woman Blues” on a 1965 compilation LP titled Country Blues Encores (Origin Jazz Library OJL-8) and it became the only Disraeli Gears track written outside the band (excluding “Mother’s Lament”, of which more later).  First recorded in Grafton, Wisconsin in November 1929, the original Blind Joe Reynolds 78rpm single of “Outside Woman Blues”/“Nehi Blues” (Paramount 12927) is an exceptionally rare and valuable record, with no more than a handful known to exist.  With cruel irony Reynolds died in March 1968, after a life spent in poverty, only weeks after his song appeared on Disraeli Gears.
*Original 1929 78rpm single "Outside Woman
Cream gave “Outside Woman Blues” the full heavy rock treatment (just as they would with Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” the following year) but, despite the pyrotechnics, their recording remained relatively faithful to the 1929 original.  Eric is on top form here, delivering an epic, paint-stripping wah-wah guitar solo with the compression turned up to eleven. Mysteriously, Cream have always credited the song to “Arthur Reynolds” rather than Blind Joe Reynolds.  His real name was Joe Sheppard (or Joe Leonard - accounts vary) and he also recorded as Blind Willie Reynolds.  Either way, “Outside Woman Blues” is another nailed-on Cream classic.
*Country Blues Encores LP where Clapton first heard "Outside Woman
We’re on the home stretch now and musically, at least, “Take It Back” could have been equally at home on Jack’s 1969 solo album Songs For A Tailor.  This Bruce/Brown song, the lyrics of which were possibly inspired by media images of American anti-Vietnam War protesters burning their draft cards, features no guitar solos to speak of, just an ensemble backing with harmonica and plenty of background party noises, à la Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”.
And so, to the last song on the album “Mother’s Lament”.  It must have seemed like a great wheeze at the time to finish a psychedelic heavy rock masterpiece with this boozy/stoned, piano-led Cockney knees-up.  But it was never more than the flimsiest of throwaway tracks and, with all due respect, the forced hilarity would perhaps have been more at home on a Small Faces record. To add insult to injury, it appears that Jack’s song “The Clearout” (later to appear on Songs For A Tailor) was dumped in favour of “Mother’s Lament”.
Disraeli Gears was a great album” Eric Clapton later told Melody Maker’s Chris Welch.  “We worked very hard on it, but we didn’t think it was that important, you know?”  We were always looking to the future. Making records was odd for us because we didn’t see ourselves as naturals in that environment.  We were stage players and we liked the freedom of going off and doing really crazy things and taking risks. That doesn’t really work in the studio.” 
The Title:
I know you’ve been puzzling over that album title so here’s what Ginger had to say about rock’s most famous malapropism.  “You know how the title came about - Disraeli Gears - yeah?  We had this Austin Westminster [car], and Mick Turner, one of the road crew who'd been with me a long time was driving along.  Eric Clapton was talking about getting a racing bicycle. Mick went 'Does it have them Disraeli gears?' meaning Derailleur gears.  We all just fell over. We said, ‘that's got to be the album title.’” It was never made clear if the “Gear” pun was a drug reference, or a nod to the Liverpool slang for “good” as popularised by the Beatles.  
The Statistics:
Released in Britain on November 4, 1967, Disraeli Gears spent a total of 42 weeks on the UK album charts, peaking at #5.  Issued a month later in America, it was Cream’s US breakthrough album, reaching #4 in the charts and becoming a massive seller in 1968.  Mono and stereo versions were pressed in both countries. In 2003 the album was ranked #114 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  The 2004 Deluxe Edition double CD features the mono and stereo versions of the album plus outtakes and BBC recordings from the period.  Early versions of "Weird of Hermiston" and "The Clearout" were also recorded during the sessions. They were deemed too uncommercial for inclusion on Disraeli Gears and eventually appeared (in re-recorded form) on Jack Bruce’s 1969 Songs For A Tailor solo album.
“Sunshine Of Your Love” has long been popular with filmmakers looking to create a 60s mood and it appears on the soundtracks of countless movies, including School of Rock, Goodfellas, Uncommon Valor, True Lies and 2020’s The Gentleman.  In 2004 the song was ranked at #65 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
*music press ad for Disraeli Gears, November 1967
The Producer:
Felix Pappalardi stayed on for the final two Cream albums.  Aside from production duties he contributed viola, bells, organ, trumpet and tonette (a children’s toy plastic flute) to Wheels of Fire (August 1968), while on Goodbye (February 1969), he added Mellotron, piano and bass.  Other notable Pappalardi production credits include Jack Bruce’s Songs For A Tailor (1969) and albums by Hot Tuna and The Flock.
Working with Eric, Jack and Ginger left a huge impression on Pappalardi and, in 1969, he formed the Cream soundalike quartet Mountain with guitarist Leslie West.  They enjoyed major success, including an appearance at Woodstock, before splitting up (for the first of many times) in 1972.  Pappalardi was apparently so disillusioned with Atlantic’s handling of Cream’s recordings, he signed Mountain to the newly created Windfall label, distributed by Bell records. 
As a macabre footnote to the story, on April 17, 1983 Pappalardi was shot and killed by his wife and “Strange Brew” co-writer Gail Collins in their Manhattan apartment.  She was subsequently acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter but found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to 16 months to 4 years in prison.

*Jack Bruce with Danelectro Longhorn bass
The Engineer:
Tom Dowd was probably the most experienced and widely travelled of all those involved with Disraeli Gears.  Starting in the late 40s, he recorded countless R&B legends for Atlantic and Stax, including Ray Charles, the Drifters, the Coasters, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Ruth Brown, eventually scoring more hits than George Martin and Phil Spector combined.  He engineered Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife” and worked on jazz masterpieces by John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker. Eric Clapton and Dowd would work together again in 1970 when Tom produced Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, arguably Eric’s post-Cream finest hour.

*A very psychedelic Eric Clapton
The Sleeve:
1967 was a vintage year for psychedelic album sleeves.  There was Sgt Pepper of course, but there were many others, such as the Stones with Their Satanic Majesties Request, Jimi’s Axis: Bold As Love and the Incredible String Band with The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion which, fittingly, was designed by Marijke and Simon.  The Day-Glo cut and paste Disraeli Gears sleeve was the combined work of multi-media artist Martin Sharp and photographer Robert Whitaker and features some of the most distinctive artwork of the era.  Both men lived at the Pheasantry, a grade II listed Georgian building at 152 King's Road, Chelsea which was home to counterculture figures and rock stars alike in the 1960s, including Germaine Greer and Eric Clapton.  
On his website Whitaker recalls his involvement with the Disraeli Gears sleeve: 
“Cream were going to do a tour of the north of England and Scotland.  I just jumped in a car. Various things presented themselves to us on our journey around Scotland, none of which I could have recreated in a studio.  I was very lucky that Martin [Sharp] had discovered Day-Glo paint. I had all the pictures, which I knew were for some form of publicity. I made a whole series of colour prints and Martin just started cutting them up – much to my annoyance, because they weren’t cheap to do.  He then laid them out on a 12-inch square as a piece of finished artwork and then painted all over it.”
*A selection of Martin Sharp album artwork showing Disraeli Gears,
Wheels of Fire and Ginger Baker's Airforce LP
Although born in England, Whitaker lived and worked in Australia in the early 60s, which is where he took his first pictures of The Beatles during their 1964 tour.  Back in the UK he photographed several record sleeves for Brian Epstein’s NEMS stable of artists. Perhaps his most famous work is the 1966 Beatles’ Yesterday and Today US LP sleeve with its notorious “Butcher cover” showing the band dressed in white smocks and covered with decapitated dolls and pieces of raw meat.  The image proved controversial and although almost a million copies had been printed, it was withdrawn and replaced with a less contentious sleeve photo showing The Beatles sitting inside a sea trunk.  Most “Butcher cover” sleeves were pasted over with the new image, and clean original copies can sell for five figure sums. 
*Entrance to Luna Park Fairground, Sydney 1974. Designed by Martin Sharp
Martin Sharp was later responsible for the covers of Cream’s Wheels Of Fire double album and the 1970 self-titled live debut by Ginger Baker’s Airforce.  He also worked extensively with the underground magazine Oz, which was launched in London in 1967 after previously operating in Australia for some years.  His big-selling posters of Dylan, Hendrix and Donovan, once fixtures on almost every 60s bed-sit wall, are now valuable pop art classics.  In later years Sharp became heavily involved with Sydney’s embattled Luna Park fairground, undertaking a restoration of the enormous laughing face at the entrance.

We can’t leave the Pheasantry without recounting a delicious piece of trivia regarding Eleanor Thornton (1880 - 1915), who lived there in the early 1900s.  She was the favourite model of artist and sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes (1875 – 1950) and is believed to have posed for Sykes' most famous work, his Rolls-Royce radiator mascot the Spirit of Ecstasy which began appearing on the cars in 1911.

*Disraeli Gears back cover
The Record Label:
In Britain, Cream’s early releases appeared on Robert Stigwood’s Reaction Records with its distinctive blue and silver pop art label design.  In operation for less than two years, the label released just three LPs, 18 singles and one EP during 1966 and 1967. The two big hitters on Reaction (and the only artists to enjoy chart action) were The Who and Cream.  All releases on the label were distributed by Reaction’s parent company Polydor.  
Alongside the unknowns and also-rans, there were only three other notable signings to the label.  Future actor/singer Paul Nicholas recorded five Reaction singles under two different names - Oscar and Paul Dean.  Fading Merseybeat stars Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas released their swansong 45 “Town of Tuxley Toymaker” on Reaction before Billy J. went solo.  The track was a Bees Gees’ song, with the Gibb brothers themselves involved in the recording. Best of all was a single by Birds Birds, a late incarnation of Ronnie Wood’s band The Birds who, rather pointlessly, changed their name (at Stigwood’s prompting) to Birds Birds to avoid confusion with the US Byrds.  Ronnie’s band released their final single “Say Those Magic Words” / “Daddy Daddy” on Reaction in September 1966.
*Disraeli Gears - UK Reaction label
Six of those 18 Reaction singles reached the charts (three each by Cream and The Who) and all three LPs made the top ten (Cream’s Fresh Cream and Disraeli Gears and A Quick One by The Who).  The solitary Reaction extended player Ready Steady Who topped the British EP charts in December 1966.  Despite the label's meagre output, Reaction achieved a remarkable 45% strike rate, with 10 of their 22 releases becoming hits.  Even so, all Reaction singles other than those by Cream and The Who flopped and are now highly prized by collectors of obscure UK 60s labels. 
After Reaction folded in 1967, Cream moved to Polydor while The Who formed their own Track label.  Six years later Stigwood tried again with his RSO (Robert Stigwood Organisation) label which ran for a decade between 1973-83 and enjoyed considerable success with soundtracks such as Grease and Saturday Night Fever which sold 65 million copies between them.  Cream’s entire back catalogue, including Disraeli Gears, was re-pressed, first on Polydor, then RSO.  In the US, all Cream’s releases appeared on Atco until 1972, when they moved to RSO via Polydor.

"The Fool" guitar replica
The Guitars:
In March 1967 Eric acquired a 1964 Gibson SG Standard and, in the spirit of the times, decided to give it a psychedelic transformation.  Dubbed “The Fool” after the designers Marijke Koger and Simon Posthuma, it became one of the most famous and distinctive guitars of the 60s.  In his 2007 autobiography Eric Clapton, Eric wrote that Marijke and Simon had turned his instrument into "a psychedelic fantasy”. Clapton used the guitar throughout the recording of Disraeli Gears and on into 1968.  
“Strange Brew” was the first time we heard Clapton’s famous “woman tone”.  This was a deliciously liquid guitar distortion obtained by rolling all the treble off one or both pick-ups on “The Fool” and playing it through an overdriven Marshall amp.  Soon guitarists across the land were rushing to copy Clapton’s new sound, just as they had a year earlier when he popularised the Gibson Les Paul Standard on the “Beano Album”.
“The Fool” was retired in mid-1968 during sessions for the Jackie Lomax album Is This What You Want?  The LP was produced by George Harrison for the Apple label and featured an incredible line-up of big-name musicians, including Clapton and three Beatles (only Lennon was absent).  Lomax became the guitar’s custodian until 1971 when he sold it to Todd Rundgren for a reported (and now derisory) US$500.
*Jackie Lomax with "The Fool" guitar
In 2000 Rundgren auctioned “The Fool” for US$120,000 and it has since changed hands yet again for a rumoured half-million dollars.  Before selling the guitar, Rundgren had a number of replicas made and now uses an exact copy made for him in 1988 by a Japanese fan. Rundgren re-named the guitar “Sunny” after “Sunshine Of Your Love”. Over the years many other reproductions have appeared, notably those made by Las Vegas guitar dealer Ed Roman. 
Interviewed in Guitar World magazine, June 2016, Todd Rundgren said this about “The Fool” guitar:
“I have the feeling that Eric had given that guitar up, because it went through a number of hands before I got it.  I think he gave it to George Harrison, and I’d heard that Paul Kossoff from Free owned it, too. I got it from Jackie Lomax, who was signed to Apple. This was when I was up in Woodstock working with the Band.” [Rundgren engineered The Band’s third album Stage Fright, released in 1970].
“The guitar was in horrible shape at the time. The paint job was all flaked off because they never put a sealer on it. It didn’t have the original tailpiece, the neck was a mess at one point, the headstock snapped off. I did a lot of work on it. I played it for decades, and I owned it until the mid-Nineties. I owed the IRS a lot of money, so I auctioned it off. But I did get to play it onstage with Ringo - with Jack Bruce, we did “Sunshine of Your Love,” which I thought was appropriate.”
*Clapton and Rundgren with "The Fool" guitar
Clapton used at least one other guitar during the Disraeli Gears sessions.  He was pictured in Atlantic Studios with a 1959 or 1960 Gibson Les Paul Custom, black with three pickups.  Eric later used this guitar onstage with John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival in September 1969.  The show was recorded and released as the Live Peace In Toronto album. Three months later the Les Paul, now modified with the pick-up covers and pick guard removed, surfaced again as Eric guested (together with George Harrison) with Delaney and Bonnie during their December 1969 UK tour. In 1979 the Les Paul was gifted to Albert Lee during his time as a member of Clapton’s band. Albert apparently still owns the guitar.
At the same time as “The Fool” guitar was created, Jack Bruce also had his Fender Bass VI painted in matching psychedelic colours. Jack had owned the bass since his time with the Graham Bond Organisation, but it was rarely used after the makeover as the paint on the neck refused to dry properly.  Bruce replaced the Fender with a 1965 short scale Gibson EB-3 (essentially a bass version of Clapton’s Gibson SG) which became his main instrument until the mid-70s. During the Disraeli Gears sessions, Jack was also pictured using a Danelectro Longhorn bass which is thought to have been used on at least a couple of tracks.
"The Fool" guitar replica
The Reviews:
On release Disraeli Gears met with almost universal acclaim and contemporary reviews were wildly favourable. Couched in the laboured hip writing style of the time, this uncredited November 1967 write-up in Melody Maker was typical of the response:
‘With this new album the Cream step up into another gear.  Not a giant step from their first album Fresh Cream, but nevertheless a more quality-heavy, propelling package of incredible Cream super-power. Clapton’s guitar menacing almost like a machine gun, sometimes eerily and overpoweringly persuasive as it reaches serpent-like deep into the Cream’s varied and hypnotic musical journeys.  “Strange Brew” kicks off, “Sunshine Of Your Love,” “World Of Pain,” an esctatic (sic), Byrds-like feel to “Dance The Night Away,” or some good advice from Ginger on his own vocal “Blue Condition,” and then droplets, splashes of brilliant sunlight reflecting and gleaming through “Tales Of Brave Ulysses,” “Swlabr,” detonating rippling pools of energy for the tremendous “We’re Going Wrong” and coasting gently into their beautiful unity with “Outside Woman Blues,” “Take It Back,” and the worldly “Mother’s Lament.”  This is the creation of pure energy – from the top, all the way through – the Cream.’ 
And in similar vein, this is from Beat Instrumental magazine, December 1967:
‘Britain’s pride and joy, the Cream, return to these shores, and give us this fine “glad to be home” present, Disraeli Gears.  Progressive is a word which is often misquoted to describe LPs, and I think we can exempt the adjective from the review of this album. 
In fact, the material is in a similar style to Fresh Cream, with Eric Clapton again twisting minds with his beautiful playing.  Ginger and Jack are there, playing and singing very solidly. Ginger vocalises on “Blue Condition,” and plays the drums as if his life depended on it.  Jack sings as well as ever. Too well, in fact, to be compared with any blues singer in the country. There are numbers that are familiar, such as “Strange Brew” and “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” and mixed with “Sunshine Of Your Love” and “World Of Pain” provide the stand-out number on this brilliant LP.’
The Aftermath - 1968 - 1970:
Producer Felix Pappalardi was retained for the final two Cream albums Wheels of Fire and Goodbye.  Clad in an eye-watering Martin Sharp-designed silver foil sleeve, Wheels of Fire (August 1968) comprised studio and concert recordings spread over two LPs.  The studio cuts were recorded in New York and London, while the live tracks (including the incandescent and timeless “Crossroads”) originated from San Francisco’s Winterland and the Fillmore West.  It reached #1 in the US Billboard charts and #3 in the UK, no mean feat for an expensive double album.
Cream disbanded in November 1968 and their fourth and final LP Goodbye was released posthumously in February 1969.  Comprising three studio tracks (Eric, Jack and Ginger contributed one each) and three live tracks recorded at the Forum in Los Angeles, it reached #1 in the UK album charts and #2 in the US.  The cover design was by the great Alan Aldridge. Co-written with George Harrison, Eric's song "Badge" was released as a single and reached the UK top 20 in April 1969. Two further LPs Live Cream and Live Cream Volume II appeared in 1970 and 1972 respectively.

*Cream - The Farewell Concert at London's Royal Albert Hall, 1968
A four CD Cream box set Goodbye Tour Live 1968 is set for release in early 2020.  Consisting of four complete shows recorded in Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego and London, it will feature 36 tracks, 19 of which are previously unreleased.  
In August 1968, even before Cream disbanded, Jack Bruce recorded Things We Like, a free jazz album with John McLaughlin, Jon Hiseman and Dick Heckstall-Smith. This was eventually issued in 1970 as his second solo release. Things We Like was a difficult listen for rock fans but in recent years it has found favour with hip-hop artists and has been sampled many times.  Jack’s second solo album (and the first to be released) was the far more accessible Songs For A Tailor which reached #6 in the UK in September 1969.  More jazz fusion followed in 1970 when Jack joined the Tony Williams Lifetime for their second album Turn It Over, before he formed heavy rock power trio West, Bruce and Laing in 1972. 
Amid great fanfare Eric and Ginger formed Blind Faith in early 1969 with Steve Winwood and Ric Grech.  This project lasted only a few months before Clapton bailed out to tour with Delaney and Bonnie and launch a solo career.  His July 1970 debut album Eric Clapton was followed in November by the magnificent Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Credited to Derek & the Dominos, Layla kickstarted a 50-year solo career which shows few signs of slowing down.
Ginger Baker’s first post-Blind Faith project was Airforce, a sprawling, percussion-heavy outfit with an all-star line-up including Steve Winwood, Ric Grech, Denny Laine, Graham Bond and many others.  Airforce lasted for two albums before Ginger moved on to work with Fela Kuti and then the Baker Gurvitz Army. 

The Legacy:
Almost all the music discussed here was made in the five years between 1966 – 1970, which is roughly the time it takes a modern band such as U2 or Coldplay to cobble together a solitary album.  So much music, so much creativity and so much innovation in such a short space of time. All of it produced without the aid of computers, click tracks, punch-ins or (heaven forbid) Auto-Tune. Genres were created and popular culture was shaped (and then sometimes re-shaped) by three men who were the undisputed masters of their instruments.  
We can argue all day about who was the better guitarist, Clapton or Hendrix.  But there is no question which was the most accomplished power trio. Jimi was doing most of the heavy lifting in the Experience, while in Cream it was an equal three-way split.  Jack and Eric could sing well and all three wrote songs and played their instruments way beyond anything the 60s pop world had any right to expect.  
They took R&B, jazz and blues, mixed it up and reinvented it.  In the studio they were a tightly disciplined unit, recording beautifully crafted pop/rock/psych gems.  In concert, via a style of extended improvised blues of their own invention, they were heavy rock pioneers, going where few had gone before.  Their powerful live performances foreshadowed the jam band movement, decades in advance. Eric got the most attention, as guitar heroes always will, but Jack and Ginger were the better musicians and without them effortlessly keeping the ball in the air for Clapton, the band wouldn’t have worked nearly as well as it did.  
Cream burned brightly for just a little over two years before imploding.  But what a legacy they left. Like the Beatles, they knew when to stop. They pulled the plug when they were at the top of their game.  They didn’t wear out their welcome and there was no slow decline into a succession of below-par albums. Theirs was the perfect career trajectory.  They were, in every sense of the word, quite simply, the Cream.  
In Memoriam:
Felix Pappalardi: December 30, 1939 – April 17, 1983
Tom Dowd: October 20, 1925 – October 27, 2002
Ahmet Ertegun: July 1923 – December 14, 2006
Robert Whitaker: November 13, 1939 – September 20, 2011
Jackie Lomax :May 10, 1944 – September 15, 2013
Martin Sharp: January 21, 1942 – December 1, 2013
Gail Collins Pappalardi: February 2, 1941 – December 6, 2013
Jack Bruce: May 14, 1943 – October 25, 2014 
Robert Stigwood: April 16, 1934 – January 4, 2016
Alan Aldridge: July 8, 1938 – February 17, 2017
Ginger Baker: August 19, 1939 – October 6, 2019 

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