DISRAELI GEARS - The Guitar
by Jeffrey Aarons
Drum intro and then those first two notes of Strange Brew. Those are the first two guitar notes I ever heard Mr. Clapton play when my older (musician) brother bought me a Christmas present called Disraeli Gears for Christmas 1967. He said, "you have got to hear these guys called Cream, the are the musicians' musicians, and only known to the hip players". I already had a copy of the 'Are You Experienced' album by Hendrix so I wasn't sure what to expect from this band. My brother went on to say "this guy Clapton used to be with the Yardbirds and I got another record of his where he plays really great, fast blues solos with a band called the Bluesbreakers. I'll also lend you their first record Fresh Cream, but want you to listen to this album first. Clapton is the coolest guitarist out now and only know to a few of us". Obviously my brother was trying as usual to impress me but that's how he was in the hip late 60's.
I am a guitarist and Eric, obviously, had a huge influence on me. I also know that bass players and drummers were as equally influenced by Jack and Ginger. It is a truelly "Classic Album".
Lawdy Mama (II)
This number (never released for the official Gears LP) was the precursor and model for Strange Brew. Version I (or the first one reviewed) is from the Live Cream LP. The backing track is identical in structure and chord secuence, and in fact the bass & drums on Strange Brew is the same track. The main difference besides the alternate vocal and lyrics, is Claptons overdubbed Les Paul inter verse riffs and main solo. On this cut, Eric is back to his more common treble position toggle setting, producing a more searing tonality for his blues riffs, however, this particular tone is thinner and more trebly than his Fresh Cream or post Gears sound. It sounds like he is either using a lower volume setting on his Marshall with treble up or he is using a Fender Twin Reverb which can produce that exact sound when combined with either a Les Paul, SG, or ES-335 etc.. (compare tone to his over dubbed lead on Badge).
The filler riffs are standard fair, in the key of A with some occasional mild speed and a few nice vibratos but on whole nothing exceptional. The solo, is a weird departure form the typical Claptonescue powerful architecture and is instead an amalgam of Albert King and maybe even a little touch of Freddie King. The over all effect is adequate but not up to Clapton's best standards with most of the notes being arranged around the 8th and tenth frets. The closing riffs feature a little more aggression and speed but does not save the overall piece from the cutting room floor of great solos.
Lawdy Mama I (aka Ooh Lawdy Mama)
This version from Clapton's Boxed set Crossroads is a whole different animal and corresponds to the version that was a regular feature during Creams late 66 early 67 live sets.
Again Clapton handles the lead vocal but the beat and backing guitar are much more energetic, almost a shuffle and powerful. The overdubbed riffs and solo (which scream LES PAUL in all it's glory) sound much more characteristic of early Cream Clapton revealing a transition style in-between Fresh Cream and Disraeli Gears. His style is fluid, aggressive, sweet and still retains the subtle odor of Bluesbreakers. Eric employs heavy stretch and straight vibratos. His picking is very pressurized especially during the solo where he cranks out a compact, beautiful patented Clapton Blues guitar vocal, featuring alternating sweet and harsh percussive picking pressures along with beautiful spacing that leaves a lot of critical air around his notes. His tone is thick and sounds like the Marshall is cranked way up with treble or mid toggle switch in use.
© Don Paulsen (& above) from his Rockspeak interview CD
Strange Brew features the new more "slick" studio sound for Cream. Here Eric has switched to his famous psychedelic SG (Les Paul) for solos and overdubs and features it for the first time on a Cream Album. To my ears, based on 33 years of playing guitar (taking into account the possibility of studio effects and post production that can alter the basic tonal fingerprint of a specific guitar) I hear the elasticity and tonal nuances of the SG and in this case using the "woman tone" that Clapton features prominently throughout Disraelie Gears.
Strange Brew as in most of the cuts, most likely has Eric laying down his rhythm track on the Les Paul Black Beauty (excluding the Lawdy Mama outtakes that feature the Les Paul on solo) and overdubbing the SG for the filler riffs and solo. This tune is in the key of A and is a re-worked version of Lawdy Mama with Clapton again taking the lead vocal except this time it's double tracked. His riffs are typical Clapton as far as huge second string bends at the 10th fret or first finger bends at either the first string eighth fret or second string 11th fret. Except for a slight nod to BB and Freddie, this solo is typical Clapton with the exception that Eric is much more restrained and lyrical than he is on either Fresh Cream or the Bluesbreakers.
Brew includes a lot of little bluesy riffs that reveal a lot of very delicate picking pressure variations. He is obviously in his experimental stage, being influenced by Hendrix, and a host of illicit hallucinogens, he is absorbing the cultural stimuli of the time and is reflecting it in his riffs and solos. Brew features a tasty short solo and after halting, picks up again with a cue featuring a wonderful drum take by Ginger, then after a few bars, Clapton handles the closing riff alone then lets the backing track seamlessly slide into the closing A 7 Ninth chord along with the rest of the band.
Sunshine of Your Love
This tune was probably the first Clapton tune I figured out on the guitar at age 15, or at least the main them riff. Unlike the Electric factory version where Eric blasted out the first notes that included a fifth (down) interval moving chromatically downward in harmony with the pedal tone D note, he starts out with the plain forever famous, DD C D A Ab G D F D. In the key of D, Eric does the backing track most likely (but not definitely) on the Black Beauty Les Paul and continues to power the them in unison with Bruce while Ginger cranks out a powerful drum sequence that offsets the expected beat.
Clapton uses a combination of straight bar chords, power (fifth root pos.) chords and open an A chord during the verses. Clapton alternates with Jack on lead vocals plus provides excellent harmonies during the refrain. The solo comes after the second refrain and here, Eric plays one of his most famous studio solos featuring his SG in full blown Woman Tone utilizing a more melodic nod to the verses while embellishing the solo with lush stretch and straight vibratos. Their is some controversy about the amplification that Eric used but until definitive evidence turns up , it sounds like most solos are probably through his Marshall with the exception of possibly Outside Woman Blues, Dance the Night Away, Lawdy Mama outake, Take it Back, and World of Pain, but this speculative and not definitive. Specific guitar characteristics are in general, much easier to detect than an particular amp. The audible evidence of post recording, or during recording, sonic manipulation is not prominent and the speed of the recording session most likely precludes it to any significant degree. We are almost definitely hearing the sound of Eric, his guitar and the amp as he created it.
The Sunshine solo as well as other Gears solos, employs a Woman Tone that to my ear has a peculiar tonal nuance and flavor that he never duplicated live. This also creates the suspicion of whether or not he did some of these solos through a Fender Twin at full overdrive or close to it. The solo ends up with a smooth transition into the theme and never has to depend on speed or flash. His timing is superb and Eric utilizes space and picking pressure for maximum effect all the while displaying his usual masterful architecture. Felix Pappalardi's production is faultless.
World of Pain
This tune features another Clapton lead vocal. This recording is a slow paced, fairly sedate tune opening with Erics rhythm guitar chords, slowly and evenly down stroked on his Les Paul (most likely) with an additional overdub of softly picked Wah Wah effect chords, probably also on his black custom. After Jack takes his turn at the vocal he joins Eric on h armony for the chorus which is the cue for Erics third backup guitar which is a searing riff including a 6th interval and a quick slide down on the G string with a heavy straight vibrato on the D string in minor mode and it is not in Woman Toggle position.
After the second refrain, Eric launches his dual guitar solo both utilizing heavy woman tone and featuring a very restrained, lyrical approach that is almost humorous in its delivery. The two solo guitars are probably both the SG and the Les Paul, since one sounds slightly heavier in body. The tune ends with Erics twin guitar solos taking off with a little more playful approach without any excessive speed or heavy vibratos. They seem to be a more sedate precursor to his triple Guitar lead work on Politician. In the first solo break, Eric does one of his patented second string bends reaching a note one whole step away, the same type of note bend he pulls off in the Sunshine solo and of coarse many others.
Dance the Night Away
This number represents the only known Cream recording featuring Clapton on twelve string guitars which are either a Rickenbacker or Gibson electric twelve. The song begins with one twelve string picking arpeggio style minor and major forms with a second twelve coming in immediately after the second set (or first repeat) of the two chords (on right channel) and overlaying the same chord forms in a higher register creating a shimmering effect that is perfect for this tune that evokes fantasy.
The two twelve's continue throughout the song providing a lush backing track then Eric comes in for his single string semi solo breaks which feature triplet picking attacks on each note as he runs up and down the fret board, subtly echoing the type of string and note movement he used on I'm So Glad except without the heavy vibratos and riffs. The solo breaks sound like it could be a twelve string but after a close listen I think it is a 6 string (SG), guitar on hi-treble, amp cranked and distant miked to get room reverb. I also suspect there may have been both Marshalls & Fender Twin used on this track.
Nothing worth commenting about this one - Ginger's monotone wins.
Tales of Brave Ulysses
This powerful intro chord which is a D major power chord, sets the tone for what is to come. This tune features the worlds first virtuoso guitar performance using a Wah Wah pedal. The composition begins with the backing track guitar (Les Paul?) smashing out the same chord secuence, using open D with beautiful open chordal forms and passing tones that form the wall of sound permeating throughout the verses. This chord secuence is identical to the White Room backing guitar chords with the exception of the added Bb and C in White Room.
In Tales, we have two guitars comprising the backing track. One is on the above mentioned chordal secuence and the other is overlaying the main theme notes that are minorish with a chromatic line added. After the opening D chord, but before the other backing guitars join (chordal secuence and theme riff) Eric just provides the little chord fragment interplay with Jack's vocal during the first two verses using the Wah Wah and of course this repeats twice more during the song. These chord fragments (based on a D minor form) are the first to use of the Wah Wah effect on this tune as opposed to the main them riff overdub..then the entire backing track explodes into the overdubbed line and from this, Clapton weaves into exciting inter verse riffs that feature some gorgeous minor modal notes and some occasional blazing speed.
On the third riff break, Eric deviates from the first two which are in A and he (with Ginger and jack) switch to D where he explodes with a red hot, blazing stream of very fast minor modal riffs that feature nasty picking and timing challenges. The tonal ambience and dynamics plus the string pressure (feel) screams SG plus it has identical sonic effects of other Gears solos that are very likely the SG, however, since a Wah Wah plus studio effects can create a tremendous mask, it is possible that the guitar overdubs are the Les Paul, but I vote SG.
After the last verse, Eric slowly and transparently begins his climactical close out (or outro) solo featuring soaring bends, stretch vibratos and speed fading out and leaving the listener wanting more! A truly great, historical guitar performance.
This tune begins with Erics rhythm track stroking major forms and settling into a the chordal background that moves throughout the whole song probably on his Les Paul custom. After the first chord intro, Eric immediately overlays his second guitar, using heavy Woman Tone (SG most likely) and providing the two main theme riffs that follow the chords and bass and in addition, includes the interverse riffs that sprinkle throughout. The secondary theme riff is after lyrics like "coming to me in the morning..." etc. almost creating the effect of a second overdubbed guitar in harmony due to it's extremely heavy, fat tone.
After the verse "you've got that pure feel.." etc., Eric throws more playful major pentatonic type modal riffs with strong stretch vibratos around the vocals that have an even stranger effect due to the very heavy Woman Tone utilized. After another gorgeous modal riff that starts in major and drifts into minor mode (last two notes) the solo starts. The solo consists of two guitars, one is the main overdub SG in heavy woman tone and the other is either the Les Paul Custom or SG, in unison but using a leaner tone (edging more toward his normal blues treble or mid toggle setting) similar to the Outside Woman Blues tone utilized on the rhythm track and solo. The solo is melodic, subtly playing off the main vocal then drifting in and out of major and minor modal forms (ending in the minor bluesy mode).
We're Going Wrong
The is a duet between Jack and Ginger with Eric overlaying atmospheric notes and riffs of little technical interest except for the high register minor modal riffs, toward the end, that feature heavy stretch vibratos. I agree with Graeme, its the drums!
Outside Woman Blues
This tune is a neat short Blues tune in the key of E. Here Eric begins the tune with a tasty and funky chord secuence (probably the Paul) that starts with an open E then E raised ninth chord, the same chord that begins I Feel Free and is used in and at the end of a large number of Cream tunes. The chord sequence (backing track) drive the whole song with Eric coming in with an overdubbed lead filling in between the verses.
Clapton sings the tune and has a nice almost humorous delivery. When he begins the solo, it represents his ability to pull off a short, but compactly profound piece without depending on pyrotechnics or tricks. On this solo, Clapton is again apparently using his SG (note the slight difference in sustain as he bends the high notes on this solo) and changes his tone from the Woman Tone in favor of the more characteristic treble toggle setting although still using a strange tonal ambience that makes me think Fender Twin Reverb.
Eric's solo is sweet and extremely effective with all of the notes clustered between the 12th and 17th fret but most between the 12th and 15th fret. The tune ends with Eric adding an additional guitar lead in harmony with the other (precursor to Allman Brothers) and after the closing chord, Eric fades out with a vocal line that makes you feel Eric is a happy camper at this point.
Take it Back & Mother's Lament
Nothing worth commenting upon and no guitar at all, respectively.
© Robert Whitaker
© 2001 by Jeffrey Aarons