Atlantic Studios
Recording Disraeli Gears

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Wembley Pool April 16 1967.  One of the many gigs between the recording sessions

Cream returned to New York on 8th May and entered the studios on the 11th. Felix had full production control and Tom Dowd was on the panel of the 8 track recorder. The 8 track Atlantic Studio was in heavy demand, so their time was tight.

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Once again the attention was on Eric as the 'star' who could only provide the basic arrangement of "Tales of Brave Ulysses". They commenced work on this as "Strange Brew's" B-side. Jack provided the melody to the changes and Eric brought in a Vox wah-wah from Manny's music store.  He had seen Frank Zappa using one in the Village during the March visit.  An influential classic was created that should have been the A-side, but it sounded too radical to the record company.

The B-side was completed but what about the rest of the album? Ginger had the changes and melody of "Blue Condition" and Eric a few blues tunes. The only answer was Jack's book of songs. Necessity overrode the record company's reluctance, as Felix knew that they were the right material. Booker T. Jones' (one of the key arrangers/musicians/leaders of the Stax/Volt label distributed by Atlantic) compliments on "Sunshine of Your Love" also went a long way.

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Pete Brown

Some of the songs had been worked up but intense studio work was required to finalise most of them. The drum pattern for "Sunshine of Your Love" was achieved after some prompting from Tom Dowd, the lyrics of "Blue Condition" completed in the bar in the basement, the drum pattern of "We're Going Wrong" spontaneously composed and which should have resulted in a composition credit.

Disraeli Gears was a truly collaborative effort between the band, Felix and Tom plus Pete Brown back in England. It is a combination of the unique individual talents of the musicians, the vision of Papallardi plus the ears and experience of Dowd. The psychedelic flavoured lyrics were the creation of Pete Brown with Felix and his wife contributing a pale reflection in "World of Pain", which was used to expand the 'star's' contribution.

Tom Dowd had never recorded a band who played so loud - he was stunned by the monster Marshall stacks, actually half stacks. To handle that, he placed them on a triangle at opposing ends of the room to control the bleed through. "There was no need for earphones although ear protectors would have been a good idea…". The result was that they could play as a band and also play loud to get a quasi-live sound. Even handling Baker's drums was a problem as he didn't play in a dynamically limited range - power stokes, crashes or bombs could come at any time. Recording to 8 tracks allowed them the very great advantage of leaving such problems to the mixing stage.

The approach was to lay down the basic song as a trio - guitar, bass and drums and possibly a guide vocal on occasions. Then overdub the final vocals, solo guitar(s), keyboards and harmonica. After the basic work, Baker would more often retire to the basement bar to entertain himself. This left the studio work increasingly under Felix and Jack's musical stewardship.

Clapton's real and hugely influential contribution was his guitar playing and sound. While it is not absolutely certain, he probably used both Marshall amps and a Fender combo and played Les Paul and SG guitars. Effects pedal was the obvious wah-wah but, by all eye-witness accounts, no fuzz box. The main sounds came from his fingers combined with guitar and amp settings. He would dub and redub until he got the solo he wanted, but usually it was achieved in a couple of takes at most. They were individually and collectively approaching a creative peak.

On the 15th the final overdubbing was completed and the album was logged into the Atlantic tape library. More then likely Felix later carried out some final mixing to balance up the album, especially with "Strange Brew" from the earlier session and "Tales of Brave Ulysses", based on the mono single mix. So in 4 days one of the Classic rock albums was completed. These days as much time would be spent on mixing one track!

Cream were virtually limo'd from the studio to the airport as their work visas were expiring. On the 16th they flew to Germany for a brief tour before returning to London on 22nd and an appearance on BBC TV performing "Strange Brew".

The Album - Track by Track in, probable, recording order

Strange Brew (Eric Clapton/Gail Collins/Felix Pappalardi)

Eric – lead (Les Paul) & solo guitar (S.G), lead vocals, harmony vocals; Jack – bass; Ginger – drums; Felix – harmony vocals.

The Albert King restyle of Lawdy Mama was really not working, as they had mastered this form on Fresh Cream and had moved on. Felix Pappalardi made some suggestions and clearly Ahmet was prepared to let him try to salvage something from the session. Taking a copy of the basic tape home, Felix penned a new melody and his wife Gail came up with some lyrics. It wasn't the blues but it wasn't much of a pop-song either.

On the 4th April they overdubbed new guitar and vocals. Jack was nowhere to be heard and his flawed bass line was not corrected.

Eric has been criticised for the very obvious Albert King influence ("copying") on his guitar work & solo.  What these critics ignore is that Ahmet was pushing Albert King as the model for Clapton to copy.  Clapton has never denied or resiled from identifying the influence..  That carping is more then answered by the original guitar sound on "Tales of Brave Ulysses" and the magnificent woman tone solo on "Sunshine of Your Love".

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Listening to Albert

Tales of Brave Ulysses (Eric Clapton/Martin Sharp)

Eric – lead & solo guitars (probably all SG); Jack – bass guitar, lead vocals; Ginger - drums

On 11th May, Cream returned to the Atlantic studios and began work on the single B-side. It had to be another of the 'star's' songs. Eric only had the chords and Sharp's lyrics of "Tales of Brave Ulysses" so Jack provided the melody, which only he was really capable of singing. Clearly Felix had a major impact on the arrangement by encouraging the use of the wah-wah pedal.

The mono mix is quite extraordinary with the drums high in the mix. It is indicative of how Felix and Tom Dowd were struggling to get the sound together of this power trio. Even though they were only using half stacks of Marshall's, the volume was high. Baker was a loud and very dynamic drummer - the compressors were working over-time.

Why this was not released as the A-side is not a mystery. It was too psychedelic to be acceptable to Ahmet and the radio stations. Anyhow, "Strange Brew" stiffed and it was the B-side that everyone talked about, when they heard it. Ulysses is such a strong song that even minimal air-play would have garnered significant interest. "Purple Haze" was unacceptable on most radio stations but it became an anthem. What-might-have-been, the wonder of hindsight. Atlantic wanted a white blues band not acid drenched psychedelia. When they returned to England, "Strange Brew" was soon dropped and Ulysses became the radio/TV performance staple (Jimi's compliments surely influenced this change).

Note:  The reverb/echo on the first line of the vocal chorus

Outside Woman Blues (Arthur "Blind Willie" Reynolds)

Eric – lead (Les Paul) & solo (S.G.) guitars, lead vocals; Jack –bass, humming; Ginger - drums

Another from E.C.'s blues bag. Another very fine renovation but more of these will not make an album that's going to impact the charts.

Note: Use of echo of the left channel guitar into the centre (probably a mike pointed at a studio wall/corner).

World of Pain (Gail Collins/Felix Pappalardi)

Eric – lead (SG) & rhythm guitar (?), lead vocals; Jack – bass guitar, lead vocals; Ginger – drums.

Provided as another vehicle for the star. The subtle use of wah-wah pedal and woman tone solo lifts the song from the mundane. Jack does the alternate verses in falsetto with Eric joining him on the chorus. Eric does a multi-dubbed solo break and ending fade out.

At this stage they had to turn to Jack's songs as the alternates were more of Eric's blues covers. They weren't going to make any song royalties on those.

Sunshine of Your Love (Jack Bruce/Pete Brown/Eric Clapton)

Eric – lead guitars (SG), lead vocals; Jack – bass guitar, lead vocals; Ginger - drums

Jack had great faith in the strength of this song, even if Pete didn't like Eric's hook. The "powers-to-be" dismissed it as "psychedelic hogwash" but Felix now had no choice. It also had the advantage of reasonable familiarity after the "Lost Session" rehearsal and some live performances

Ginger was experimenting with drum patterns when he hit on the "here come the Indians" back beat pattern. Tom prompted him to use it and the 3rd element of the rock classic was in place.

This should have been the next single but a double sided "Spoonful" was released instead. It was released as the single in December to coincide with the album release. It charted modestly but then went monster in 1968 and became Atlantic's biggest selling single to this day. The "hogwash" made a lot of money for Ahmet.

Note: Bell sounds in two spots, finger clicks during one of the vocal passages, Baker getting wound up with his typical "yeh ... yeh".

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Now they moved on to the hard core Bruce material as he opened up his bag of songs. The material chosen was the less difficult material, which also generally gave a strong role to the guitar. It is hard to say what the recording order was from here on in but I'll still take a punt.

Take It Back (Jack Bruce/Pete Brown)

Eric – rhythm (Les Paul) & lead guitars (Les Paul), vocals; Jack – bass, lead vocals, harmonica; Ginger - drums

As this is a blues and had been rehearsed it was most likely the next song. Also it was probably more acceptable to Ahmet. Even Felix had to be careful when dealing with the record mogul. The lyrics were also toned down to make it less of a protest song - it's about draft dodging.

Recollections indicate that there may have been a piano involved but if there was, it isn't on the final mix but no doubt that it would fit. As no master recordings exist - who really can accurately remember after 40 years?

Note: the false party noises mainly provided by the guys themselves and a few (female) friends - thanks to Bob Dylan for the idea.

SWLABR (Jack Bruce/Pete Brown)

Eric – lead (SG) & solo guitars (SG); Jack – bass guitar, lead vocals; Ginger - drums

Another song that they had already worked on. A strongly guitar oriented Bruce/Brown composition - magnificent multi-tracked woman tone guitar.  The evolution from the bluesy  'Lost Sessions' version  is startling - no harmonica here!

We’re Going Wrong (Jack Bruce)

Eric – rhythm (SG) & solo guitars (SG); Jack – bass guitar, lead vocals; Ginger – drums

This was probably worked up between Jack and Ginger. Its actually in two keys, which gives it a unique quality despite using only 3 chords (compared to 8 in "Dance"). The drum patterns are simply wonderful - mixed right virtually on their own.

Note: Again Eric's superbly controlled sustain, Jack's contrapuntal playing against the drums.

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Ginger however was not going to get a song co-writing credit and this resulted in the lyrics of his song.

Blue Condition (Ginger Baker)

Eric – lead guitar (Les Paul) & solo guitar (Les Paul); Jack – bass guitar, piano; Ginger – drums, lead vocals

The increasing annoyance with the Jack Bruce domination of the recording sessions and his lack of song writing credits resulted in the penning of these lyrics, in the bar, to go with the tune. Who decided that he should sing is unknown - probably suggested to cheer him up, especially after Jack and Felix arranged it. Jack liked the song even if many don't. One thing is that while he may be tonally flat, Baker is pitch perfect.

Dance the Night Away (Jack Bruce/Pete Brown)

Eric – lead (12 string) & solo guitars (12 string), harmony vocals; Jack – bass guitar, harmony vocals; Ginger - drums.

As this was a new unrehearsed song, it was probably last. Based on the production complexity and sophistication this makes sense.

Jack suggested the 12 string and Eric produced an inspired Byrds influenced sound. The layed overdubs of reverbed distorted guitar give it a bell ringing sheen (despite the distortion on the left channel guitar track). A fine song, brilliant playing with great production that provides one of the timeless tracks. It also worked well live but it was never going to be a jammer.

Note: distortion on the left channel guitar - present on all the various releases, both bass drums played thoughout, and what is Jack singing in the fade out?.

Mother’s Lament (Traditional Arrangement Cream)

Eric - harmony vocals; Jack – piano, harmony vocals, Ginger - harmony vocals.

The session now finished off with an old cockney folk song with all three sharing song rights. The denizens of the bar in the basement prompted this. Incongruous but it shows their humour, lack of pretension and probably lessened interpersonal tensions . Such novelty tracks became common place but soon wore thin.

Note:  Song left/centre with echo in the right sounding like a drain pipe

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The album was completed and logged into Atlantic's Tape Library on 15th May. The log's list another track "I Can't Forget", for which no tape exists. No one can shed any light, as Jack pithily says, "No, I don't remember." Most likely it was a just work up (one of Felix's tunes or a proto "Blue Condition"?) mistakenly logged or just an entry error (librarians do make mistakes). Jack's recollection is that "The Clearout" was rejected for "Mother's Lament" - whether it was actually recorded is unknown.

The sessions were so tight that there was very little surplus material. Time was critical and they were all technically so adept that songs were worked up and recorded quite quickly. Once the basics were laid down (bass, drums, basic guitar) they were rarely changed ('Dance' may have been an exception). Clapton probably redubbed his lead lines until they were to his satisfaction but, by soon-to-be standard techniques, it was minimal. There were no facilities to drop-in or replace notes or phrases - the whole guitar segment had to be replaced.

Mixing/Mastering may have involved some compression tricks, especially on the drums. There is panning but no phasing effects (I will accept correction on this) Most of it seems to have been done at the recording stage. The sound is more akin to Tom's jazz recordings in that it just captures Cream's real sound as they played.

Possible alternates may have existed but most likely they were rough rehearsals, breakdowns, tryouts etc. True alternates or unreleased songs were unlikely due to the studio skills of Felix and Tom and musical skills of Cream. Any way we will never know as all the master tapes were lost in the Atlantic Tape Archive fire in 1976. Unbelievably, but tragically true, these were in rented storage on the fourth floor of a wood–framed, family owned, department store. It was an incalculable loss of so much great music, not just Cream but such giants as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, John Coltrane*, Modern Jazz Quartet, Joe Turner etc. It also means that remastering from the original recording tapes is not possible. Digital remastering can only take place using the mixed down mono or stereo master.

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Track 1 - Drums 1

Track 2 Drums 2

Track 3 - Bass Guitar

Track 4 - Basic Guitar

This left 4 tracks for, depending on the song: Jacks Vocals (5), Eric's Vocals (6), Lead Guitar (7), Lead Guitar or other instruments (8). If it was a single lead vocal then that made another track available. There is also the possibility that the drums were completely mixed and compressed into a single channel but I feel the compression was done at mix-down where it is easier to set relative levels.

After listening at high volume with my new power amp, as well as verifying with high quality headphones, I do not hear any track mix downs with additional overlaid overdubs. The sound is very clean, except for slight compressor breathing effects on the cymbals, that is typical of Tom Dowd's Atlantic Studio recordings. They had enough channels allocated to do the job.

The biggest mixing problem seems to have been the drums which was solved by mixing the double kit into the right channel. With that they could finely control the compressor and balance the rest of the instruments against the hugely dynamic drums. The mono mix of "Tales of Brave Ulysses" has the drums high mainly because it uses maximum dynamic range - he bangs 'em very hard at times.

Mixing/Mastering may have involved some other compression tricks on the guitar. Mixing involved mainly channel allocation effects. There is panning but no phasing effects (I will accept correction on this). Most of the sound seems to have been done at the recording stage - post production was very limited with this technology. Felix probably did some equalisation tricks, but they are subtle and who really knows, let alone remembers? The sound is more akin to Tom's jazz recordings in that it just captures Cream's real sound as they played. Production was a major advance over Fresh Cream, as was the sound quality.

Considering that it was recorded in May 1967, it was quite advanced. Unfortunately the record mogul didn't like it and wanted blues, not the hogwash. Its release was to be delayed until December and in that time the sound of rock music recordings advanced rapidly. Disraeli Gears would have sounded revolutionary in mid-67, but it was not to be. It was their live performances that would ultimately help shape Rock Music.

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* John Coltrane, thankfully, has been better served as his sessions produced masters for release, though eventually they were superseded. Also Nesuhi Ertegun clearly recognised that he was recording a Jazz Giant, kept the tapes rolling and logged much of it into the master tape library. Get "The Heavyweight Champion" and hear a genius meticulously (and miraculously spontaneously at times) creating masterpieces. These alone would have made Coltrane a legend but even greater music was to come.

Promoting Gears

2001, Graeme Pattingale