From Gears to Wheels

Pt 1: Extending Gears

After completing Disraeli Gears in April 1967, Cream returned to tour the UK and Europe.  They promoted “Strange Brew” and then “Tales of Brave Ulysses” on radio and TV.  Some of the Gears songs began to be regularly performed: “Tales of Brave Ulysses”, “Sunshine of Your Love and “We’re Going Wrong”.  The problem was the release of the album was interminably delayed giving space to Jimi Hendrix.

Felix                Ginger                ?                Ahmet

The cause of the delay was Atlantic Records which had just released “Fresh Cream” in March.  They wanted more time to push the album and get some more singles out.  “Strange Brew” didn’t catch so Ahmet Ertugen turned to the pure blues of “Spoonful”.  Then in the first week of July Felix Pappalardi was despatched to London.

Felix arrived with a song and directions to make a blues single.  The song had already been a success for Atlantic in the race market.  Ahmet’s aim was to repeat Albert King’s success by having his white English blues guitarist record it.  The deal was sweetened by giving Robert Stigwood the European song publishing rights.

“Born Under a Bad Sign” was an unusual blues song reflecting its Booker T. Jones pedigree as the Stax records keboard player/arranger and leader of the great Memphis Group.  Jack Bruce found it a difficult song to sing as the meter of the vocal line didn’t match the bass line.  Jack has admitted that it was only some years later that he got on top of it and began to do it live.  It was an effect that Jack replicated in Politician and that also took him some time to master.  The interesting side effect of the choice of this song was that Eric most definitely couldn’t, or wouldn’t, sing it.


The B-side was another blues staple in “Sitting on Top of the World”.  Jack proposed a song he’d developed as an alternative single – “White Room”.  It was a development of the melody and changes of “Tales of Brave Ulysses” with obscure poetic lyrics by Peter Brown.  Ginger Baker suggested the 5/4 intro and Eric Clapton provided the violin like multitracked guitar string stretches.  He achieved it by removing all the strings except the ultra-thin bottom E which allowed him the whole fretboard to stretch across.

They returned to the Studio in early August and almost completed “Born Under A Bad Sign”, completed the 1st ‘no wah-wah’ White Room and laid down the basics of “Sitting on Top of the World”.  As they were touring the US later that month, studio time in NY was booked for September and October.  One of the sidelights of this session was the recording of an advertising jingle for Falstaff Beer – the owners son loved Fresh Cream.

PT 2

© Graeme Pattingale, 2004

Thanks to Manny G and Keith B for many rare  images