It’s Got Them Disraeli Gears

I just managed to convince my grandmother that it was a worth while that was something to do, you know, and when I did finally get the guitar, it didn’t seem that difficult to me, to be able to make a good noise out of it.

—-Eric Clapton

Dan Colcer
Deep Ellum Art Park
Dallas, Texas

There’s this show that shows up on AXS television – on the cable, you know – called Classic Albums. On the show they take an hour and go through the production of a classic rock album – usually with the musicians, producers, artists, hangers-on… the whole works. It’s pretty cool. I watch for these and DVR the ones that look interesting to me. I’ve seen a few, let’s see… Aja, Dark Side of the Moon, So, Damn the Torpedoes, Pet Sounds.

Last night I watched one on an album I wasn’t all that familiar with – Cream’s Disraeli Gears. I’m old enough to remember Cream back in the day but a bit too young to be a huge fan. They were only together for two years – Disraeli Gears came out in 1967 – and I was ten years old. I didn’t really start listening to popular music until 1968 – I would scrounge up a dollar each week and buy one 45 single on Saturday, the first one I bought was the theme song for Hawaii Five-O (jeez, don’t be hard on me, I was only eleven).

So I remember the Cream album covers in the stores and over the years I heard all the hits (Strange Brew, Sunshine of Your Love, Tales of Brave Ulysses) but didn’t know much about the band except that it had Eric Clapton in it. I did see a documentary about Ginger Baker once – he was a madman.

The show was interesting and gave me a new appreciation of this classic rock music.

But the best part was finding out what Disraeli Gears meant. I always assumed it was some sort of British political statement. It isn’t. It’s a malaprop and a cycling reference.

“You know how the title came about – Disraeli Gears – yeah? We had this Austin Westminster, and Mick Turner was one of the roadies who’d been with me a long time, and he was driving along and Eric (Clapton) was talking about getting a racing bicycle. Mick, driving, went ‘Oh yeah it’s got them Disraeli gears!’ meaning derailleur gears… We all just fell over… We said that’s got to be the album title.”

—-Ginger Backer, 1967

How cool is that! You learn something every day.

7 responses to “It’s Got Them Disraeli Gears

  1. Do you know why they broke up? Ginger and Jack Bruce hated each other and took it out on stage with their music. Clapton was truly scared of them. I was lucky enough to see them on their farewell tour. I also saw Blind Faith and Delaney, Bonnie and Friends where Clapton finally felt good because he was a sideman.

    • Those are some classic bands – I was too young and then out of the country until the mid-70’s so missed out on a lot.

      This documentary didn’t focus on their breakup but you could tell there was a lot of tension. What I found fascinating was how simple the underlying structure of Cream’s songs were (two riffs – taking classic blues and updating the tempo).

      • I left the country in 1970 and came back in mid-1971. I looked silly wearing short hair at those shows. The other thing that they — well, EC — did was create the “wailing woman” sound by adjusting the sound in the guitar.

      • In the documentary they talked about Clapton discovering this thing called a “wah wah” pedal for “Tales of Brave Ulysses.” A couple years later every high school garage band had one of those.

      • But, that’s not right. What he did was turn the three dials on his guitar to 10 and scale back on one of them. I forget which one. Stephen Still was responsible for bringing wah wah pedals to life with his use of “Supersession.”

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