Setting the course for rock

By Sergio Ariza

In July of 1966 Eric Clapton left John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, when he was replaced by the great Peter Green, and hooked up with the 2 musicians who, like him, had been named the  best on their instruments by an English music magazine, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. The name they chose showed that the `power trio’ were full of themselves: Cream (créme de la créme). However with their second LP they proved that they were worthy of the chosen name, setting the course of rock for years to come.

Disraeli gears is the great opus in their brief discography as a group. Despite the band being deeply rooted in blues, this record was where Clapton shunned his purest notions and let the prevailing winds of psychedelica have their way, Strange Brew is the perfect example, although on his solo he can’t help but reinterpret, note for note Albert King solo on Oh Pretty Woman.     

However, it was with the second track Sunshine of Your Love where Cream became the standard to follow for hard rock and heavy metal bands in the following years. A perfect and repetitive riff that would open the door to a sound that Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple would chase, to name some of the biggies. On the same song Clapton delivers one of his most memorable solos, with a very ‘bluesy’ start, playing with the melody of Blue Moon and raising the intensity until the end. It was also the best example of the new sound that he  found since  this record, what is referred to as the ‘woman’s tone’, whose main star was his ‘64 Gibson SG known as ‘The Fool’ because of the artistic group who painted it in psychedelic fashion, making it one of the most recognised guitars in history.

So ‘The Fool’ and the ‘woman’s tone’ (what Clapton described as “a soft sound...more like a human voice than a guitar) are present on many of the album's numbers like the aforementioned Strange Brew (it’s worth it to listen to Albert King’s version to appreciate the differences of tone between two of the best guitarists of all time), the exhuberant SWLABR (where he also plays his Les Paul Custom) and Outside Woman’s Blues, one of the bluesiest moments on the album, though here he uses a different tone, as well as what seems like a Fender Twin Reverb amp sound.  

Yet, we can’t leave without talking about other important milestone of the record, Tales Of Brave Ulysses, where the ‘wah wah’ pedal makes one of its first appearances in rock history, ahead of Hendrix by a couple of months when he would use this pedal for the first time on  Burning of the Midnight Lamp. Clapton again flashes an incredible solo on a song that can be considered the predecessor of one of his most famous songs, White Room, giving another example of how his playing served as a model for many of the sounds to come in the genre.