Rock lost one of it’s greats on Saturday, when Jack Bruce, bass player, lead singer, and songwriter with Cream died at age 71 at home in Suffolk England, surrounded by his family. Cream were one of the most groundbreaking and influential bands in rock history, Pink Floyd’s bass player Roger Waters called him “probably the most musically gifted bass player who’s ever been”, but the band only lasted two years and produced only 4 albums, though they would sell over 15 million of them. Jack’s work with Cream is familiar to most KZOK listeners, his other stuff, not so much, so we thought we’d glean the interwebs for some of the other work of this brilliant musician.
Jack was born to a musical family, and started playing jazz bass and cello in his teens, winning a scholarship to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama for the latter, but they didn’t approve of jazz music, let alone rock and roll, and when they found him moonlighting in Jim McHarg’s Scotsville Jazzband to make ends meet, gave him an ultimatum: Quit, or leave school. His formal education ended there.
His break came in 1962 when he joined Alexis Korner’s R&B band Blues Incorporated, which served as a springboard for singer Long John Baldry, keyboard player Graham Bond, and drummer Charlie Watts, who when he left to join The Rolling Stones, suggested his friend Ginger Baker as a replacement. Part of that lineup reunited in 1979:
When Blues Incorporated broke up in ’63 he, Baker, and Bond formed The Graham Bond Organisation, where he and Ginger developed a reputation for the fighting (and often sabotaging the other’s instrument) that would eventually end Cream.
Next Bruce briefly joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers where he met guitarist Eric Clapton…
…then had a taste of commercial success as a member of Manfred Mann.
Then came an intentionally short-lived studio-only band called Powerhouse with Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones, his old bluesbreakers mate Eric Clapton on guitar, and Spencer Davis Group members Steve Winwood on keys and Pete York on drums.
Somewhere along the line he managed to put out a solo single:
In 1966 came the legendary “Supergroup” Cream, started when Ginger Baker, tired of Graham Bond’s drug problems, went to see Clapton with The Bluesbreakers. Ginger gave Eric a ride home in his Rover, Clapton later an avid motoring enthusiast himself, was impressed, and when Ginger asked him to be in his as yet unnamed new band, he agreed immediately on the condition that Baker get Bruce as their bass player, though Baker would later remember almost crashing the car out of surprise.
By 1968 it was over, but they would reunite for their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1993…
…And again in 2005 for a well publicized and very lucrative handful of shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall and New York’s Madison Square Garden. Though all three members agreed to not talk about it publicly, Clapton had agreed to do them largely due to the declining health of Bruce, who’d just had a liver transplant, and Baker, and the dwindling finances of both. Ginger, as is documented in the recent documentary Beware of Mr. Baker, promptly blew it all on polo ponies.
Jack Bruce wrote most of Cream’s hits with the help of lyricist Pete Brown, and sang lead vocal on almost of all of their songs: Clapton took a few toward the end, but never thought of himself as a lead singer until encouraged to do so by Delaney Bramlett, with whom he played in Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, which led to Clapton’s next big thing, Derek and the Dominoes. Bruce recorded as a solo artist…..
…started the band West, Bruce, and Laing with guitarist Leslie West and drummer Corky Laing from the band he’d produced a record for, Mountain...
…played with Frank Zappa on Apostrophe…
…another short-lived power trio called BLT with drummer Bill Lordan and guitarist Robin Trower…
…toured with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band…
…and even hooked back up with Ginger for a tour and an appearance on the David Letterman Show
Jack’s last trip to Seattle was in 2011, when he played at Jazz Alley with Living Color’s Vernon Reid, Mrs. Carlos Santana Cindy Blackman on drums, and organist John Medeski as The Tony Williams Tribute Band….
…which got much more attention, and was recorded in HD in Japan.
I was lucky enough to interview the man at that time over the phone prior to his arrival…a delightful and thoughtful man, and a pretty good interview, so long as I kept the subject matter away from his days in Cream.