Jack Bruce was one of the most gifted composers of the amplified music era.
He was a great rock singer, a phenomenal bass player, and a highly accomplished songwriter/ arranger.
Unfortunately, little attention was given to the remarkable albums of his solo career, particularly Songs For a Tailor.
He was really a jazz musician but best-known for his work in a group that only lasted two years and five months.
When Ginger Baker asked Eric Clapton if he would join him in a band, Clapton said OK, but only if Jack Bruce is in it too.
Cream was a power trio which formed in July 1966 and broke up in November 1968.
It\’s a little-known fact that the ensemble playing of those virtuosos was more precise during their 2005 Reunion than it was at their Farewell show at the Royal Albert Hall in ’68.
Remarkably, the maturity of their playing made their music sound fresh and relevant in the 21st century and made us hungry for some stunning new songs from them.
If 1968 was the sound of an angry group breaking up before they destroyed each other, 2005 was the sound of a band who had belatedly realised they could have given us a lot more.
Jack Bruce was a working class war baby born in Glasgow in 1943.
His father delivered groceries in a three-wheeled van and was a committed trade unionist.
As a boy he wanted to play the double bass but his hands weren’t big enough, so the music teacher got him a cello and before long he was playing in the Glasgow Schools Orchestra.
After school hours ended he studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, to which he won a part-time scholarship, and after that he wanted to be like Charlie Haden, the American bassist who played with saxophonist Ornette Coleman, trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Billy Higgins on a revolutionary album, The Shape of Jazz to Come, in 1959.
At 18 he joined a band that had a residency on a US military base in Italy and was surprised to find himself earning $200 a week.
In 1963-64 he was playing belligerent, heavily amplified jazz with the Graham Bond Organisation, where he began to make a reputation as a vocalist.
That group played 340 gigs in 480 days.
Jack really learned to craft original songs when he began working with Pete Brown, a beatnik poet.
Cream were filmed playing straight to camera, without an audience, in the basement of the Revolution Club in 1967, and while Spoonful captures Jack\’s raw soulfulness, Sunshine of Your Love always announces itself as the heaviest riff-song in the entire rock canon.
The trio was finding its musical identity, although with Pete Brown co-writing so many distinctive lyrics for Jack, Cream was almost a four-man group.
The thunderous musicality of Cream has never been equalled.
I saw them at Manchester University Rag Ball on February 1967 but Rag Balls are invariably bad places to see a group, and unrewarding gigs for musicians to play, except financially.
The next time I saw Jack Bruce was at a Tony Williams Lifetime gig at the Hampstead Country Club in Haverstock Hill, London in October 1970.
Both gigs were superloud, highly improvisational and challenging.
Lifetime was more thrilling, even though their material wasn’t as strong as Cream’s, and Larry Young’s organ took me into a galaxy I’ve never visited since.
Eric Clapton wrote the Introduction for Jack Bruce Composing Himself, a book by Harry Shapiro.
He described the first time he saw Jack play with Ginger in the Alexis Korner band at the Marquee :
“It was clear, even to my young years, that these guys were larger than life and that they were barely contained by their responsibilities as a rhythm section. I was intrigued. Up till then my interest was centred more in recorded work; now I was being introduced to something totally new, the reality of improvised, live music, created out of thin air.”
26th October 2014