1943 – Jack Bruce of Cream with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker is born this day in rock history!
John Symon Asher “Jack” Bruce (born 14 May 1943) is a Scottish-born musician, composer and singer. He is best-known as an electric bass guitarist, harmonica player and pianist, and was most famous as a vocalist and the bass guitarist for the 1960s rock band Cream. He lives in Essex, England.
Jack Bruce was born in May 1943 in Bishopbriggs, Lanarkshire, Scotland, to musical parents who moved around a lot, resulting in the young Bruce attending 14 different schools, ending up at Bellahouston Academy. Bruce took up jazz bass in his teens, and he even won a scholarship studying cello and composition at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and played in a dance band to support himself. The academy disapproved of its students playing jazz, however. “They found out,” Bruce told Musician correspondent Jim Macnie, “and said ‘you either stop, or leave college.’ So I left college.”
While still at college Jack Bruce played with orchestras in Glasgow music halls. After leaving college he toured Italy playing double bass with the Murray Campbell Big Band. In 1962, Jack Bruce became a member of the London-based band Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, in which he played the double bass. The band also included organist Graham Bond, saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith and drummer Ginger Baker. In 1963, the group broke up and Bruce went on to form the Graham Bond Quartet with Bond, Baker and guitarist John McLaughlin.They played an eclectic range of music genres, including, bebop, blues and rhythm and blues. As a result of session work at this time, Bruce switched from double bass to electric bass. The move to electric bass happened as McLaughlin was dropped from the band; he was replaced by Dick Heckstall -Smith on sax and the band pursued a more concise R&B sound and changed its name to the Graham Bond ORGANisation. They released two studio albums and several singles, but were not commercially successful. They did, however, influence a number of other musicians, such as Keith Emerson, Jon Lord, Bill Bruford and John Bonham.
During the time Bruce and Baker played with the Graham Bond Organisation, they were known for their hostility towards each other. There were numerous stories of the two sabotaging each other’s equipment and fighting on stage Hostility grew so much between the two that Bruce was forced to leave the group in August 1965.
After he left Bruce recorded a solo single “I’m Gettin Tired” for Polydor records. This was a commercial failure and is now very collectible. He soon joined the John Mayall Bluesbreakers group, which featured guitarist Eric Clapton. Although a brief stay of 3 months, it did sow the seeds, especially in the improvised live performances, of future musical direction. The Universal Deluxe 2CD set Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton contains all the known tracks featuring Jack Bruce.
After the Bluesbreakers Bruce tasted his first commercial success as a member of Manfred Mann in 1966, including a No.1 single with Pretty Flamingo. When interviewed on the episode of the VH1 show, Classic Albums, which featured Disraeli Gears, Mayall stated that Bruce had been lured away by the lucrative commercial success of Manfred Mann; Mann mused about having had someone of such talent playing bass for the group, and reminisced that Bruce would attend the recording sessions without having rehearsed but would play the songs straight through without error, opining that perhaps the chord changes seemed so obvious to Bruce. . The complete Manfred Mann recordings with Jack Bruce are available on the 4 Cd EMI box set Down the Road Apiece.
Whilst with Manfred Mann, Bruce again collaborated with Eric Clapton for 3 tracks on the Elektra sampler album What’s Shakin’ . Two of the songs, “Crossroads” and “Steppin’ Out”, were to become staples in the live set of his next band.
In July 1966 Bruce moved on to his most famous role as bass player, main songwriter and lead vocalist with Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton in the power trio Cream, considered the first supergroup.
While with Cream, Bruce played a Gibson EB-3 electric bass and became the most famous bassist in rock, winning musicians polls and influencing the next generation of bassists such as Sting and Jeff Berlin. He also wrote most of Cream’s original material, with lyricist Pete Brown, including the hits, “Sunshine of Your Love”, “White Room”, and “I Feel Free”.
By 1968, Cream were hugely successful; they grossed more than the next top six live acts of the day added together (including Jimi Hendrix and The Doors). They topped album charts all over the world, and received the first platinum discs for record sales, but the old enmity of Bruce and Baker resurfaced in 1968, and after a final tour, Cream broke up.
The Solo Years 1970’s
Before Cream split, Bruce recorded an acoustic free jazz album with John McLaughlin, Dick Heckstall-Smith and Jon Hiseman, and released it in 1970 as Things We Like. This album was a precursor to the jazz fusion boom in the early 1970s, and more recently, it has been sampled by many hip hop artists.
Bruce continued to work on many other collaborations with other musicians. The first of these, Songs for a Tailor, was released in 1969, featuring both Heckstall-Smith and Hiseman. It was a worldwide hit, but, after a brief supporting tour with Larry Coryell and Mitch Mitchell in his band, he left to join the jazz fusion band Lifetime. With drummer Tony Williams, guitarist John McLaughlin and organist Larry Young, the group recorded two albums. Jack joined on the second album; Turn it over. However, they did not get much critical and commercial acclaim, and Lifetime broke up in 1970. Bruce then recorded another solo album Harmony Row, but this was not commercially successful.
In 1972, Bruce formed a blues rock power trio, West, Bruce and Laing. Besides Bruce, the group consisted of Leslie West and Corky Laing, formerly of the hard rock band Mountain. They produced two studio albums, Why Don’t’cha and Whatever Turns You On, and one live album, Live ‘N’ Kickin. The band soon broke up, and, not long after, Bruce released another solo album, Out Of The Storm. In was at this time Bruce co-wrote the title song on Frank Zappa’s successful Apostrophe album.
A tour was lined up to support the Out of the Storm album with a band featuring former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor and jazz keyboard player Carla Bley, with whom he had collaborated with in 1971 on Escalator over the Hill. The tour, documented on Live at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, ended with Taylor leaving, and no studio album was completed.
In 1977, Bruce formed a new band with drummer Simon Phillips and keyboardist Tony Hymas. The group recorded an album, called How’s Tricks. A world tour followed, but the album was a commercial failure. The follow-up album Jet Set Jewel was put on hold when Bruce was dropped by his record label RSO. In 1979, Bruce toured with members from the Mahavishnu Orchestra, reuniting him with John McLaughlin, and introducing him to drummer Billy Cobham.
A 3 Cd collection of his 1970s BBC recordings called Spirit was released in 2008.
The Solo Years 1980’s
By 1979, Bruce’s drug habit had reached such a level that he had lost a lot of his money; in that year he married his second wife, Margrit Seyffer. She organised his career from a business standpoint, and Bruce played a lot of sessions with Cozy Powell, Gary Moore and Jon Anderson to raise money. By 1980 his career was back on track with his new band, consisting of drummer Billy Cobham, guitarist Clem Clempson, and keyboardist David Sancious. They toured widely to support their album, I’ve Always Wanted to Do This, but it was not commercial success and the band split. During the early 80s, he also joined up to play with mates from the Alexis Korner days in Rocket 88, the back-to-the-roots band that Ian “Stu” Stewart had put together, and Bruce appears on the album of the same name, recorded live in Germany in 1980. They also recorded a “live in the studio” album called Blues & Boogie Explosion for the German audiophile Label Jeton.
In 1981, Bruce collaborated with guitarist Robin Trower and released two power trio albums, BLT and Truce, the first of which was a minor hit in the United States. By 1983 Bruce was out of contract with the major record companies, and he released his next solo album Automatic only on a minor German label.
In the 1983 Bruce began working with the Latin/world music producer Kip Hanrahan, and released the collaborative albums Desire Develops an Edge, Vertical’s Currency, A Few short Notes from the End Run, Exotica and All Roads are made of the Flesh. They were all critically successful, and in 2001 he went onto form his own band using Hanrahan’s famous Cuban rhythm section. Other than his partnership with lyricist Pete Brown, the musical relationship with Hanrahan has been the most consistent and long-lasting of his career.
In 1986 he re-recorded his famous Cream song “I Feel Free” and released it as a single to support an advertising campaign for the Renault 21 motor car.
A solo album, Somethin’ Els, recorded in Germany between 1986 and 1992, saw him reunited with Eric Clapton and received, belated, but widespread critical acclaim.
His German TV concerts of this 1980s period have been collected on a two-DVD set, Live at Rock Palast.
The Solo Years 1990’s
In 1989, Bruce began recording material with Ginger Baker and released another solo album, A Question of Time. Baker and Bruce toured the US at turn of the decade. In 1993 Baker appeared, along with with a host of former Bruce band colleagues, at a special concert in Cologne to celebrate Bruce’s 50th birthday. A special guest was Irish blues/rock guitarist Gary Moore. The concert recordings were released as the live double album Cities of the Heart. On the back of this successful gig Bruce, Baker and Moore formed the power trio BBM, and their subsequent album Around the Next Dream was a top ten hit in the UK. However the old Bruce/Baker arguments arose again and the subsequent tour was cut short and the band broke up. A low-key solo album, Monkjack, followed in 1995, featuring Bruce on piano and vocals accompanied by Funkadelic organist Bernie Worrell.
Bruce then began work producing and arranging the soundtrack to the independently produced Scottish film The Slab Boys with Lulu, Edwyn Collins, Eddie Reader and The Proclaimers. The soundtrack album appeared in 1997. In 1998 he returned to touring as a member of Ringo Starr All Starr Band which also featured Peter Frampton on guitar. At the gig in Denver, Colorado the band was joined on stage by Ginger Baker, and Bruce, Baker and Frampton played a short set of Cream classics.
The Solo Years 2000’s
In 2001 Bruce reappeared with his most successful band of recent times featuring Bernie Worrel, Vernon Reid of Living Colour on guitar and Kip Hanrahan’s three-piece Latin rhythm section. Hanrahan also produced the accompanying album Shadows in the Air, which included a reunion with Eric Clapton on a new version of “Sunshine of Your Love”. The band released another Hanrahan produced studio album, More Jack than God, in 2003, and a live DVD, Live at Canterbury Fayre.
Bruce had suffered a period of declining health, and in the summer of 2003 was diagnosed with liver cancer. In September 2003, he underwent a liver transplant, which was almost fatal, as his body initially rejected the new organ. He has since recovered, and in 2004 reappeared to perform “Sunshine of Your Love” at a Rock Legends concert in Germany organised by the singer Mandoki
In May, 2005, he reunited with former Cream bandmates Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker for a series of well-received concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall, released as the album Royal Albert Hall London May 2-3-5-6 2005, and New York’s Madison Square Garden.
A biography of Bruce, entitled Jack — The Biography of Jack Bruce was written by Steven Myatt and published in 2005. He also appeared live with Gary Moore and drummer Gary Husband at the Dick Heckstall-Smith tribute concert in London.
Concert appearances since then have been sparse, but in 2006, Bruce returned to the live arena with a show of Cream and solo classics performed with the German HR Big Band. This was released on CD in Germany in 2007 to critical acclaim. 2007 also saw him make a brief concert appearance in opening a new concert hall in the Scottish Royal Academy of Music, Glasgow with Clem Clempson, keyboard player Ronnie Leahy and Gary Husband.
In 2008, Bruce collaborated again with guitarist Robin Trower on the album Seven Moons. It also featured Jack’s regular drummer Gary Husband. Unusually the lyrics were not written by Pete Brown or Trower’s regular lyricist Keith Reid, but by the band.
In May 2008 Bruce was 65 years old and to commemorate this milestone two box sets of recordings were released. Spirit is a 3CD collection of Bruce’s BBC recordings from the 1970’s. Can You Follow? is a 6CD retrospective anthology released by the Esoteric label in the UK. This anthology is a wide ranging collection covering his music from 1963 to 2003 and, aside from his work with Kip Hanrahan, is a comprehensive overview of his career.
Songs for a Tailor (September 1969)
Things We Like (Recorded August 1968, released December 1970)
Harmony Row (September 1971)
Out of the Storm (November 1974)
Live at Manchester Free Trade Hall 75 2CD (released 2003)
How’s Tricks (March 1977)
Spirit- Live at the BBC 1971-1978″ 3CD (Released 2008)
Jet Set Jewel (recorded 1978, released 2003)
I’ve Always Wanted To Do This (December 1980)
Automatic (Vinyl Only Release)(January 1983)
A Question of Time (December 1989)
Something Els (Recorded 1987 released March 1993)
Cities of the Heart 2CD (1993)
Monkjack (September 1995)
Shadows in the Air (July 2001)
More Jack Than God (September 2003)
Live with the HR Big Band (December 2007)
The Anthology – Can You Follow? 6CD (May 2008)