Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Late Great Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce, the legendary bassist who played with the Graham Bond Organisation, Manfred Mann, and Cream, died on 25 October at the age of 71. The cause was liver disease.

Jack Bruce was born on 14 May 1943 in Glasgow, Scotland. While Jack Bruce was still very young the family emigrated to Weston, Ontario, Canada, a small village outside Toronto. They remained there only a few years before returning to Glasgow. While he was young Jack Bruce was exposed to music by way of his paternal grandfather, who played piano, melodeon, and harmonica. His father played piano as well. Eventually young Jack took up guitar. After attending a number of different schools, Jack Bruce wound up at Bellahouston Academy.  It was there that he started playing cello. He won a part time scholarship to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

At the same time Mr. Bruce took an interest in jazz and took up the double bass. He began playing with various jazz bands. The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama did not particularly approve of jazz and eventually Jack Bruce left the school. Afterwards he toured Italy with the Murray Campbell Big Band.. In 1962 he joined Alex Korner's Blues Incorporated. After Blues Incorporated broke up, Graham Bond, Ginger Baker,  John McLaughlin, and Mr. Bruce formed the Graham Bond Quartet, which became the Graham Bond Organisation. It was during this time that Jack Bruce changed from the upright bass to electric bass.

The Graham Bond Organisation was signed to Decca in 1965. The band would release several singles and two albums (The Sound of 65 and There's a Bond Between Us, both in 1965) to little success. Unfortunately there were strong internal tensions within the band, with quarrels occurring between drummer Ginger Baker and Mr. Bruce. Eventually Jack Bruce was fired from the Graham Bond Organisation. He played with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers for a brief time before joining Manfred Mann as their new bassist. Jack Bruce played on Manfred Mann's single "Pretty Flamingo" and their EP Instrumental Asylum. It was while he was with Manfred Mann that Jack Bruce collaborated with Eric Clapton as part of the short-lived supergroup Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse.

It would be guitarist Eric Clapton who would be responsible for Jack Bruce becoming part of the band for which he might well have been most famous.  Quite simply, drummer Ginger Baker wanted to leave the Graham Bond Organisation, having wearied of Graham Bond's substance abuse problems. Eric Clapton, having left John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, was looking for a new band. Ginger Baker then asked Eric Clapton to join the new band he was forming.  Impressed with Jack Bruce's playing after having worked with him, Mr. Clapton would do so only if  they had Mr. Bruce as their bassist. Messrs. Bruce and Baker's relationship when they were in the Graham Bond Organisation having been very volatile, the two of them set aside differences for the new band, the power trio known as Cream.

Cream would prove to be one of the most successful bands of the Sixties. Their first album, Fresh Cream (released in 1966), went to #6 on the British albums chart. Their second album, Disraeli Gears (released in 1967, went to #5 on the British albums chart and #4 on the U.S. albums chart. Their third album, Wheels of Fire (released in 1968), went to #3 on the British albums chart and #1 on the U.S. albums chart. Their fourth and final album, Goodbye (released in 1969), hit #1 on the British albums chart and #2 on the American albums chart. They also had several hit singles, including "I Feel Free", "Sunshine of Your Love", "White Room", and "Badge".

Unfortunately, tensions existed in Cream from the very beginning. Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker continued to fight, something that worsened as the band progressed. Eric Clapton often found himself in the role of peacemaker between the two. Eventually the three members decided to break up following the release of Wheels of Fire, but their management persuaded them to do one last album. Their final album, Goodbye, was released after the band had broken up in late 1968.

Following Cream, Jack Bruce launched a solo career. From Songs for a Tailor in 1969 to Silver Rails this March, Mr. Bruce released a total of fourteen solo albums. He also collaborated with many other musicians, including Carla Bley on one album, Leslie West and Corky Laing on three albums, Michael Mantler on six albums, Robin Trower on three albums, and so on.

There can be no doubt that Jack Bruce was one of the greatest rock bassists of all time. He was classically trained and also well versed in jazz. He had played in both blues bands and rock bands. It was not unusual for him to combine styles in his music, from mixing rock music with jazz or classical, or even blending all three. With poet Peter Brown he was responsible for writing some of Cream's best known songs, including "White Room" and"I Feel Free". With Peter Brown and Eric Clapton he wrote the band's biggest single in the United States, "Sunshine of Your Love". When Jack Bruce was playing bass in a band, it was never merely part of the rhythm section. Jack Bruce made the bass an instrument all its own, as noticeable and as important as the lead guitar. Few bassists could ever match his talent and few ever will.

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