To the casual classic rock fan, Jack Bruce is the guy in Cream who's not the crazy drummer and not Eric Clapton. But the deeper-track seeker holds the singer/bassist/composer in much higher regard. Mainly for his 45-plus year career careening wildly through many different genres of music - and many positions within a band. In this new book, English music journalist Harry Shapiro (Waiting for the Man: The Story of Drugs and Popular Music; Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy) stakes the claim that the life and career of Jack Bruce are far more fascinating than just being 'the guy who sings on "Sunshine of Your Love.'" And it doesn't take many pages to convince the reader of that. Rocks Off shot an e-mail across the pond to Shapiro, and here's what came back. Rocks Off: Why did you do this book as an authorized biography rather than an "as told to" autobiography? And what was Jack's direct involvement other than sitting for interviews?
Harry Shapiro: Jack and I both agreed that it was important to get other perspectives and memories into the book rather than just have the single voice, so that meant conducting a number of interviews with family, friends and a range of musicians, studio and label guys, and others who Jack had worked with over the years. Jack devoted many hours to the interviews, but also his involvement opened doors that would otherwise have remained shut. Several people granted interviews only after they had checked back with Jack that this book was authorized and enjoyed Jack's full cooperation.RO: Many classic rock fans know him strictly from Cream. How do you hope this book sort of changes or shifts that perspective?
HS: Jack rightly remains very proud of the songs he composed at the time like "White Room" and "Politician." Those songs remain in his repertoire because - as he sees it - they are his songs that happened to be played by Cream.
But there is so much more to Jack than just Cream. For example, some gorgeous music recorded with Kip Hanrahan and the Latin musicians on the American Clave label. I didn't know anything about this before I started the book and had never heard of Kip Hanrahan! And all those wonderful solo albums that followed on from Songs for a Tailor - beautifully executed, intelligent adult rock music. Of course, people will want to read the stories of rock and roll mayhem and that's fine. But without wanting to sound too po-faced about it, the only reason for writing about a musician is to encourage people to discover or re-discover the music. RO: True or false and why: The main reason Cream disintegrated was the animosity on and offstage between Jack and Ginger Baker. HS: Clearly, it played a large part in what happened. But if the band had been better looked after, if they hadn't been subjected to an insane touring schedule in the States - cross-crossing the country playing one gig in a town before moving on - it might have lasted a bit longer. But, it has to be said, not much longer. Apart from the problems between Jack and Ginger going into Cream, Ginger zeroed in on a whole new set of outrages, namely the division of royalties once the band became successful. But by no means was it the end of their association. Jack brought Ginger into two subsequent bands. It did all end in tears, but underneath it all, each knew that the chemistry they had as musicians could not be denied. And Eric told me it was so strong, you couldn't get in the middle of it.RO: Do you feel it was Jack's wide interest and releases in different genres - from rock and blues to Latin, classical, free jazz and folk - that sort of prevented him from having a bigger status as a "rock" star?
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HS: It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Jack to have stayed in the rock groove and keep recreating Cream in one form or another. But he had to follow his heart and his talent, which range across many different genres. If you can do all that, you want to do it - even if it is not the best recipe for regular commercial success. In any event, Jack has never been that comfortable with "star" status. Playing in front of an audience is one thing, but he has deliberately kept himself and his family out of the celebrity limelight.
RO: What is your single personal favorite Bruce solo or group record and why? HS: I can this pin this down to one song - "Theme for an Imaginary Western" Not only my favorite Bruce/[Pete] Brown composition, but my favorite song of all time. It was inspired by [Bruce's former group] The Graham Bond Organisation and the way they took the music to places it had never been, just like the old pioneers setting out for uncharted lands in the Old West. It is also the best song about life on the road ever written. The music, the lyrics and the way Jack sings it, just melt my soul every time I hear it. We have a radio show in the UK called Desert Island Discs where a celebrity is asked to choose eight records they would have if they were marooned on a desert island. I would take eight versions of this song, including the one recorded by Mountain with a solo to die for from Leslie West. RO: What is Jack up to in 2010 and how is his health? [Bruce had a near-fatal liver transplant in 2003]. HS: Jack probably would not want to embark on a six-month world tour of one-night stands, but he doing OK. I saw him last night at the famous Ronnie Scott's jazz club in London where he was backed by a phenomenal band called The Blues Experience. He laughed and joked his way through the set and played like a demon. Jaw Bone Press, 320 pp., $19.95. For more on the book, visit www.jawbonepress.com.