Remembering Jack Bruce, Cream's Gentleman Bassist
Jack Bruce with a constant companion.
Photo by Marek Hofman
Note: Cream bassist and lead vocalist Jack Bruce, universally recognized among his peers as one of the greatest instrumental talents in rock history, passed away last Saturday at age 71. Rocks Off's Bob Ruggiero was lucky enough to speak with Bruce this past spring, and would like to re-run this interview that originally appeared on May 6.
He's best known to the average classic-rock fan for the scant time in the '60s, fewer than three years, that he spent singing and playing bass for a quiet little trio named Cream, alongside subdued guitarist Eric Clapton and noted shy-guy drummer Ginger Baker. But Jack Bruce has certainly had a multi-hued career since those acid-drenched days of white rooms, strange brews and tales of brave Ulysses.
In addition to his work with other groups and collaborators, Bruce has also released a series of very-much-underrated solo efforts, beginning in 1969 with Songs for a Tailor up through 2003's More Jack Than God. In these discs he stretched out not only his string-thumping, but also the genres he explores in his material, in particular his leanings to and love for jazz.
Now Silver Rails (Esoteric Antenna), Bruce's first solo effort in almost a decade, includes jazzy, horny material ("Candelight") along with forays into doom ("Hidden Cities"), uptempo rockers ("Fields of Forever," "No Surrender"), scuzzy metal ("Drone"), funk ("Rusty Lady") and balladry ("Don't Look Now").
Since Bruce was in England, Rocks Off sent the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer a few questions via email. Ah, the wonders of technology...
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Rocks Off: What did you want to do musically with Silver Rails that maybe you didn't or hadn't had the chance to with other solo records? I simply wanted to make a record that looked over my life and not backwards but rather a kind of sideways view of my life and career.
There are certainly a wide variety of styles on the songs here. I've always loved a lot of different kinds of music as well as enjoying playing them. So it is natural for me to include some different styles in my first completely solo album for over a decade.
Tell me about the inspiration behind writing the song "Candelight." My wife Margrit came up with some brilliant lyrics and I simply set them to music, which is something I love doing. I immediately thought of having Phil Manzanera playing guitar on the song, as I got to know him on our visit to Cuba a couple of years ago. I thought he'd be great for the sort of calypso feel of the song -- and boy, was I right!
Same question for "Hidden Cities." "Hidden Cities" consists of two formal sections played twice. The music is something inspirational, perhaps a mask, perhaps built like statues (the ones on Easter Island spring to mind), sculptural, grave and timeless. The B section of the music is something that came to me while I was in an induced coma during a serious bout of pneumonia. I always remembered the eternally rising, psychedelic sequence of intervals, and hoped to be able to incorporate them some day in a piece.
When my great friend the auteur, Kip Hanrahan, wrote the wonderful lyrics, I knew I was almost there. If only I could get Uli Jon Roth on guitar and Cindy Blackman Santana on drums! (Note: He did.)
Do you feel that the bass (and the bass player) for bands maybe don't get the respect they should deserve since it's not lead guitar, and some think of it as an easier instrument to master simply because it has fewer strings? It has been my mission to make the bass more appreciated as an individual voice in bands. It is possible to express yourself and be creative on the bass guitar without giving up the vital supportive function of the instrument.
The most important part of a bassist's job is to make the other musicians sound better than they actually are, but it was always my belief that this could be achieved whilst remaining creative. Some great examples of this kind of bassist are [Motown's] James Jamerson, Paul McCartney, Jaco Pastorius and Flea.
Interview continues on the next page.
I enjoyed reading [2010 biography] Composing Himself. But what made you decide that it should be an authorized biography rather than a straight autobiography? Simply because [it would not be] a biography, being written by Harry Shapiro. I am planning a book of my own, however, and quite a lot of it has been written.
What did you think of the end result of the insane documentary Beware of Mr. Baker and your participation in it? I haven't seen the film and have no plans to see it. I did see the famous bit where Ginger breaks the director's nose, and that is why I agreed to give him an interview. I lived it -- I have no need to see it.
Any future plans for Cream? (Sorry, had to ask...) There are no future plans for Cream.
Do you have any specific memories of being in Houston or Texas in general? I remember I always have a great time in Texas!
And finally, what are your future plans? I have bought a beautiful house on the island of Majorca in the Mediterranean, so we are moving there shortly. I have a wonderful studio there and plan to relax and write my next album during the summer. Later this year, I hope to go back in to Abbey Road Studios to record it.
Find out more about Silver Rails and Jack Bruce at www.jackbruce.com.
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