Just Jack

Jack Bruce’s 50-year career covers many more genres than stadium rock. Paul Sexton assesses his unique influence

Jack readily admits that he’ll always be best-known for those two fleeting years with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker in Cream, but his contribution has been not only to rock but blues, jazz and other idioms.

Brought up in Bishopriggs, near Glasgow in the 1940s, Jack describes his introduction to the bass guitar, the instrument that would make him a star: ‘It was a fortuitous chance that brought me to the bass,’ he remembers. ‘It was the instrument that nobody wanted to play, and I just tried it and loved it. I think it was meant to be.’

Bruce’s unmistakeable vocal style as heard on classics like I Feel Free and White Room had a surprisingly formal schooling. ‘When I was a kid, I was a boy soprano, in choirs and solo and everything’ he says. ‘So that’s what made me sing in the way I sing. You either like it or you don’t.

Arriving in London, Bruce joined Alexis Korner’s band where he met fellow luminaries such as Ginger Baker, Graham Bond and Charlie Watts, before going on to play in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. After an unsatisfying time, Jack became a member of Manfred Mann – playing on their UK No.1 hit Pretty Flamingo. ‘I knew I couldn’t stay in that band, it was no challenge for me,’ he says.

It was his next project however, that was to propel him into ‘supergroup’ status. Cream was the dream team incorporating guitar sorcerer Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker, a drummer of fearsome approach. By the summer of ‘66, they were making a revolutionary racket and having the time of their lives.

‘At the very beginning of that band, that was probably about my happiest time, musically. It was a very good time to be young, 1966-68. I was very fortunate to be around and to play with those guys. We used to party, and there were some nights where everybody would come round to my flat in Hampstead and we’d just play all night.’

The entire experiment ran its course in little more than two years. ‘I knew it couldn’t last the way it was.’ Says Bruce. ‘Cream gave me the opportunity to do what I wanted to do, and I’ve pretty much followed that ever since.’

So he has, from a brilliant first solo album called Songs For A Tailor to a multitude of collaborations with jazz giants such as John McLaughlin and Larry Coryell; from blues-rock trio BBM to later solo projects like Shadows In The Air in 2001. And while there’s no firm plans for a new studio record at the current time, Bruce is busy mixing a live album from that Shadows period for release this year.

M recommends Harry Shapiro’s recently-published Bruce biography Composing Himself.


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