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Remembering Jack Bruce, A True Giant Of Music

Jack Bruce was a genuine legend who died at 71. His brilliant bass playing, distinctive voice and sense of musical adventure live on.

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Jack Bruce Sunshine Of Your Love

Legend is a much overused term in music, and the world in general, but Jack Bruce was a genuine legend. He died aged 71 on 25 October 2014.

Jack, christened John, was born in Bishopbriggs, in Lanarkshire, Scotland, and won a scholarship to study music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. While attending the college he played in Jim McHarg’s Scotsville Jazzband and, when the disapproving college found out, they said, “’You either stop, or leave college.’ So I left college,” remembered Jack many years later.

Listen to the best of Jack Bruce on Spotify.

Bruce moved to London and in 1962, he joined Blues Incorporated, led by Alexis Korner, playing the upright bass. The band also included organist Graham Bond, saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith and drummer Ginger Baker. In 1963 Bruce, Baker and Bond formed the Graham Bond Quartet with guitarist John McLaughlin.

Moving from the upright bass to the electric bass he continued in the Bond band when Heckstall-Smith joined after McLaughlin left. After two unsuccessful albums Bruce left to join John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, which featured guitarist Eric Clapton. After this brief stint with Mayall he joined Manfred Mann in 1966, and played on their No.1 hit, ‘Pretty Flamingo’ as well as playing on The Scaffold’s ‘Lily the Pink.’

In July 1966 Bruce, Clapton and Baker formed Cream, with the band going on to become the template for just about every hard rock group that followed in their wake. Their debut album Fresh Cream included ‘NSU,’ written by Bruce and also the B-side of the single with ‘I Feel Free’, which made No. 11 on the UK charts; it was co-written by Jack and Pete Brown.

Cream’s second album, Disraeli Gears released in 1967 includes ‘Sunshine of Your Love,’ which Bruce co-wrote, while Wheels of Fire opened with the fabulous ‘White Room,’ written and sung by Jack. He did the same on four other tracks on the album. Jack Bruce’s singing gave Cream a distinctive vocal sound, and his undoubted musicality also elevated them from the potential trap of a more strictly blues-based format that would have made them so much less interesting, even with their undoubted individual brilliance as musicians.

When Cream split up in August 1968, Jack secured a solo contract with Polydor Records and his first release was the epic Songs for a Tailor, in September 1969. It featured Heckstall-Smith, George Harrison and drummer Jon Hiseman and reached No. 6 on the UK album chart. Bruce then joined the jazz fusion group Lifetime, with drummer Tony Williams, guitarist John McLaughlin and organist Larry Young, and recorded Turn It Over.

Before Cream split, Bruce recorded an acoustic free jazz album with McLaughlin, Heckstall-Smith and Hiseman that was issued in 1970 as Jack’s second solo album, Things We Like; it has been sampled by hip-hop artists in more recent years. Jack’s third solo album Harmony Row, which he said was his favourite, was not as commercially successful as Songs for a Tailor, but is full of great music.

In 1972, Jack formed, West, Bruce & Laing, who featured guitarist Leslie West and drummer Corky Laing, who had previously been in the band Mountain. West, Bruce & Laing produced two studio albums, Why Dontcha and Whatever Turns You On, and one live set, Live ‘n’ Kickin‘. During this time he played bass on Lou Reed’s Berlin, featuring on all but two tracks.

In 1974, WB&L broke up and Jack released his fourth solo album, Out of the Storm. A 1975 tour featured former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor and jazz keyboard player Carla Bley. In 1977, Bruce formed a new band with drummer Simon Phillips and keyboardist Tony Hymas. Then in 1979, he toured with members of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, reuniting him with John McLaughlin in a line-up that also included drummer Billy Cobham.

As the 1970s came to an end Jack played sessions for, among others, Cozy Powell and Jon Anderson, before forming Jack Bruce & Friends in 1980; the band included Billy Cobham, guitarist ‘Clem’ Clempson and keyboardist/guitarist David Sancious. They released the album I’ve Always Wanted to Do This and Jack also played with Rolling Stones sideman Ian Stewart’s band, Rocket 88. He also recorded with Soft Machine on their Land of Cockayne in 1981, and collaborated with guitarist Robin Trower, releasing two power trio albums, BLT and Truce.

Various other projects through the remainder of the 1980s saw Jack play everything from jazz, rock and world music, to re-recording ‘I Feel Free’ for a car commercial; it is Jack’s voice that makes the song so distinctive and enduring.

In 1989, he began working with Ginger Baker again and released another solo album, A Question of Time. A few years later Bruce, Baker and Gary Moore formed the power trio BBM, and released the impressive album, Around the Next Dream, which made No.9 on the UK chart. In 1995, Jack released another solo album, Monkjack, on which he featured on piano and vocals, accompanied by Funkadelic organist Bernie Worrell.

In 1997 Jack toured as a member of Ringo Starr‘s All-Starr Band, which also featured Peter Frampton on guitar. At the gig in Denver, Colorado the band was joined on stage by Baker, and he, Bruce and Frampton played a short set of Cream classics. Jack stayed with Ringo’s band until 2000 and, the following year, had success with a new band featuring Worrell, Vernon Reid of Living Colour on guitar and Kip Hanrahan’s three-piece Latin rhythm section. Their album Shadows in the Air included a reunion with Eric Clapton on a version of ‘Sunshine of Your Love.’

In the summer of 2003, Jack was diagnosed with liver cancer and in September that year he had a liver transplant that almost proved fatal. In May 2005, he reunited wit Clapton and Baker for a series of Cream concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall and New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Jack’s love of jazz and all forms of music also saw him play live with Gary Moore and drummer Gary Husband at the Dick Heckstall-Smith tribute concert in London. In 2007, he made a brief concert appearance, opening a new rehearsal hall named in his honour at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

In July 2008 as part of the Hippiefest Tour, Jack was supported by members of the late Who bassist’s John Entwistle Band and he later headlined a tribute concert to ‘The Ox.’ Later that year, he recorded a concert in England with the BBC Big Band, at which they played big band arrangements of his classic songs. Along with guitarist Vernon Reid, drummer Cindy Blackman and organist John Medeski, Jack played a series of Blue Note Club tribute concerts to the Tony Williams Lifetime in Japan.

In 2009, Bruce performed at the 50th anniversary of Ronnie Scott’s Club and the following year published an autobiography. In 2011, Jack became only the third recipient of the International Bassist Award, a lifetime achievement award for bassists, after Jaco Pastorius and Nathan Watts. Larry Hartke, co-founder of Hartke Systems, manufacturers of bass guitar amplifiers and speaker cabinets, presented the award. “Simply put, Jack Bruce is the reason I became interested in the bass,” he said. “Jack changed the role of bass in music and made playing the instrument look like fun.”

In 2011 the Lifetime Tribute Band, featuring Jack, Vernon Reid, Cindy Blackman, and John Medeski reformed to play ten shows in North America. They renamed themselves Spectrum Road, after a track on 1969’s first Lifetime album Emergency, and recorded a new album.

2012 saw Bruce playing in Cuba, with guitarist Phil Manzanera, supporting the mambo band of Augusto Enriquez. In March 2014 Bruce released a new studio album Silver Rails, his first solo studio album in over a decade. It features contributions from Jack’s longtime lyricist collaborator Pete Brown, Kip Hanrahan and Jack’s wife Margrit Seyffer, as well as Robin Trower, Cindy Blackman, Phil Manzanera, Uli Jon Roth, John Medeski and Bernie Marsden. Bruce’s son Malcolm Bruce pre-produced the album and played guitar on several tracks and Bruce’s daughter Aruba Red was featured on ‘Hidden Cities,’ singing backing vocals. Jack’s final studio album, the impressive Silver Rails, was released in 2014.

Jack Bruce’s life was one of ups as well as downs, of fame beyond most of our wildest imagination. But his life was essentially one of playing music that he loved. He cannot be pigeonholed or typecast: such were his musical abilities that he could play just about any style of music he chose, and he chose to play many different styles.

He will be remembered for much, but for many it will be that haunting voice that sings on the classic Cream recording.

In the white room with black curtains near the station
Blackroof country, no gold pavements, tired starlings
Silver horses ran down moonbeams in your dark eyes
Dawnlight smiles on you leaving, my contentment
I’ll wait in this place where the sun never shines

Play it now, and remember Jack Bruce for the joy that he gave us.

BBC Sessions is released in a 2LP deluxe vinyl edition on 22 November. Buy it here.

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26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. JR

    October 25, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    Great article on an even greater artist. The world just lost a giant.

    On a smaller note, I couldn’t parse the long sentence that mentions the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I suspect it got broken in some rushed editing. Any chance it can get fixed?

    Thanks again for such a wonderful tribute. I broke out my vinyl and am listening to his beautiful haunting voice as I type.

    • uDiscover

      October 25, 2014 at 6:58 pm

      Thank you, JR, it was indeed a rush, and we’ve corrected it. Such a sad day.

  2. Bernie

    October 25, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    I’ll never forget Jack Bruce, what a voice, bass player and masterr of the harmonica.

  3. Mads Bo Hansen

    October 25, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    What a sad day now!

  4. Nerfy

    October 25, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    So sorry to hear of Jack’s passing. He was a great, great bassist. My sincere condolences to his family.

  5. Brian Fish

    October 25, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    Jack also played a blistering bass solo on Frank Zappa’s song Apostrophe!!! RIP JACK BRUCE. One of my Rock and Roll heroes.

  6. nick saban

    October 25, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    great talent RIP Jack

  7. Ramos William

    October 25, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    R.I.P.
    Mi querido John Symon Asher Bruce! Jack Bruce – Cream BAND

  8. frank waters

    October 25, 2014 at 11:05 pm

    Thank you for posting this wonderful tribute. I have always thought of Jack’s voice as the most beautiful male voice in rock and roll. After 45 years, I still never get tired of hearing We’re Going Wrong, and White Room.

  9. George

    October 25, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    A nice tribute for Jack Bruce who used and developed his talent throughout his life. Never career minded but eager to learn and teach with music and more music in mind, not limiting himself or others to blues, jazz, rock or whatever. There are many great musicians up there were he went….he probably is jamming with Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and Miles Davis. We lost but the spirit of music may have won.

  10. Kynn Nevener Jett

    October 25, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    He and Cream were the biggest musical influence in my life at the time of that album R.I.P.

  11. Marco Arellano

    October 25, 2014 at 11:59 pm

    Otro gran músico que se nos adelanta.

  12. Johnny Månsson

    October 26, 2014 at 1:24 am

    Disraeli Gears was the first Lp that I bought and since that day I love everything Cream done.

  13. BILLY BRANDT

    October 26, 2014 at 2:50 am

    I ;like what you had to say George, but you could also add Bobby Bland, SRV, Muddy, T-bone, Freddie King, Janis, Albert King and Albert Collins to name a few more.

    Wow! Another One bites The Dust, what a sad day! One thing about Jack is that he did things his way and never really strayed away from his roots. I didn’t realize that he and poet, Pete Brown wrote, “White Room” which was labeled a “psychedelic rock song” and I think that was Cream’s greatest song ever that came out in 9-’68. I know that Jack also sang the high pitch part (sounding like a woman, which shows the range that he had in his voice) where the lyrics are: I’ll wait in this place where the sun never shines, Wait in this place where the shadows run from themselves.
    ECs lyrics are great too, then Jack sings: I’ll wait in the queue when the trains come back, Lie with you where the shadows run from themselves.

    You should listen to the rest of the great lyrics and unreal guitar on “24 Nights” by EC. It’s a live album that Eric recorded in ’90 and ‘ 91 when he played 42 nights at the Royal Albert Hall (RAH) in London and he said that the songs were taken from the best shows he did at the RAH during those two years. He did an 18 night run in 1990 and in 1991 he played from 5 February to 9 March and both CDs are tremendous. However, side one is one that I’d pick if I was stranded on a dessert island and I only had 10 CDs to pick from and it’s partly because of the version of, “White Room” and “Sunshine of Your Love” also written by the great Jack Bruce.

    I really like the cover that EC did on the Ray Charles song, “Hard Times” It’s fun to play and sing on the guitar too because it has a lot of really nice chord changes ( vocals and guitar) throughout the song, but like I said earlier, side one really rocks.

    I think EC even said that White Room inspired him to do the double CD in his autobiography, but it might have been said somewhere else and I don’t feel like checking it out because I’m leaving soon. I know that EC credited Jack with putting their own spin on old 12-bar blues songs and songs other than 12-bar blues too. For example, look at their version of Robert Johnson’s, “Crossroads,” it’s waaay faster and in the key of A I think. I think that Robert did it in an open B and the first sheet music on the song was in C, it just adds more mysticism to Robert’s life, especially about the song, “Crossroads.” Also, Robert played a slide in it too and it was waaaay slower. Just another sign of Jack’s many talents when it came to music and life. Also, that statement did have a profound effect on EC and his covers thereafter and he covered a lot of blues musicians’ songs too.

    There was also talk of a Cream reunion and everybody and their dog blamed EC for it never materializing. But that’s not true, Jack came out and said that Cream tour cancellation was down to Ginger Baker and that EC had wanted to do it. Apparently Baker said or did something or said something evil to EC and that was the end of that. It’ also no secret in the music business that Baker had a pretty evil mouth on him and his personality was horrible.

    A really sad story for all of us Cream fans who would have loved to see them perform again, especially for the millions of fans like me who never got to see them live. From everything that I’ve read or heard about Baker he is just a FUCKIN’ ASSHOLE!! His onstage Q&A with Michael Hann, titled by Hann, Meeting Ginger Baker: an experience to forget, I think that sums him up to a T!
    I also heard that some of the nicest people in the business wanted to punch him in the face and, again, Hann’s title says it all too! Check it out, it should be on utube or I think you can Google the whole interview if it’s not on utube, but Baker is disgusting and extremely rude too.

    Then he has the balls (probably about the size of 2 broken M&Ms) to say “when you’re the greatest British drummer ever, you don’t have many equals.” What a fucking idiot, I don’t even think he’s worthy of even cleaning Keith Moon’s shoes after a gig!!! Maybe it’s because he was named Ginger, probably from Gilligan’s Island. I think there was an old old script that was found in London in ’37 or ’38 before he was born. No offence to anyone other man named Ginger. Well, enough about that POS!

    I know that Jack lived in Parker, CO, (10 miles or so SE of Denver) a nice community with Pine and Spruce trees and ranches) for quite a few years and he never acted like the big star that he was either. I just found out that he died at his home Suffolk from a friend who’s in the music industry too.

    I know that I will sure miss him, he played with most of the great blues and R&R musicians of his time. May He Rest in Peace!

    Billy Brandt

  14. BILLY BRANDT

    October 26, 2014 at 2:59 am

    I apologize for posting this twice and I started it two hours after I found out that he was dead and then left for quite a while before posting it. And I thought one was going to another site first.

    • uDiscover

      October 26, 2014 at 6:52 am

      Billy, thanks for sharing your memories and thoughts, loved reading them

  15. MARTY ZOGAS

    October 26, 2014 at 3:41 am

    ROBERT JOHNSON WOULD HAVE BEEN PROUD OF HIS TALENT !

  16. Robert Ryan

    October 26, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    There’s LOTS of little heard Jack Bruce on various Kip Hanrahan records. Still (In Half Light) is a particular favourite track – both bass and voice make your neck hairs leap to attention. Also recommended is the part-live album All Roads Are Made Of The Flesh. In the liner notes KH wrote: “Songs and record directed, produced, arranged, “conducted” etc by Kip Hanrahan (what the hell does “conducted” mean anyway? It’s a word other people use- sometimes it doesn’t mean anything more than handing rolled steel to Jack Bruce and watching as he turns it into gold in front of thousands of people)”

  17. Trebor Lloyd

    October 26, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Jack’s death literally brought tears to my eyes. Cream was so much a part of my young life and Jack’s superb bass and voice were so much a part of Cream. I am so glad I got a chance to catch the band on their reunion tour at Madison Square Garden several years back. It was a magic night.

  18. Jeff Stratton

    December 2, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Jack Bruce was a highly respected and ‘special’ person, a Scottish treasure, a real musical inspiration, a wonderful all-round musician and the owner of one of my favourite voices in rock ! His first solo album in 1969, SONGS FOR A TAILOR, sums up all of these qualities….a true ‘desert island disc’. And I rate ‘Rope Ladder to the Moon’ as one of my favourite recordings of all time – it’s such a ‘perfect’ song !
    I was very saddened by his untimely passing. Every Easter in Australia we have the Byron Bay ‘Bluesfest’, and I was always hoping for two artists to perform here – John Martyn and……the one and only Jack Bruce. Sadly, this will now never be.

  19. Walter Zepnik

    October 26, 2015 at 6:44 am

    Ich bin erschüttert, aber er war bis zuletzt ein Musiker und Gott. Seine Musik wird i am Leben erhalten. Als Mensch haben wir ihn verloren. Aber sollte es den sogenannten Himmel geben, hat er sicherlich noch eine geile Zeit mit anderen Musikern die andere Leute vermissen. Ich wünsche es ihm, denn Musik war sein Leben. RIP

  20. Jose` Manuel

    October 26, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    Jack Bruce hero and inspiration was JS Bach as he said in a interview, here’s a sample of one of many famous works from Bach, specially this one was a favorite of him for the long, long bass line (60 measures) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WX5PPRotSc

  21. Ken Quinney

    October 25, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    I’m going to put three of my Cream CD’s in the player today in rememberance. I saw them live in 1968 at the Commadore in Lowell MA. Jack’s voice is incredible. RIP

  22. Ken Howe

    October 27, 2018 at 3:17 pm

    Regarding the article “Remembering Jack Bruce….” Oct.25, 2018: A correction; Cream did not “split up” in August of 1968. Yes, Clapton was becoming very unhappy about the band and did eventually want out but there was no immediate plan to break up the band at this point. The “Wheels Of Fire” album had just been released and Cream were touring heavily to promote it. They did a West coast tour of The States in the Fall of ’68 then returned to London in October to start recording new tracks for an eventual follow-up album to “Wheels Of Fire” (that obviously never happened). They returned to touring Britain in Nov. and Dec. of ’68. Their last shows were at the Royal Albert Hall in mid December of 1968. These shows were taped and appeared on BBC TV at a later date as “Cream’s Farewell Concert”. At the time of the shows, it was NOT billed that way. That was done as an afterthought (obviously for monetary gain) to promote the BBC TV Special and also for the eventual release of the concert on VHS tape and then DVD A press release was issued by Cream management in January of 1969 confirming that Cream was no more. The “Goodbye” album was slapped together and released in March of 1969 to satisfy Cream’s recording contract (as would the following two “Live Cream” albums, vols one and two). “Goodbye” consisted of the three tracks recorded back in October ’68 (that included “Badge”) for the new album that never happened and three live tracks selected from their Fall west coast U. S. tour. Also, regarding the banner headline that appeared on Facebook for this article: It stated that Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce were former bandmates in the The Yardbirds. Huh? Jack Bruce was never in The Yardbirds. uDiscover, get your facts straight before publishing banner headlines and articles. I suggest that YOU discover the facts before telling readers to “discover” information that you you publish that is factually wrong.

  23. John Varney

    October 25, 2019 at 8:42 pm

    I hope that one day Bruce will be truly appreciated for his awesome genius. Not only was he supremely talented, but he kept working on expanding his musicianship! A legend for our times.
    By the way, at the Scottish Conservatorium it’s a performance space rather than a hall. I sat there one evening and a switch moved in my destiny. Really!

  24. Uncle Al

    October 25, 2019 at 11:40 pm

    Too bad he didn’t spend more time trying to get along with Ginger. CREAM was so MUCH MORE than merely the combination of those three talents. And that’s a lot on its own. In a later interview, he finally admitted he spent a lot of time trying to get under Gi ngers skin. Or as he said it “run him up”.

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