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Jack Bruce - 14/4/1943 – 25/10/2014

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 14 / 11 / 2014

Jack Bruce - 14/4/1943 – 25/10/2014


Nick Dent-Robinson reflects on the life of Cream bassist Jack Bruce, who died aged 71 in October

It is easy to forget how brief was Cream's existence. From their first rehearsal in 1966 to their final concert Cream, the first “supergroup”, were an entity for less than two and a half years! But in that time Jack Bruce as vocalist, bass guitarist and songwriter plus lead guitar Eric Clapton with drummer Ginger Baker had a massive impact. Relations between Bruce and Baker were often difficult but, despite that, Cream set a standard that influenced all who followed...not least Led Zeppelin as Robert Plant, the late John Bonham and Jimmy Page have each subsequently acknowledged. Jack Bruce made fine music after the demise of Cream, but he never again scaled the same heights and he sank into heroin addiction, alcoholism and later succumbed to liver cancer. He also lost his eldest son, Jonas, who died from asthma in 1997. On the few occasions I met him in his later years, by when he had largely overcome most of his more serious problems, I found Jack Bruce remarkably philosophical. Though he sometimes seemed irritated that Led Zeppelin who he regarded as followers, not originators, had reaped more benefit from a style of music that Cream and a few others like Jimi Hendrix had initiated. And occasionally Bruce would reflect that by 1989 when Eric Clapton was selling out the Albert Hall for almost a month at a time, he himself was reduced to playing to a handful of people in a dingy London club with a filthy, windowless dressing room. Jack Bruce, however, did accept that nothing could detract from Cream's 35 million album sales and the massive worldwide recognition the short-lived band achieved. And it was Bruce who was acknowledged as the genius behind Cream's best-known songs including 'I Feel Fine', 'Sunshine of Your Love' and 'White Room', all of which are now rock classics. So, there was much to be proud about professionally. Jack Bruce had been born in 1943 in Bishopbriggs, Lanarkshire to blue collar, music-loving parents. The family moved to Canada for a while but returned to live in Glasgow by the late-1950s. Bruce had shown early musical promise and he was enrolled to study classical piano and cello at the prestigious Royal Scottish Academy of Music. It was an unhappy experience for him, however - as he “found it all so middle class there”. He felt that “as a working class lad it was impossible to be accepted”, and he also claimed to have suffered sexual assaults by a tutor who Bruce described as a friend of classical composer Benjamin Britten. The college also disapproved of Bruce's extra-curricular activity of playing bass parts on his cello with local jazz, blues and rock bands, and they ordered him to stop. There was never any chance he would do so, and Bruce left the college without graduating. He immediately started a non-stop round of playing in Glasgow's funkier pubs and jazz clubs. Bruce derived wry satisfaction in 2007 when the college – now known as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – honoured him by naming a concert venue after him. Following a period performing (in tartan and kilt) with Murray Campbell's Big Band in the very early 1960s, Jack Bruce soon moved on to London. He quickly made his mark in the emerging blues-rock scene, having joined Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated (alongside soon-to-be Stones drummer Charlie Watts and occasional vocalist Mick Jagger). Bruce moved on to the Graham Bond Organisation where he first met (and almost immediately fell out with) drummer Ginger Baker. In 1964 he married the band's fan club's secretary Janet Godfrey. who dissuaded Bruce from taking up an offer to join Marvin Gaye's backing band in Detroit. Instead he played with John Mayall's Blues Breakers and then did a short stint with Manfred Mann, before accepting the offer from Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton to join Cream in 1966. In recent years Jack Bruce continued to be widely respected for his innovative playing, and he surprised himself by how much he enjoyed reuniting with Cream to play four sell-out shows at the Royal Albert Hall plus a further three at Madison Square Garden in 2005. In 2012 BBC TV produced a documentary on Bruce which included many warm tributes from a very wide range of musicians. Pink Floyd's Roger Waters very simply described Jack Bruce as “the most musically gifted bass player there's ever been” - an accolade Bruce admitted he was very happy with. Following Jack Bruce's death on 25 October at the age of 71 from liver disease, this seems a fitting epitaph.

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