Jack Bruce – Jet Set Jewel
John Symon Asher “Jack” Bruce (14 May 1943 – 25 October 2014) was a Scottish musician and composer, known primarily as a member of the British rock trio Cream.
Bruce maintained a solo career that spanned several decades and also played in several musical groups. Although particularly known for his work as a vocalist, bass guitarist and songwriter, he also played double bass, harmonica, piano and cello. He was trained as a classical cellist and considered himself a jazz musician, although much of his catalogue of compositions and recordings tended toward blues and rock and roll. The Sunday Times said that “many consider him to be one of the greatest bass players of all time.”
After leaving school he toured Italy, playing double bass with the Murray Campbell Big Band. In 1962 Bruce became a member of the London-based band Blues Incorporated, led by Alexis Korner, in which he played the upright bass. The band also included organist Graham Bond, saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith and drummer Ginger Baker. In 1963 the group broke up and Bruce went on to form the Graham Bond Quartet with Bond, Baker and guitarist John McLaughlin. They played an eclectic range of music genres, including bebop, blues and rhythm and blues. As a result of session work at this time, Bruce switched from the upright bass to the electric bass guitar. The move to electric bass happened as McLaughlin was dropped from the band; he was replaced by Heckstall-Smith on saxophone and the band pursued a more concise R&B sound and changed their name to the Graham Bond Organisation. They released two studio albums and several singles but were not commercially successful.
During the time that Bruce and Baker played with the Graham Bond Organisation, they were known for their hostility towards each other. There were numerous stories of the two sabotaging each other’s equipment and fighting on stage. Relations grew so bad between the two that Bruce left the group in August 1965.
After leaving, Bruce recorded a solo single, “I’m Gettin Tired”, for Polydor Records. He joined John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers group, which featured guitarist Eric Clapton. Although his stay was brief; the Universal Deluxe double album Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton contains all the known tracks featuring Bruce.
After the Bluesbreakers, Bruce had his first commercial success as a member of Manfred Mann in 1966, including “Pretty Flamingo” which reached number one in the UK singles chart (one of two number one records of his career – the other being an uncredited bass part on The Scaffold’s “Lily the Pink”) as well as the free-wheeling and ground-breaking jazz-rock of Instrumental Asylum. When interviewed on the edition of the VH1 show Classic Albums which featured Disraeli Gears, Mayall said that Bruce had been lured away by the lucrative commercial success of Manfred Mann, while Mann himself recalled that Bruce attended recording sessions without having rehearsed but played songs straight through without error, commenting that perhaps the chord changes seemed obvious to Bruce.
While with Manfred Mann, Bruce again collaborated with Eric Clapton as a member of Powerhouse, which also featured the Spencer Davis Group vocalist Steve Winwood credited as “Steve Anglo”. Three tracks were featured on the Elektra sampler album What’s Shakin’. Two of the songs, “Crossroads” and “Steppin’ Out”, became staples in the live set of his next band.
Main article: Cream (band)
In July 1966 Bruce, Eric Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker founded the power trio Cream, which gained international recognition playing blues-rock and jazz-inflected rock music. Bruce sang most of the lead vocals, with Clapton backing him up and eventually assuming some leads himself.
With his Gibson EB-3 electric bass, Bruce became one of the most famous bassists in rock, winning musicians’ polls and influencing the next generation of bassists such as Sting, Geddy Lee and Jeff Berlin. Bruce co-wrote most of Cream’s single releases with lyricist Pete Brown, including the hits “Sunshine of Your Love”, “White Room”, and “I Feel Free”. Cream broke up in 1968.
Composing Himself: Jack Bruce The Authorised Biography by Harry Shapiro was released by Jawbone Press in February 2010. Shapiro had previously written biographies of Bruce collaborators Alexis Korner, Graham Bond and Eric Clapton. The book followed biographies from his Cream bandmates Clapton (Clapton, 2007) and Baker (Hellraiser, 2009). His songwriting partner, Pete Brown’s, biography White Rooms & Imaginary Westerns was published in September 2010. They each have differing recollections of forming Cream, playing and writing together.
On 14 January, at the 2011 North American Music Merchants Show, Bruce became only the third recipient of the International Bassist Award, a lifetime achievement award for bassists, after Jaco Pastorius and Nathan Watts.
His first independent CD release, Live at the Milkyway, Amsterdam 2001, featuring his Latin-based band of the time, was issued in October 2010. The double album received an official worldwide release, distributed by EMI in February 2011. To support this release Bruce again played four dates in London at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club with the Ronnie Scott’s Blues Experience, followed by a further ten dates across the UK with the band. On 4 June 2011, Bruce played a special concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London, which was celebrating its 60th anniversary. The evening celebrated the 50th anniversary of the blues in Great Britain, and Bruce played with his Big Blues Band and special guest Joe Bonamassa.
Bruce started 2012 playing the Gerry Rafferty tribute concert in Glasgow, followed by a date with the traditional Celtic band Lau. BBC Scotland recorded a one-hour special on Bruce, which also included a performance with Lau. The completed documentary Jack Bruce – The Man behind the Bass was transmitted in February 2012 by BBC Scotland. It featured new interviews with Bruce, Clapton, Baker and Brown. It was transmitted again on November 9 2014 on BBC2 Scotland and on November 17 2014 on BBC4 in the UK.
February 2012 saw Bruce playing in Havana, Cuba, along with guitarist Phil Manzanera, supporting the mambo band of Augusto Enriquez. March saw another residency at Ronnie Scott’s in London supported by his Big Blues Band, followed by a UK tour. The concert at the Stables, Milton Keynes on 18 March was due to be recorded as an Instant Live CD release, but technical issues prevented this. The following evenings performance at the same location was recorded and a 2CD version issued by Instant Live.
Spectrum Road was released in June 2012 by the US jazz record label Palmetto Records and was accompanied by a series of dates at large jazz festivals in North America and Europe throughout June and July.
Bruce released Silver Rails, in March 2014 on the Esoteric Antenna label, his first solo studio album in over a decade. Silver Rails was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, produced and mixed by Rob Cass and features contributions from Cream, lyricist Pete Brown, Kip Hanrahan and wife Margrit Seyffer as well as musicians Robin Trower, Cindy Blackman, Phil Manzanera, Uli Jon Roth, John Medeski and Bernie Marsden. The deluxe version of the album featured a behind the scenes documentary “The Making of Silver Rails” which was filmed on location at the studios and directed by Bruce’s daughter Kyla Simone Bruce. This film is due to be shown on the BBC Channel Four website on the BBC iPlayer from November 17 for 30 days Bruce’s son Malcolm Bruce pre-produced the album and played guitar on several tracks, while Bruce’s daughter Aruba Red was featured on “Hidden Cities” singing backing vocals.
In 1964 Bruce married Janet Godfrey, who had been the secretary of the Graham Bond Organisation fan club and had collaborated with Bruce on two songs written for the group. Together, Godfrey and Bruce had two sons, Jonas (Jo) Bruce, who grew up to play keyboards in his father’s band and formed a band called AfroCelts, and Malcolm Bruce, who grew up to play the guitar with his father and played with Ginger Baker’s son, Kofi. Jonas died in 1997 from respiratory problems.
In 1979 he married his second wife, Margrit Seyffer. With her he had two daughters, Natascha a.k.a. Aruba Red and Kyla, and a son Corin.
Bruce died of liver disease on 25 October 2014, in Suffolk, England, aged 71. His publicist Claire Singers said: “He died today at his home in Suffolk surrounded by his family.” He is survived by his wife, Margrit, as well as four children; Malcolm Bruce, Aruba Red, Kyla Simone Bruce, Corin Bruce and granddaughter Maya Sage.
His funeral was held in London on 5 November 2014 and was attended by such musicians as Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Phil Manzanera, Gary Brooker, Vernon Reid and Nitin Sawhney. Dozens assembled at the Golders Green Crematorium paying a last tribute singing “Morning Has Broken”, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Theme for an Imaginary Western”. Bruce’s remains were later cremated
and then buried at a private family ceremony on 31 December 2014 at the Golders Green Crematorium
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