Jack Bruce, who became famous in the 1960s as the bassist and lead vocalist for the hugely successful rock group Cream, and whose adventurous approach to his instrument influenced two generations of rock bassists, died on Saturday at his home in Suffolk, England. He was 71.
His family announced the death on his website. A spokesman said the cause was liver disease; Bruce had received a liver transplant several years ago.
Bruce was well known in British rock and blues circles but virtually unknown in the US, when he teamed with the guitarist Eric Clapton and the drummer Ginger Baker to form Cream in 1966. One of the first of the power trios – the Jimi Hendrix Experience soon followed – Cream had its roots in the blues and became known for Clapton's long, virtuosic solos on reworked versions of blues standards like Crossroads and Spoonful.
“Those original blues records had been done so well, which meant you could only ever be second-best,” Bruce was quoted as saying in the booklet for a 1997 Cream compilation CD. “But if you treated those songs with a great deal of love and respect, you could remake them into your own.”
There were many original compositions in Cream's repertoire, most of them – including hits Sunshine of Your Love, I Feel Free and White Room – written by Bruce, usually with lyrics by the poet Pete Brown.
Bruce did most of the singing, in a polished tenor that could be both powerful and plaintive, and his fluid playing provided a solid counterpoint to Baker's explosive drumming and Clapton's guitar pyrotechnics. His inventive intros to songs like Badge were an essential part of Cream's sound. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd recently described Bruce as "probably the most musically gifted bass player who's ever been".
Cream did not last long. Friction between Bruce and Baker is the reason most often cited for break-up in 1968, after the band had toured extensively and released four albums, with sales estimated at 35 million.
Clapton and Baker reunited and joined keyboardist and guitarist Steve Winwood and bassist Ric Grech to form the group Blind Faith, which disbanded after one album and a tour. Bruce, meanwhile, charted a more ambitious if less commercial musical course. He recorded a jazz album, Things We Like, before Cream disbanded, although it was not released until after a more conventional rock album, Songs for a Tailor, which he recorded after the break-up.
He briefly toured with guitarist Larry Coryell and drummer and former Hendrix sideman Mitch Mitchell, and then joined drummer Tony Williams’s pioneering jazz-rock band Lifetime alongside guitarist John McLaughlin and organist Larry Young. He later led groups of his own and co-led bands with guitarist Robin Trower and with guitarist Leslie West and drummer Corky Laing.
He was an occasional member of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band. Among the albums he played on were the experimental Carla Bley-Paul Haines jazz-rock opera
Escalator Over the Hill
(on which he also sang), Lou Reed’s
and Frank Zappa’s
, whose title track was a Zappa-Bruce co-composition.
He recorded more than a dozen albums as a leader; the most recent, Silver Rails, was released this year.
Bruce was born in Glasgow on May 14th, 1943. He studied cello and composition at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music. “Growing up, I had envisioned being some kind of a Mozart,” he once said. “I studied classical music early on and composed a string quartet at age 11.” But he became disenchanted with formal study and left the academy after a few months. He joined the band Blues Inc in England in 1962. The next year he joined organist Graham Bond’s band, the Graham Bond Organisation, which also included McLaughlin and Baker. He later had stints in John Mayall’s Blues Breakers – where he first worked with Clapton – and pop group Manfred Mann.
Cream was inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, and received a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2006. In 2005, the band reunited for concerts in London and New York. Bruce's survivors include his wife, Margrit, as well as four children and a granddaughter. – (New York Times service)