Brilliant bassist of the ‘supergroup’ Cream

Jack Bruce: May 14th, 1943 - October 25th, 2014

 

The singer, songwriter and bass guitarist Jack Bruce, who has died aged 71, is best remembered as a mainstay of Cream, the first supergroup, defined as a combination, often short-lived, of already successful musicians. However, he also had an enduring solo career, worked with a wide range of collaborators and was respected for his inventiveness, instrumental dexterity and exacting musical standards.

In 1966 the guitarist Eric Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker set about launching Cream. Clapton insisted on the inclusion of Bruce, who agreed to undertake the bulk of the singing. despite the bad feeling that existed between him and Baker.

In the studio, Cream’s output contained piquant touches of blues, experiment and humour Most of the ensemble’s original compositions – including the Top 40 entries Wrapping Paper, I Feel Free, Sunshine of Your Love and White Room – were composed by Bruce.

While Cream broke box-office records in America, their sensitivity and clever ironies were corrupted by high decibels and “endless, meaningless solos”, according to Clapton. “We were not so much indulging ourselves as our audiences – because that’s what they wanted.”

Having reached a point of artistic stagnation, Cream decided to disband. A farewell tour of the US was followed by two London concerts, the second of which was captured on film by Tony Palmer. The farewell was completed with their fourth album, Goodbye (1969).

Rock and jazz

In August 1968, Bruce recorded Things We Like, dissolving the boundaries between rock and jazz with tunes that he had written as a boy. He played the double bass, and was joined by the saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith, guitarist John McLaughlin and drummer Jon Hiseman. It was released in 1970, after Bruce’s debut solo album, Songs for a Tailor (1969).

In the 1970s, Bruce’s trademark busy and strongly amplified bass was showcased on Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe, and Too Many Cooks, a blues number sung by Mick Jagger with John Lennon on guitar.

Coping with his heroin addiction compelled Bruce to keep working. In 1979 he recorded with Alexis Korner’s Rocket 88 and toured with McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. The start of the 1980s saw his new Jack Bruce Band on the road, mainly in Germany. The next solo album, Automatic (1983), replete with synthesised multitracking, came on a German label.

Further challenging albums followed, but in 1993, putting his more avant-garde leanings on hold, he embarked on BBM, with Baker and the Belfast-born guitarist Gary Moore. Focusing principally on the US, they started each evening with an hour’s worth of Cream favourites. Later in the decade Bruce appeared with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band.

In 2003, he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent a liver transplant. He recovered sufficiently to participate in a reunion of Cream two years later, playing four sold-out shows at the Royal Albert Hall and three at Madison Square Garden.

John Symon Asher Bruce was born in Bishopsbriggs, north of Glasgow, son of Charlie and Betty (née Asher), working class parents with strongly left-wing convictions. He attended Bellahouston Academy, in southwest Glasgow, sang in a church choir and went to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama to study piano and cello.

Dexterity

Bruce’s dexterity on the bass guitar gained him wide recognition. In 1965, he had been asked to join Marvin Gaye’s band, an offer he turned down. “Around that time, I was suffering a lot of criticism for playing too many notes, or playing in a certain way,” he later said. “Marvin loved my playing though, so I realised I must have been doing something right.”

Bruce’s final decade as a performing musician was an active one, despite occasional bouts of ill health. He composed and recorded prolifically and played live dates across Europe and the US. In 2007 a rehearsal hall at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow was named after him, and two years later he was presented with an honorary doctorate of letters from Glasgow Caledonian University. The Pink Floyd bassist Rogers Waters described him as “the most musically gifted bass player who’s ever been”. His final album, Silver Rails, released in March , received many positive reviews.

In 1964 Bruce married Janet Godfrey. They had two sons, Malcolm and Jonas, and divorced in 1982. Later that year, he married his second wife, Margrit Seyffer. They had two daughters, Natascha and Kyla, and a son, Corin. Jonas died in 1997. Bruce is survived by Margrit, his children, and a granddaughter, Maya Sage.