I had an epiphany when I listened to “Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream last night. Ginger Baker’s drumming was amazing, his brilliantly tuned drums accentuating the bizarre staccato melody and Eric Clapton’s lyrical blues guitar with its perfect setting of sustain making the song sound beautiful. But none of it would have amounted to anything without Jack Bruce’s eccentric blues melody and understated yet perfectly rhythmic vocals.
To call Jack Bruce the pulse, the spine and the real heart and soul of Cream would be an understatement. The band simply never would have existed without him. Many bands before Cream played the blues in a reverential manner. What made Cream stand out from the pack was the way Bruce never oversang the blues like too many have before and after him, and his blues melodies were perfect in their respect for tradition while still adding something new and intriguing with each listen.
Bruce was a tireless collaborator who shined no matter who he worked with, a partial list would make any music lover drool: Leslie West, Manfred Mann, John McLaughlin, Public Image Ltd., Carla Bley, John Mayall, Lou Reed (“Berlin”!), Chris Spedding, Graham Bond, and Frank Zappa, to name a few.
Most of Jack Bruce’s lyrics were written by poet Pete Brown and they worked brilliantly with Bruce’s dramatic songs, White Room being a good example. Brown’s lyrics were wild enough to keep up with Cream’s unbridled acid blues, my favorites being like SWLABR, Tales of Brave Ulysses, World of Pain, Deserted Cities of the Heart, and Passing the Time. The genius of his music was the way he balanced traditional blues with surprisingly sensitive flourishes, some viola playing here or some cello added to add a fuller dimension to Cream's sound.
Even after Cream’s demise Bruce still managed to keep the jazz/blues sound exploding on his first solo album, “Songs for a Tailor”. Tracks like Ministry of Bag, Rope Ladder To The Moon and Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out of Tune employed horns and keyboards, significantly expanding his musical palette after performing in a trio format for the past several years.
Occasionally he was driven to playing in Cream-style bands in the years to come because the fans demanded it: there was West, Bruce & Laing (aka Mountain pt. 2) and BLT and probably a few more I left out, so he was never remiss in keeping his fans happy. A true showman til the end.
I wish anyone seriously making a go of being a blues singer would study Jack Bruce because he embodies the best of blues in that he never hollered and always managed to sound Scottish even when tackling classics like Born Under A Bad Sign. Bruce never failed to steal the show, as witnessed by his grungy fuzz bass playing on Frank Zappa's raging instrumental "Apostrophe". And nothing was more shocking than hearing him sing lead on the chorus to Public Image Ltd’s song “Ease”. Jack Bruce was a timeless talent whose influence will be felt for a long, long time.
Also RIP to Clive Palmer of The Incredible String Band, Alvin Stardust, Rosetta Hightower, and the incredibly awesome Ian McLagan of The Small Faces and The Rod Stewart-fronted Faces. Music's getting better in heaven that it is down here!