Jack Bruce was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1942. A child prodigy, he won a scholarship to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music where he studied cello and, aged 11, composed a string quartet. Much to his tutors’ ire, he also slummed it, joining Jim McHarg’s Scotsville Jazzband as their upright bassist and, when given an ultimatum to quit the group and return to serious music, he quit the college instead.
He took his bass to London, aged 19, and joined the UK’s pre-eminent R&B band Blues Incorporated. Alexis Korner led the fluid line-up, the early mainstays of which included organist Graham Bond, saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith and drummer Ginger Baker. A year later Jack went electric when he joined Bond, Baker and guitarist John McLaughlin to form the Graham Bond Quartet. As the Graham Bond Organization they issued The Sound Of ’65 and There’s A Bond Between Us, featuring Jack on vocals, bass and harmonica.
His next move was to John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, whose star guitarist was Eric Clapton. A surprise short excursion into pop saw Jack play on two No. 1 hits, Manfred Mann’s ‘Pretty Flamingo’ and The Scaffold's ‘Lily the Pink’. He was a guest musician on the latter in 1968, but was briefly a member of Manfred Mann in 1966, and appears on their EP Instrumental Asylum; he’s also featured on its cover.
Together with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker he formed the legendary Cream in 1966 for three studio albums, Fresh Cream (1966), Disraeli Gears (1967) and Goodbye (1969), and the monumental double live collection Wheels Of Fire (1968). Thirty seven years after they split, the trio reformed for a triumphant series of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London and at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The UK shows are documented on the album Royal Albert Hall, London, May 2-3-4-5, 2005.
Beyond Cream, Jack Bruce was also the founder of, or the bass linchpin in, many other groups. In 1970, he joined US jazz rockers The Tony Williams Lifetime, led by Miles Davis’ pioneering drummer, boosting them to a quartet for their album Turn It Over. He had deep respect for Williams and following his death in 1997, Jack joined the Lifetime Tribute Band which, renamed Spectrum Road, recorded a self-titled album in 2012.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Jack Bruce had a penchant for the power trio, and he formed three other line-ups within this dynamic format. The most commercially successful was BBM with Ginger Baker and Gary Moore, whose Around The Next Dream album, made UK No.9 in 1994. Decades before, in 1972 he formed West, Bruce and Laing — dubbed by some ‘the American Cream’ — with guitarist Leslie West and drummer Corky Laing from the US heavy rock band Mountain. They issued three albums, Why Dontcha (1972), Whatever Turns You On (1973), and Live ’n’ Kickin’ (1974). And as one third of BLT, with guitarist Robin Trower from Procol Harum and drummer Bill Lordan from Sly & the Family Stone, he recorded BLT in 1981. He also cut two other albums with Trower, Truce (1982) and Silver Moons (2009).
Working on a project-by-project basis, Jack formed a number of more expanded line-ups named after himself. In 1975 he recruited former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor and jazz keyboard virtuoso Carla Bley into the Jack Bruce Band, which toured in support Out Of The Storm, his solo album issued the previous year. One of the shows, at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, was documented as Live In ’75, issued retrospectively in 2003. The 1977 studio LP, How’s Tricks was also credited to the Jack Bruce Band, but featured different personnel — guitarist Hughie Burns, keyboardist Tony Hymas and drummer Simon Phillips. Jack’s following release, 1980’s I’ve Always Wanted To Do This was issued under the name Jack Bruce & Friends, namely guitarist Clem Clempson, keyboardist/guitarist David Sancious and drummer Billy Cobham.
Given his involvement with so many different artists and collaborative projects, when considering Jack Bruce’s legacy it’s useful to focus upon his core catalogue of the 14 core solo albums issued under his own name (including those Band albums just mentioned).
His 1969 debut, Songs For A Tailor, was his most commercially successful, reaching UK No.6, the same position as Fresh Cream. These days, however, it stands as one of the great overlooked albums of the Sixties, if not of any decade. While immediately identifiable as the voice and composer from Cream, on …Tailor Jack presented himself as an entirely different proposition altogether. Whereas Cream had been rock music channeled through blues and jazz, the solo Bruce was now a jazz artist merely hinting at rock, and more or less eschewing the blues.
Continuity with Cream came via lyricist Pete Brown, who wrote the lyrics for …Tailor, and Felix Pappalardi who produced the album. The key musicians were Chris Spedding on guitar, Dick Heckstall-Smith from the Blues Incorporated days on sax, and drummer Jon Hiseman, who’d replaced Ginger Baker in the Graham Bond band and latterly formed his own jazz/progressive outfit, Colosseum. Oh, and George Harrison guested on one track, credited for contractual reasons as L’Angelo Misterioso.
Highlights? The whole album is a highlight of Jack’s career, and at a mere 30 minutes playing time, it seems churlish to favour one track over another. But if you must… the opening ‘Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out Of Tune’ is evocative progressive pop (and features that Beatle), ‘Theme From An Imaginary Western’ might have been a chart single by Procol Harum, ‘Ministry Of Bag’ is Cream without the other two, ‘Weird Of Hermiston’, ‘Rope Ladder To The Moon’… Just check out the whole record.
Jack considered himself, as did his lifelong friend / bête noir Ginger Baker, a jazz musician first and foremost, even if the bulk of his recorded output fell within the blues/rock arena. Shortly before Cream’s farewell concert in 1968, he assembled a quartet featuring John McLaughlin from John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, Dick Heckstall-Smith, and Jon Hiseman to record an album of acoustic instrumental free jazz. The seven compositions dated back to his childhood days at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music — a remarkable fact in itself — culminating in the seven-and-a-half minute workout ‘Statues’. The album remained unreleased until 1970 when it appeared as the follow-up to Songs For A Tailor, which must have surprised a good many Cream fans.
Jet Set Jewel was another album with an extended hiatus before release. Recorded in 1978 but not issued until 2003, it’s all smooth fusion and contains several songs Jack remade for later albums, such as ‘Childsong’ (Somethin Els, 1993) and ‘Best Is Still To Come’ from Automatic (1983).
Jack Bruce’s last album, Silver Rails (2014), was his first for over a decade and was issued just months before his death. This final statement is often reflective, inevitably mature and yet still sparkling with invention. With Cream lyricist Pete Brown back on board it provided a neat bookend to a most illustrious and rewarding career.
Just a fraction of Jack’s 50 years of recording can be sampled on his first posthumous compilation, Sunshine Of Your Love — A Life In Music, issued in October 2015.
Words: Andy Davis
With a live version of "Crossroads" going Top 30 for Cream, Songs for a Tailor was released in 1969, showing many more sides of Jack Bruce. George Harrison (again using his L'Angelo Misterioso moniker) appears on the first track, "Never Tell Your Mother She's Out of Tune," though his guitar is not as prominent as the performance on "Badge." The song is bass heavy with Colosseum members Dick Heckstall-Smith and Jon Hiseman providing a different flavor to what Bruce fans had become accustomed to. Hiseman drums on eight of the ten compositions, including "Theme From an Imaginary Western," the second track, and Jack Bruce's greatest hit that never charted. With "just" Chris Spedding on guitar and Jon Hiseman on drums, Bruce paints a masterpiece performing the bass, piano, organ, and vocals. The song is so significant it was covered by Mountain, Colosseum, and a Colosseum spin-off, Greenslade. One has to keep in mind that the influential Blind Faith album was being recorded this same year (and according to the late Jimmy Miller, producer of that disc, Jack Bruce filled in for Rick Grech on some of the Blind Faith material). Bruce's omnipresence on the charts and in the studio gives the diversity on Songs for a Tailor that much more intrigue. "Tickets to Water Falls" and "Weird of Hermiston" feature the Hiseman/Spedding/Bruce trio, and though the wild abandon of Ginger Baker is replaced by Hiseman's jazz undercurrents, these are still basically two- to three-and-a-half-minute songs, not as extended as the material on Bruce's work on his John McLaughlin/Heckstall-Smith/Hiseman disc Things We Like recorded a year before this, but released two years after Songs for a Tailor in 1971. The history is important because this album is one of the most unique fusions of jazz with pop and contains less emphasis on the blues, a genre so essential to Bruce's career. Indeed, "Theme From an Imaginary Western" is total pop. It is to Jack Bruce what "Midnight Rider" is to Greg Allman, a real defining moment. "Rope Ladder to the Moon" has that refreshing sparkle found on "Tickets to Water Falls" and "Weird of Hermiston," but Bruce has only John Marshall on drums and producer Felix Pappalardi adding some vocals while he provides cellos, vocals, guitar, piano, and bass. Side two goes back to the thick progressive sound of the first track on side one, and has a lot in common with another important album from this year, Janis Joplin's I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! Jack Bruce and Janis Joplin were two of the most familiar superstar voices on radio performing hard blues-pop. Joplin added horns to augment her expression the same time Jack Bruce was mixing saxes and trumpets to three tracks of this jazz/pop exploration. "He the Richmond" deviates from that, throwing a curve with Bruce on acoustic guitar, Pappalardi on percussion, and Marshall slipping in again on drums. But the short one minute and 44 second "Boston Ball Game, 1967" proves the point about the pop/jazz fusion succinctly and is a nice little burst of creativity. "To Isengard" has Chris Spedding, Felix Pappalardi, and Jack Bruce on acoustic guitars, a dreamy folk tune until Hiseman's drums kick in on some freeform journey, Spedding's guitar sounding more like the group Roxy Music, which he would eventually join as a sideman, over the total jazz of the bass and drums. "The Clearout" has Spedding, Hiseman, and Bruce end the album with progressive pop slightly different from the other recordings here. As with 1971's Harmony Row, Peter Brown composed all the lyrics on Songs for a Tailor with Jack Bruce writing the music. A lyric sheet is enclosed and displays the serious nature of this project. It is picture perfect in construction, performance, and presentation. Words: Joe Viglione
Out Of The Storm is Jack Bruce yet again taking a different path. No one can accuse this man of being redundant as he leaves behind the hard rock of Whatever Turns You On from his 1973 work with West, Bruce & Laing and takes on Steely Dan with a track like "Keep On Wondering." The problem with West, Bruce & Laing is that they should have been the back-up band providing Jack Bruce the vehicle to express his artistry. "Keep It Down" would have been a tremendous track for WBL, and Lou Reed/Alice Cooper guitarist Steve Hunter provides the tasteful licks which Leslie West would've used a sledgehammer to find. The title track is real introspection with more "I" references than found on a page in a Marie Osmond autobiography. Bruce uses the rock format to sing the poetry that he and long time collaborator Peter Brown have crafted here. When played next to his other albums, from Things We Like to Monkjack, as well as the aforementioned Leslie West collaborations, the indellible voice of Jack Bruce is found to belong, not to a chameleon, but to a true changeling. In an industry that resists change, his music evolves in relentless fashion, switching formats as efficiently and quickly as he switches record labels. While Eric Clapton achieves the acclaim, it is Jack Bruce who delivers a novel and totally original title like "One" with a vocal that moves from cabaret to blues to soul. The man has one of the most powerful and identifiable rock & roll voices, and his body of work is overpowering. "One" has the drums of Jim Gordon and another venture into the Procul Harum sound Bruce has toyed with over various albums in different ways. Out Of The Storm is another excellent chapter with Steve Hunter showing proficiency and remarkable restraint. Robin Trower, Mick Taylor, Leslie West, Eric Clapton and so many other guitar greats have put their sound next to Jack Bruce's voice, and this is Steve Hunter aiding and abetting, but not getting in the way of Bruce's creative pop/jazz.
Words: Joe Viglione
Jack Bruce's twelfth studio album was recorded in 1978 but not released by Polydor until May 2003. Includes 'The Boy', 'She's Moving On', 'Please' and 'Childsong'.
This three-disc set compiles two previously released Jack Bruce concerts with sessions that haven't been heard before, at least not officially. It should be noted that these are not his complete BBC sessions; ardent fans will more than likely quibble and argue about what is not here, though they will more than likely agree on what is. A contribution to the latter argument is the exclusion of the killer Sounds of the 70s session with guitarist Chris Spedding and drummer John Marshall, who played on Bruce's Harmony Row album. Protest duly noted. Tracks one through nine on disc one feature most of the BBC in Concert set from 1971 with Spedding, organist Graham Bond, and Marshall. This version contains a superior stereo mix and does not sound like the often bootlegged and hissy mono tape that was issued previously on Windsong. The other three cuts -- all excellent -- come from an incomplete Jazz in Britain session with saxophonist John Surman and Jon Hiseman on drums. Disc two is a reissue of the bassist's performance on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975, with Carla Bley, Mick Taylor, Ronnie Leahy, and Bruce Gary. This is in mono since the show was broadcast that way, but the sound is exemplary. A bonus is that it restores the entirety of the original broadcast, and contains "Without a Word," which was left off the Strange Fruit release. There's a schizophrenic aspect to the last two cuts on disc two -- and the final cut on three -- in that they comprise an entire Jazz in Britain session by Surman, Bruce, and Hiseman, seven years after the aforementioned 1971 date on the program (hence the "1978" in this set's title). The rest of disc three is devoted to the 1977 In Concert Live at the Paris Theater with drummer Simon Phillips, guitarist Hugh Burns, and keyboardist Tony Hymas. The band was supporting Bruce's How's Tricks? album. The sound is fantastic, perhaps because it was originally mixed in quad then remastered for stereo. Burns is no Spedding or Taylor, but the bassist and drummer lock on, and their interplay is incendiary. Whether or not this is Bruce at his very best is -- and always will be -- debatable among fans. That said, when culled, what this collection reveals is how awe-inspiring his playing and leadership could be; it's a quality that makes this collection well worth the investment.
Words: Thom Jurek
Silver Rails is Jack Bruce's first solo studio album since 2003's fine More Jack Than God. Bruce recorded the set at Abbey Road with producer Rob Cass and collaborated with a dazzling array of musicians. Notably, he brought back John Medeski and Cindy Blackman Santana from the Spectrum Road project -- a tribute band to the Tony Williams Lifetime -- which released its own album in 2012. He also enlisted son Malcolm Bruce and guest guitarists including Phil Manzanera, Robin Trower, Bernie Marsden, and Uli Jon Roth. Bruce wrote songs with longtime collaborators Pete Brown and Kip Hanrahan, as well as his wife, Margrit Seyffer. The music is quite diverse, making this album a distant spiritual cousin to 1969's Songs for a Tailor. There are some scathing rockers, most notably the rumbling, politically intense "Drone," illustrated only by distorted bass and drums and samples of a WWII Stuka. "Reach for the Night" is a sophisticated, multivalent pop song with R&B and even jazz overtones. The piano-driven rock of "Fields of Forever" actually recalls the spirit of "Doin' That Scrapyard Thing" from Cream's Goodbye album. "Rusty Lady" (about the death of Margaret Thatcher -- Bruce wasn't a fan) is a funky blues with Trower's silvery guitar punctuating the mix. The Caribbean rhythms and horns in "Candlelight" make it a sophisticated outlier here, Medeski's organ careening around a bubbling bassline, stuttering drum kit, brass, and Manzanera's dancing single lines and vamps. The complex melody in "Hidden Cities" walks a line between metal and prog, while the next cut, "Don't Look Now," commences as a lithe, weary ballad before gradually cracking itself open and transforming into a midtempo rocker. Marsden's stinging fills punch through Bruce's bassline in the strutting modern blues that is "Keep It Down." The set closes with the thundering rock and roll of "No Surrender," the most raucous tune on the set. Bruce's voice is a tad grainy, but his pitch and phrasing remain intact. Silver Rails is chancy and engaging, despite some inconsistent moments, and stands as a bright testament to an exceptional musician who, for over 50 years, has pushed at the margins of every genre he's taken on.
Words: Thom Jurek
Enthusiasts expecting to hear a continuation of the type of material that Jack Bruce (bass) had been responsible for during his tenure(s) with Cream or the Graham Bond Organisation might be in for quite a shock when spinning Things We Like (1970) for the first time. Instead of an album's worth of blues-based rockers, the seven instrumentals feature Bruce with other former Graham Bond stablemates John McLaughlin (guitar), Jon Hiseman (drums), and Dick Heckstall-Smith (sax) performing post-bop and free jazz. A majority of the compositions were penned by Bruce in his preteen days of formal scholarship at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, where he also mastered the cello and composed a string quartet at the age of 11. After having gained significant clout from Cream, Bruce assembled what was initially a trio. However, after a chance meeting with McLaughlin -- who was so broke he had to refuse an offer to fly stateside to join the newly formed Tony Williams Lifetime -- Bruce incorporated the guitarist into the fold in order to help him finance his journey, which was ultimately successful. The entire effort was recorded and mixed in less than a week during August of 1968 -- less than three months prior to the infamous Farewell Concert of Cream at the Royal Albert Hall on November 26, 1968.As a testament to Bruce's expansive musical tastes, capabilities, and horizons, this disc sounds more like a collection of Rahsaan Roland Kirk sides than anything even remotely connected with Cream. This is especially true of the frenetic pacing of the brief opener, "Over the Cliff." Heckstall-Smith's ability to perform alto and soprano saxophone simultaneously likewise lends itself to Kirk's distinct reed polyphony. "Statues" is an interesting exercise, again with Heckstall-Smith providing some excellent extemporaneous blows during the darkly toned introduction working well against the nimble melody. While Hiseman's style is decidedly less aggressive than that of Ginger Baker, his drumming helps to amalgamate the song's various sections. McLaughlin's unmistakably sinuous leads are commanding throughout the "Sam Enchanted Dick" medley, with a cover of Milt Jackson's "Sam's Sack" and a Heckstall-Smith original titled "Rills Thrills." The tempo is slowed on the smoky cover of Mel Tormé's "Born to Be Blue." This interpretation is part West Coast cool and part Chicago-style blues. McLaughlin's contributions to "HCKHH Blues" is similar to that of Robert Fripp's jazzy fretwork throughout the Islands (1971) era King Crimson. While it was the first of Bruce's solo records to be recorded, he chose to issue the more rock-oriented Songs for a Tailor (1969) prior to Things We Like, which was perhaps considered an indulgent side project rather than a permanent musical diversion. Words: Lindsay Planer