Jack Bruce, Cream’s Adventurous Bassist, Dies at 71

 Jack Bruce, left, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker performing together as Cream in 2005. Credit Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

Jack Bruce, left, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker performing together as Cream in 2005. Credit Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

Oct 25, 2014

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.

The famous rocker died a few weeks before the band’s release of a box set on November 24th.

His family announced the death on his website. A spokesman said the cause was liver disease; Mr. Bruce had received a liver transplant several years ago.

Mr. Bruce was well known in British rock and blues circles but virtually unknown in the United States when he teamed with the guitarist Eric Clapton and the drummer Ginger Baker to form Cream in 1966.

One of the first of the so-called power trios — the Jimi Hendrix Experience soon followed in its wake — Cream had its roots in the blues and became known for Mr. 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,” Mr. Bruce was quoted 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.”

 Mr. Bruce performing with Cream at a music festival in Windsor, England, in the late 1960s. Credit David Redfern/Redferns

Mr. Bruce performing with Cream at a music festival in Windsor, England, in the late 1960s. Credit David Redfern/Redferns

There were also many original compositions in Cream’s repertoire, most of them — including the hits “Sunshine of Your Love,” “I Feel Free” and “White Room” — written by Mr. Bruce, usually with lyrics by the poet Pete Brown. (“Sunshine,” the group’s biggest hit, was a rare Bruce-Brown-Clapton collaboration.)

Mr. 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 Mr. Baker’s explosive drumming and Mr. Clapton’s guitar pyrotechnics. His inventive introductions to songs like “Badge” were an essential part of Cream’s sound. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd recently called Mr. Bruce “probably the most musically gifted bass player who’s ever been.”

Cream enjoyed almost immediate success but did not last long. Friction between Mr. Bruce and Mr. Baker is the reason most often cited for the group’s breakup in 1968, after touring extensively and releasing four albums whose total sales have been estimated at 35 million.

Mr. Clapton and Mr. Baker soon reunited and joined with the keyboardist and guitarist Steve Winwood and the bassist Ric Grech to form the group Blind Faith. Despite high expectations, Blind Faith proved to be even more short-lived than Cream, disbanding after one album and one tour. Mr. Bruce, meanwhile, was charting a more ambitious if less commercial musical course.

He recorded a jazz album, “Things We Like,” shortly before Cream disbanded, although it was not released until after an album in a more conventional rock vein, “Songs for a Tailor,” which he recorded after the breakup. He briefly toured with the guitarist Larry Coryell and the drummer and former Hendrix sideman Mitch Mitchell, and then joined the drummer Tony Williams’s pioneering jazz-rock band, Lifetime, alongside the guitarist John McLaughlin and the organist Larry Young.


Mr. Bruce later led several groups of his own and co-led bands with the guitarist Robin Trower and with the guitarist Leslie West and the drummer Corky Laing. He was also an occasional member of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band.

Among the albums on which Mr. Bruce played were the experimental Carla Bley-Paul Haines jazz-rock opera “Escalator Over the Hill” (on which he also sang), Lou Reed’s “Berlin” and Frank Zappa’s “Apostrophe,” 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.

John Symon Asher Bruce was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on May 14, 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 the formal study of music and left the academy after a few months. He moved first to Italy and then to England, where he joined the band Blues Incorporated in 1962. The next year he joined the organist Graham Bond’s band, the Graham Bond Organisation, whose members also included Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Baker. He later had brief stints in John Mayall’s Blues Breakers — where he first worked with Mr. Clapton — and the pop group Manfred Mann.

Cream was inducted into the 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.

Mr. Bruce’s survivors include his wife, Margrit, as well as four children and a granddaughter.

50 Things You Never Knew About The Clash

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1.  37 years ago today, on April 8 1977, The Clash released their self-titled debut album, later going on to change the face of British guitar music forever. Here’s 50 geeky facts about the Londoners, starting with this little-known nugget of information – their first ever concert was in summer 1976, supporting The Sex Pistols.


2. Most of the debut LP The Clash was written on the 18th floor of a council high rise on London’s Harrow Rd. The flat was owned by Mick’s grandmother, who regularly turned up at Clash gigs.


3.  During the filming for the ‘Bankrobber’ video, Clash roadies Baker and Johnny Green faked a bank job in South London. They were stopped and questioned by the police, who thought they were the real thing.


4. ‘Train In Vain’ isn’t listed on the sleeve credits for ‘London Calling’ because it was originally going to be a flexi give-away with NME. Unfortunately, the idea proved too expensive and the track went on the LP instead.


5. ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ was written by Mick about American singer Ellen Foley, who sang the backing vocals on Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell LP.


6. Joe Strummer once directed his own movie Cops & Robbers, staring Mick, Paul, and Clash photographer Pennie Smith.


7. The cover of the ‘London Calling’ album is a rip-off of Elvis’ ‘Rock And Roll’ LP from ’56 and was taken by our own Pennie Smith.


8.  ‘Rock The Casbah’ was the very first rock video that starred an armadillo, zoo fans.


9. The spread-’em-against-the-wall pose on the cover of ‘White Riot’ was borrowed from a dub LP called ‘State Of Emergency’ by Joe Gibbs And The Professionals


10.  They also sold their double and triple album sets ‘London Calling’ and ‘Sandinista!’ for around the price of a single album (£5.99). This meant that they had to forfeit all of their performance royalties on its first 200, 000 sales. They were constantly in debt to CBS and only started to break even around 1982.


11. The Clash II went on a busking tour to promote the “Cut The Crap” LP. They weren’t any good.


12.Mick Jones’ band ‘London SS’ was originally a hard rock group which was revamped and evolved to become ‘The Clash’.


13. Whilst at public school, the young Joe Strummer was an avid stamp collector.


14. In 1977 when The Clash were signed to CBS some people believed they had ‘sold out’ to the establishment, particularly Mark Perry, founder of the leading London punk periodical, Sniffin’ Glue. He said: “Punk died the day The Clash signed to CBS.”


15. Sandy Pearlman, producer of “Give ‘Em Enough Rope”, so disliked Joe Strummer’s voice that he mixed it more quietly than the drums throughout the album.


16.  Joe Strummer once said his favourite record was Van Morrison’s “Gloria’.


17. Drummer Nicky Headon was nicknamed ‘Topper’ by Simonon, because he thought he resembled the Topper comic book character ‘Mickey the Monkey’.


18. The Spanish lines in ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ and ‘Spanish Bombs’ are not grammatically correct.


19. Joe Strummer played a bearded dishwasher in the mercenary army who gets thrown into a river in Alex Cox’s Walker. No-one has ever seen said film.


20.The Clash temporarily became The Lash when they became studio players for vice queen Janie Jones. They appear on her single, “House of the Ju Ju Queen”.


21.  Joe has run both the London and Paris marathons. Slowly.


22. British Telecom wanted to use ‘London Calling’ for an advertising campaign. They were told to bog off.


23. The Clash were the first (and last?) white band to have their likeness painted onto the wall of Lee Perry’s famous Black Ark recording studios in Jamaica.

















Watch: The xx share behind-the-scenes video for Park Avenue Armory residency



The British pop band the xx play on themes of exposure and intimacy in the immensity of the Park Avenue Armory drill hall, inverting almost all of what is expected in rock.
For the last week or so, The xx have staged a series of intimate performances at Park Avenue Armory in New York City. Taking place in a custom-built stage within a cube, each show is limited to an audience of 45 and tickets to the sold-out performances are currently fetching thousands from third-party resellers. For the vast majority of us who won’t be able to catch the concerts in person, the band has shared a behind-the-scenes video. Watch it at The New York Times’ website
Following the residency, The xx will embark on a brief U.S. tour.