Jack Bruce Biography

John Symon Asher, 14 May 1943, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland. Bruce has utilized his brilliant bass playing to bridge free jazz and heavy rock during spells with countless musical conglomerations. As a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist he also has a great fondness for the piano, cello and acoustic bass, and is highly accomplished on all these instruments.

Formerly a piano student at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, Bruce was awarded a RSAM scholarship for cello and composition. At 19 years of age he moved to London and joined the R&B scene, first with Alexis Korner’s band and then as a key member of the pioneering Graham Bond Organisation, alongside Ginger Baker and his long-standing friendship with the late Dick Heckstall-Smith. Following brief stints with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Manfred Mann, in summer 1966 Bruce joined up with Baker again, who, together with Eric Clapton, formed Cream. The comparatively short career of this pivotal band reached musical heights that have rarely been bettered. During this time Bruce displayed and developed a strident vocal style and considerable prowess as a harmonica player. However, it was his imaginative and sometimes breathtaking bass playing that appealed. He popularized an instrument that had previously not featured prominently in rock music. Dozens of young players in the 70s and 80s cited Bruce as being the reason for them taking up the bass guitar.

Upon the break-up of Cream, Bruce released the exemplary 1969 solo album, Songs For A Tailor. A host of top jazz and rock musicians were present on what was his most successful album. On this record he continued the songwriting partnership with Pete Brown (b. 25 December 1940, Ashtead, Surrey, England) that had already produced a number of Cream classics, notably ‘White Room’, ‘Politician’, ‘I Feel Free’, ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ and ‘SWLABR’. Brown’s imaginative and surreal lyrics were the perfect foil to Bruce’s furious and complex bass patterns. Evocative songs such as ‘Theme For An Imaginary Western’ and ‘Weird Of Hermiston’ enabled Bruce’s ability as a vocalist to shine, with piercing clarity.

Throughout the early 70s a series of excellent albums and constantly changing line-ups gave Bruce a high profile. His involvement with Tony Williams’ Lifetime and his own ‘supergroup’, West, Bruce And Laing, further enhanced his position in the jazz and rock world. A further aggregation, Jack Bruce And Friends, included jazz guitarist Larry Coryell and former Jimi Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell. During this busy and fruitful period Bruce found time to add vocals to Carla Bley’s classic 1971 album Escalator Over The Hill, and Bley was also a member of the 1975 version of the Jack Bruce Band. During this time he successfully fought a serious drug habit, which at one time threatened his career. In 1979, he toured as a member of John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra.

The 80s started with a new version of the Jack Bruce Band, which featured guitarist Dave Clempson and David Sancious. They found particular favour in Germany and played there regularly. The ill-fated heavy rock trio BLT was formed in 1981 with guitarist Robin Trower and drummer Bill Lordan but disintegrated after two albums; their debut, B.L.T. , reached the US Top 40. In 1983, he released the perplexing album Automatic. This obviously low-budget work had Bruce accompanied by a Fairlight machine, an odd coupling for a musician whose previous collections had consistently teamed him with highly talented drummers. Much more impressive was 1989’s A Question Of Time which attempted to restore Bruce’s now lapsed career to its former glory.

In 1994, Bruce formed BBM, with Gary Moore and Baker. Two parts Cream, the unit might have been more aptly called Semi-Skimmed. This was his most rock-orientated project for a while and clearly showed that Bruce was in sparkling form, fit and well. A new solo album was released in August 2001 and proved to be the artist’s best in many a year (Shadows In The Air). Later that year, his early catalogue was given a magnificent overhaul and beautifully remastered. Two bonus items formed part of this reissue programme. The first, Jet Set Jewel, was a lost album recorded in 1977 that had been unceremoniously dumped by RSO Records after Bruce was fired from the label. The second was a 1975 performance at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, England. This particular line-up of the Jack Bruce Band featured Mick Taylor and Carla Bley.

In 2003 Bruce was diagnosed with cancer of the liver. The prognosis was poor, unless a suitable donor and a transplant could be carried out. In September, Bruce had a successful transplant and the same month another album with his Latin-inspired Cuicoland Express was released (More Jack Than God). Rumours of a Cream reunion began to appear in January 2005 and rumour became reality in May, with four magnificent nights at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England. Apart from occasionally having to rest on a stool Bruce’s performance over the four nights was a triumph. His voice and playing were at times breathtaking, notably on ‘We’re Going Wrong’. Later that year the trio played a further four nights at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Bruce is a powerful vocalist, prolific songwriter, excellent pianist, and (probably because of Cream) the most renowned and respected of all electric rock bass players, although his Charles Mingus -style playing would still make him a perfect choice for any acoustic jazz ensemble. Other than his long-term admirers Bruce has found it difficult to reach a new audience. Those that have followed his career understand his major shifts from jazz to heavy rock, but his position in today’s musical climate is hard to place. He no longer has anything to prove, having been there and done that, and coming through with colours flying. Nevertheless, Bruce remains an extraordinary musician.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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