The Cream Rises to the Top -- RIP Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce was the first autograph I got. Sort of. I mean, it was the first autograph I ever got that I asked another person to get for me. I had just started working in radio, and was 20-years-old. An afternoon DJ was going to be interviewing him, and one of my all-time favorite albums was the Cream record “Disraeli Gears.” I didn’t think it would be professional for me to just “show up” at a time I wasn’t working, and bother the talent for a signature; but the DJ was a nice guy and I knew he’d get it signed for me.

The album was released in 1967 – the Summer of Love. A great year for classic rock records. The Jimi Hendrix Experience debut “Are you Experienced?” The Doors debut record, Sgt. Pepper, Love’s “Forever Changes,” and Jefferson Airplane’s best album “Surrealistic Pillow,” to name a few.

He personalized the album to me, and had a huge signature across the record. It may have been the first autograph I got also, where I thought – you need to get things signed that have the autograph show up better. Yes, it was my favorite Cream record, but all their other albums would’ve worked so much better in terms of seeing the signature. Oh well. You live, ya learn.

Last week I heard that actress Elizabeth Pena (La Bamba, Tortilla Soup, and Lone Star) died at 55, after suffering from cirrhosis of the liver due to drinking. I heard that Bruce, the 71-year-old singer/bassist/songwriter of Cream had liver disease, and because the band had talked before about their extensive drug use, I can’t help but wonder if this wasn’t a similar thing.

A lot of the obituaries are calling Jack Bruce a “Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famer” but “Hall of Fame” is only impressive for the athletes. I would prefer they write “A member of the best rock trio that ever was, and ever will be.”

Seriously, it’s hard to think that anybody will ever top Ginger Baker on drums, Eric Clapton on guitar, and Bruce on bass and vocals. Heck, after Bruce wrote the riff for Sunshine of Your Love, Jimi Hendrix was covering it in concert the following month.

Bruce also wrote the hit “White Room” and one of my favorite psychedelic gems – SWLABR (She was like a bearded rainbow). Gotta love the ‘60s when it came to song titles and lyrics.

Along with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young – they were the first “supergroup.” It’s a term that is often used incorrectly. I’ve heard music magazines call the Rolling Stones a “supergroup.” The definition originally meant a band comprised of members of previous successful bands.

Three of the four albums Cream released made it to Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” and I’m guessing nobody will argue their inclusion.

The band would reunite for a few shows in 2005 at London’s Royal Albert Hall and at Madison Square Garden. I met a guy that flew to the London show at was talking to Paul McCartney in the 2nd row. Yeah, they were that big a band that a Beatle would show up at the reunion.

I was lucky enough to see Bruce live, and finally meet him, when he was a touring member of Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band (he was in that band a few different times). Now, Ringo has never signed autographs in person, but Bruce would come out and sign for the fans and share stories. I was surprised at how short he was. I asked him about working with Leslie West (Mountain), and a few other things I can’t remember now.

Roger Waters of Pink Floyd called Bruce the “most musically gifted bass player who’s ever been.”

High praise, indeed.

For people that like statistics and fun facts, the bands third album Wheels of Fire, was the first double-album that attained platinum-selling status.

They had bluesy songs I loved – Politician, Born Under a Bad Sign, and Badge. Ringo was drunk when he contributed the line, “I’ll tell you ‘bout the swans that they live in the park” and who saw the word “bridge” written on the part of the song where the bridge was, and thought the song was titled ‘Badge’ which the band ended up laughing about, and going with.

One of the first VHS videos I bought that was music related, was MTV closet classics, which had lots of ‘60s bands with videos. Cream did “Strange Brew” and “I Feel Free” which were cool tunes, but it was the afros they were sporting that I couldn’t take my eyes off of.

I remember watching a movie about Elvis on TV once, and being surprised they used one of my favorite songs of theirs – Tales of Brave Ulysses. Of course, drummers love the song Toad, which had that long drum solo. I preferred Tales and SWLABR, where Clapton wailed on his wah-wah.

Bruce was born in Glasgow, Scotland and was in a number of jazz and dance bands. His parents were both musicians, and that probably played a big influence. He met Ginger Baker in the Graham Bond Organization in the early ‘60s, and when he joined the John Mayall Blues Breakers, he met Clapton.

Clapton recently posted on his Facebook page, that Bruce “was a great musician and composer and a tremendous inspiration to me.”

There will be tears in heaven, for sure.

Then he’s going to grab his bass, Jimi will get his guitar, Bonham will be on drums (sorry, Keith Moon is having a beer), and it’ll be the great gig in the sky.

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Tags: Cream, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall, Paul McCartney, Ringo, Sgt. Pepper, Summer of Love, More…The Doors

Comment by Dave Jacobs on December 10, 2014 at 6:03pm

i was very sad to hear that jack bruce had died. the cream has always been my favorite group. they almost reunited again last year, now that will never be, at least they did in 2005 and gave the world an incredible jack.


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