Global Bass Online                                                                           July 2001

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Jack Bruce


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For over forty years, Jack Bruce has had a career filled with innovation and accomplishment.  From his revolutionary work with Cream to his 70’s fusion ventures with Tony Williams and John McLaughlin, Jack has always been evolving.  His career is reminiscent of fellow Englishman and guitar legend Jeff Beck in that Bruce, like Beck, straddles the line between rock, jazz, and jazz rock, and comes up smelling like a rose every time. 

Jack has legions of loyal fans, many who have been with him since the 60’s, and he is gaining new younger fans every day.  In 1968 when Wheels of Fire was released, Jack was undeniably the greatest electric bassist in rock or jazz in the world.  Some of the greatest and most original bass works ever heard were Jack’s bass lines on Crossroads, and Spoonful, both from Wheels of Fire.  It was simply amazing, particularly when you considered that most of Jack’s peers were thumping away on Fender basses with flatwound strings through 25-watt Ampeg B-15 amplifiers.  Jack ran his short scale Gibson EB-3 bass through a 100 watt Marshall stack, and just let it rip. 

While the bass world has finally caught up to Jack in regard to sheer technique on the instrument, no one today comes close to Jack when it comes to conveying emotion and conviction.  Whether he is singing or playing bass, Jack thrives by feeding off of the musicians with whom he is working at the time – just as Miles and Mingus did -- to create bass lines and music that stand alone as musical masterpieces.  He was, as Jeff Berlin states, “the first virtuoso of the electric bass.”   

Jack playing Jeff Berlin's bass.

In discussing Jack Bruce, there is a tendency to dwell a bit too much on Cream.  In talking with him, it’s clear that he is well aware of what he accomplished with Clapton and Baker, however, he wants everyone to know that he’s undergone tremendous growth as a writer, singer, and as a bassist since then.  Cream was simply a wonderful phase in his remarkable development. He made a statement … and then moved on. 

On July 9th 2001, Sanctuary Records will be releasing Jack’s latest effort entitled Shadows In The Air.  Jack is extremely excited about his latest endeavor.  The players on Shadows In The Air are some of the most respected musicians in the field of Latin jazz.  It also includes legendary performers like Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Vernon Reid, and Gary Moore.  Jack composed ten new songs for the recording, and re-invented six previous compositions – familiar sounds from his solo albums Songs for a Tailor and I’ve Always Wanted to do This, and from his days with Cream and West Bruce and Laing.    

I met Jack at a hotel on 54th street in Manhattan.  As I entered the room, he was casually sitting on the couch breaking in a beautiful Warwick bass he planned on giving to a friend.  Some times when conducting interviews, I walk away feeling disappointed that my heroes weren’t all I’d hoped they’d be.  Jack however, exceeded all of my expectations.  He was down to earth, treated me with respect, and was very enthusiastic -- this in spite of the fact that he had been conducting interviews since 9 am and I was his last appointment at sometime after 9 pm! His responses to my questions were articulate and immediate, and he gave off the impression that he truly wanted to be there.  Sitting across from me, Jack exuded character and confidence.  We talked about his new CD, as well as cleared up a few misconceptions about the origins of Cream

GB) I understand that Ernest Ranglin was a big influence on you early in your career.  How so?


JB) Well, it wasn’t when I started out. I’d already been playing for quite a long time.  I started playing professionally when I was 17.  My involvement with Ernest Ranglin was a little time later, about 1965, so I’d already been playing for quite a few years by then.  Ernest Ranglin was influential in the sense that I’d been playing standup bass up until that point, and he asked me to play bass guitar.


GB) What type of music was Ernest Ranglin involved with?


JB) Ernest is a fine Jamaican guitarist very responsible for starting the Ska movement, and also started some of the early reggae things that happened. Bob Marley and so on.  So he’s a very important musician. He’s still playing very fine guitar.


GB) I have heard (via the Internet) that Cream was formed after you, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker saw Hendrix perform in England. Is that so?


JB)  I really don’t know how these things get so confused.  The origin of Cream is very well documented.  Cream had been going for quite a long time when Jimi came to England for the first time. We were an established band, doing very well.  We already had hit recordings, and so on.  Jimi came along, and I met him in London by chance really, and he asked me if he could sit in with Cream, so he came along to a gig, and sat in.  That was the first time we’d ever heard him play, although we knew of him.  I think the fact that Cream was a trio was very influential on Jimi having a trio. Jimi had nothing to do with Cream getting together.


GB) Let’s talk about your new CD, Shadows In The Air.  Was it your idea alone to incorporate the Latin textures into your music?


JB) I’ve been playing with some of the musicians on Shadows in the Air on and off for 17 years.  The first record I did in this style was called Desire Develops an Edge, very much a Latin jazz-fusion record which was done in NYC 17 years ago.  I’ve made several records with these guys, playing their music, so I asked them to play Jack Bruce songs, so that’s how this record came about.  I definitely wanted to revisit Sunshine Of Your Love and White Room, and I had two ballads that I had written, Dark Heart and Heart Quake. Those are four songs that I knew I wanted to do.  We went into the studio and cut the two ballads with me playing piano and singing live, with Milton Cardona on percussion.  We started to talk about what else we wanted to play, because although the musicians on Shadows In the Air are Latin musicians, they grew up loving rock music.  They knew my solo records, they obviously knew the Cream records. It was their idea to include Out In the Fields (West, Bruce, Laing), so I agreed.


GB) I interviewed Ron Carter for Global Bass a few months ago, and he too has a new CD with a Latin vibe. Have you heard it?


JB) Not yet, but I plan on it.  I’ve always admired Ron a lot from the early days. The first time I heard him was on the Gil Evans record Out of the Cool, a very influential record for me.  Ron’s a fine player, a fine musician.


GB) Your son Malcolm plays on Shadows In The Air.


JB) Yes he does. Malcolm is a guitarist and keyboard player, as well as an excellent arranger.  He helped me with the horn arrangements when I didn’t have the time to write everything out.  He went to the Guildhall School of music, a big conservatory in London.


GB) Is this the first time you have recorded with Malcolm?


JB) No, he played on a record I did about ten years ago called A Question Of Time. He plays on the bonus track on that one.  He was only 15 years old then.


GB) Where was Shadows In The Air recorded?


JB) All of the tracks were recorded in New York, and then I simply overdubbed Eric and Gary Moore in London. I like working in New York, it’s my favorite place to record. It definitely has a vibe.


GB) Did you use an amp in the studio, or simply go direct?


JB) I usually do both, but I usually end up using a lot more of the direct because of the Warwick basses that I use. The direct sound is pretty astounding. I don’t use any valve (tube) preamps or anything, I just find that the direct signal from my Warwick is so good.


GB) Please describe to me your approach to right hand technique.


JB) A lot of my technique I learned from studying veena, an ancient Indian instrument about 2000 years old.  I’ve recently started playing veena again.  The technique is similar to James Jamerson’s “hook” technique.


GB) You seem to really have a well-developed left hand approach as well.


JB) Yes, I think a lot of that comes from starting out on cello and double bass.  You develop quite a strong left hand. I think it pays off. People always ask me what strings, effects and pedals I use to achieve my sound. It’s all from the hand. It’s all from the fingers. Jaco said that a long time ago.


GB) I’d like to throw out a few names to get your reaction. Paul McCartney and the Beatles.


JB) Paul to a certain extent, is a bass player we’re all aware of. He wrote some incredibly important songs, especially the middle period Beatles songs, which were the songs that most influenced me. More than as a bassist, Paul influenced me as a songwriter, and I wanted to emulate some of those fabulous Lennon/McCartney tunes.  I wanted to try and write a definitive pop song.


GB)   Felix Pappalardi


JB) He was a very important person in my life. Almost by chance, he became the Cream producer. He happened to be at Atlantic studios the day we arrived, and they didn’t know what to do with us.  Felix was there, he became the producer, and we’re very lucky that he did.  We were like brothers because we had very similar backgrounds in that we were both classically trained, but loved rock music as well. He produced my first solo record, Songs for A Tailor.


GB) Finally, who are some of your favorite bassists currently playing?  


Jack Bruce & Jeff Berlin


JB) Jeff Berlin, Geddy Lee, Les Claypool. My own particular favorite rock bassist is Flea. He’s really a down player, and his backflips are fabulous!


GB)     Jack, thank you very much.

Some people confine themselves to the limitations that society places on them, others strive to change conventional thinking. Prior to 1954, no one could conceive of running a sub four-minute mile, but when England’s Roger Bannister did just that in May of 1954, he paved the way for others, and set a new standard in the process.  Prior to Jack Bruce’s arrival onto the scene, bassists were content to remain in the shadows, chained to their amplifiers. Jack came along, and showed the world that the electric bass guitar could function as a lead instrument, every bit as formidable as the electric guitar.  He proved that a bassist could be a focal point of a band, and changed the way we view bassists forever.

In addition to creating some of the most timeless music of this century, Jack Bruce has gained the admiration and respect of his peers.  Dann Glenn, a brilliant bassist/composer who is setting a new standard in bass virtuosity, is himself taking the bass to unthinkable realms.  I asked Dann for his thoughts on Jack Bruce and here is how he responded:  “Jack Bruce is the very source of the subharmonic well from which I drink.  Electric bass virtuosity truly began with him. He not only played and sang simultaneously, he played beautifully contrapuntal bass passages against his vocals.  It was from Jack that I learned the only way to find one’s true musical voice is to play the bass with unbridled abandon. His legacy lives on forever through his vast body of work, and the many strong branches that have sprouted from the tree of Bruce.”

Ever since Jeff Berlin burst onto the scene over 20 years ago with his wonderful contributions to Bill Bruford’s excellent solo efforts, he has been extolling the virtues of Jack Bruce.  As we all know, Jeff has had an illustrious solo recording career and is certainly a “champion” of the bass.  It is only fitting that I end this article with Jeff’s poignant and heartfelt thoughts about Jack: “If it wasn’t for Jack Bruce, the electric bass might still be in the dark ages. He is the very first virtuoso of the instrument. In Cream, the tonality of the band rested entirely with him.  Clapton played the blues, Bruce played the orchestra.  It never would have worked with a “normal” bass player.  His solo records are individual jewels of musical originality. What would we all play like if Jack hadn’t come along and grabbed the role of the bass player, twisting it into this living musical epic for all of us to be inspired by?”  

Truer words have yet to be uttered… 

Special thanks to Dann Glenn for his thoughts on Jack Bruce, the wonderful accompanying pictures and for his role in bringing Jeff Berlin’s thoughts to the readers.  If you would like more information on Jack Bruce, please checkout his website at:

 Tony Senatore , June 2001.

                 Tony can be reached at

His website is

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