An ME Tribute to Jack Bruce

You might be tempted to think that this tribute to the former Cream-ster was precipitated by the recent death of Ginger Baker. Well, yes and no. Back in 2005, the band re-formed to play some shows at Royal Albert Hall. (Which, BTW, now they know how many holes it takes to fill.) A DVD and CDs were made from this extravaganze and they aired the show -or maybe part of it- on a cable channel a while back. I had DVR’d it and never gotten around to watching it.

I watched it the other day and was reminded not only of what a great bass player and songwriter Bruce was but also what a great singer. I loved his voice. It was unique, distinct and instantly recognizable. It was a key part of Cream’s sound.

So I thought to myself – why not do a tribute to Jack Bruce? And so here it is.

Brief bio from his website: Jack was born to musical parents in the shipbuilding city of Glasgow, Scotland on 14 May 1943. His parents traveled extensively in Canada and the U.S.A. Jack attended 14 different schools, finishing his formal education at Bellahouston Academy and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, to which he won a scholarship for cello and composition. He left the Academy and his homeland at the age of 16, because of poverty and discouraged by his professors’ lack of interest in his ideas.

Jack traveled to Italy and then England, playing double-bass in dance bands and jazz groups, and joined his first important band in 1962 in London. This was Alexis Korner’s Blues Inc. for whom Charlie Watts played drums. Jack left Alexis in 1963 to form a group with organist Graham Bond, guitarist John McLaughlin, and drummer Ginger Baker.

This group became the seminal Graham Bond Organisation after John left, and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith joined. Jack was compelled to leave this band after three years by Ginger Baker, who said his playing was “too busy”! (It’s well-known I think that Bruce and Baker did not get along, Ginger once even pulling a knife on Jack.)

I will now detour you over to my Cream post for that particular story if you haven’t already read it. Then come back over here. I’ll wait.

Ok, so, onward. While Bruce is certainly best-known – and revered- for his work in Cream, that band only lasted a couple of years and Bruce lived for another 44. He did a fair amount of playing post-Cream and as noted, prior to it.

Let’s kick this thing off with the aforementioned Graham Bond Organisation which in its heyday (early-to-mid ’60s) was a potent and original R&B and jazz band. Like the Yardbirds, it was an influential band whose greatest accomplishment was probably to be the cauldron for the greats mentioned above.

This tune, “Harmonica,” features Bruce, Baker, Bond and Heckstall-Smith. It’s a pretty good example of that kind of primitive, yet funky blues/R&B track that you hear so much of back in the early days of British rock. Weirdly it comes from a long-forgotten 1965 British sci-fi film called Gonks Go Beat. (Gonks were apparently a British novety toy of the time.)

Now you will enjoy the fact that our hardworking staff has scoured the globe and found the actual clip from the movie and yes, that’s Ginger on drums and Bruce (?) on harmonica. Crazy, man.

Spotify link

It might interest you to know that a while back fellow blogger, Canuck, and ice-hockey head (with a weakness for Tim Horton’s)  Cincinnati Babyhead did a post on Bruce’s first solo album Songs for A Tailor. I knew of the album but as I said there, didn’t really know it. There’s some really nice stuff on there.

I’ll go here with “Rope Ladder to the Moon,” which is one of those odd, unclassifiable songs that Bruce liked to compose. Like his “As You Said,” for Cream, it’s got unusual jangly chords, cello (his other axe) and a strange, offbeat feel. A ballad it is not. Co-written with his lyricist Peter Brown.

Spotify link

Starting in the early ’80s, Bruce collaborated with guitar great Robin Trower. While few guitarists can complete in my affections with Eric Clapton, Trower comes damn close. Other than the fact that he does not sing I think that Trower could have fit in nicely with Cream which would have given a whole different Hendrix-influenced feel.

In 1981 they released an album called B.L.T, standing for Bruce, Lordan, Trower. Bill Lordan was a drummer in Trower’s band as well as Sly and the Family Stone. This is a tasty riff called “No Island Lost.”

Spotify link

I mentioned the Cream reunion and maybe it was this song – “We’re Going Wrong” – that inspired me to do this post. Purportedly it’s about Bruce’s relationship with his then-wife. Whatever, it’s another one of his non-ballad ballads, strange and powerful.

Spotify link

I recall reading that when Bruce sat in with an early Ginger Baker band, they tried to throw him off by playing some fast be-bop. Baker admitted they couldn’t do it and he kept right up with them. I think that no matter what genre he played, at heart Bruce saw himself as a jazzer.

And while Songs for a Tailor was released first, the album Things We Like was the first solo that he recorded. Joining him were John McLaughlin on guitar, Dick Heckstall-Smith on sax and Jon Hiseman on drums. If you only know Bruce for blues and blues-rock, this may surprise you.

This tune is called “Sam Enchanted Dick Medley.” (The Dick here seems to be Heckstall-Smith so get that thought out of your head.)

Spotify link

I’ll leave you with one more tune from Songs for a Tailor. I first heard “Theme for an Imaginary Western” when Mountain did it. Leslie West played some magnificent guitar on that version. To this day this is one of my favorite songs. It’s somewhat of a tribute to Bruce’s bandmates Dick Heckstall-Smith and Graham Bond who Bruce saw as cowboys. 

Spotify link

Jack Bruce died on October 25, 2014, which just happened to be on the same night as the very last Allman Brothers show I saw at the Beacon in NYC. (They did two more after that then called it quits.) Without saying a single word about Bruce, the band that night launched into Bruce’s great “Politician.” I guess they figured you either got it or you didn’t.

43 thoughts on “An ME Tribute to Jack Bruce

        1. Ah, wait! I have that compilation. Yes. I haven’t picked it up in a while as, well, I hardly ever touch CDs anymore. Thanks. I know my next couple days’ listening. Great album and yeah, I forgot about their cover. I saw them a while back and they actually do a fair amount of Dead, so much so that they attract a sizable contingent of Deadheads who can’t wait to dance.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. They have untold hours of live stuff that they release periodically. I have the Dead channel on Sirius and they routinely play stuff from mid-60’s to whatever variants of the band are around today.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. While I think I’m always going to be drawn to Jack Bruce’s work with Cream first, he was a remarkably versatile artist, which your selection of tunes nicely illustrates.

    As for Bruce’s relationship with Ginger Baker, this has got to be one of the weirdest in rock music history. While they apparently had constant fights, I think these guys “loved” each other as musicians.

    Baker may have criticized Bruce’s bass playing, but he knew Bruce was a master of his craft.

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    1. Well said. Ginger – as we know – was a bit of a prick. I’m not even 100% if was entirely Jack’s bass playing or some other piddly thing. And yeah, as far as musicians to play with, I don’t think there was any bass player Ginger preferred. Maybe if he had played with Jaco Pastorius.

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    2. Also, I agree with you in general about Jack’s non-Cream work. Some of it is very good, some scattershot. But there was a majesty in Cream’s playing that is lacking in his other endeavors.

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        1. Yea. I haven’t heard them all but there are four Trower/Bruce albums – B.L.T, Truce, Seven Moons and (live) Songs from the Road. And hell, I completely overlooked West, Bruce and Laing’s three albums.

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        2. BTW, just finished re-watching “Beware Mr. Baker.” When they did the 2005 gig – for which, as it happens they showed “We’re Going Wrong” -Ginger made 5 million bucks. He was, like 65 years old and could have just sailed down the river, enjoying it. Instead he blew it all on buying a bunch of horses and was broke again. Sadly, he treated those horses better than he did his own family. What a guy!

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        3. Like billionaire Paul McCartney. 😂 Yes, probably true. It’s a good thing you and I didn’t pursue the rock and roll lifestyle. We’d either be hopelessly broke or dead down some grim alleyway. 😋

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  2. When you write about guys like Jack I can contribute (Not so much with James Taylor, Art Garfunkel,Dan Hill, Nickleback ….).
    Doc i think we’ve been down this road a few times but that’s ok with me. I did a post on ‘Songs For A Tailor’ and will do a few more on various other Bruce adventures. I love the guy. I wore out the BLT stuff (along with West, Bruce and Laing). I’m no expert but I kept up with his career. I don’t get to deep into the internet searching so I’d never seen that Graham Bond thing. It’s like a fucked up scene from the Monkey’s. I would have liked to thrown that up in Bakers face. Jack made quality music with a lot of very good players. I listen to him a lot.
    You want to see something fantastic from the man with two first names and Rory Gallagher checkout the link.

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    1. Why CB hasn’t changed his name to Bruce Jack or for that matter Billy Jack (remember that?) is beyond me.
      I stumbled on that Graham Bond thing and I could not resist. .Bond looks less like a musician and more like a valet or a shoe salesman.
      Good clip. I had no idea those guys ever played together but why am I not surprised? I thought it was funny that they were “warming up” by singing the “Politician” riff. But when they get out there it’s only Bruce playing it so clearly Rory couldn’t learn the lick in time. Hell, even I can play it.
      If I ever go up to the Great White North, considering that CB can’t play anything, we’ll just scat sing licks from Cream, Band and Dan Hill songs. CB will be on his own with Nickelback, Rush and Bieber. CB can introduce me to Shania Twain and we’ll see what happens.

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      1. I seen Billy about a 100 times in the theater. I could do endless posts on films like that. I was thinking while I was watching that video that the band had zero sex appeal to teenage girls. The Beatles were safe.
        I love great musicians that can play with and off each other like that. No hiding they were having a good time.
        I’ll leave the last statement alone. I’m guilty by citizenship.

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        1. I still get a tear in the eye hearing that song. Did you see ‘Born Losers’? I think it was the prequel. Another CB sizzler. Thing is I can actually quote from it. Ask me to quote shit from school, forget it.

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        2. I didn’t realize that. I know “Billy Jack Goes to Washington” was the sequel and it got critically hammered. Never saw it. 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. CB reminds me a little bit of Billy Jack. “See this foot? Well I’m gonna put it upside your head and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. Even if you ARE the fucking shore patrol.”

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        3. Don’t be mean mouthing one of my childhood heroes. If you peek at ‘Born Losers’ you will see a bunch of those 70’s character actors we know. The gang had cool names like ‘Child’, ‘Crabs’. It influenced a buddy of mine so much he became a biker.
          Yeah you know all the good lines. Where does Jack fit in on all this side track? Oh yeah the name ‘Jack”

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        4. Definitely not bad-mouthing. Well, maybe that final movie. I remember the reviews at the time said he came across like a fascist in the flick. Back to Jack Bruce. Have you ever done a Laing/West piece?

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        5. I think I am going to do the evil half of CB takes. ‘Ginger’s Corner’ here I come.
          No I haven’t done a WBL piece. I kicked myself in the ass. I bought the first two albums and missed the live one. Hard rocking shit. They don’t make noise like that anymore. You got me listening to ‘Why Dontcha’ right now.

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        6. He was some angry SOB. He smashes that guy’s nose in ‘Mr.Baker’ with his cane. Consider how strong his arms were and how precisely he could strike. I look forward to your take on Ginger. WBL for me tomorrow. But I tell you my favorite ‘Imaginary Western’ is Mountain’s. Love that song.

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        7. Believe it or not, even though I knew of West, Bruce, Laing I hadn’t much listened to them. How I could miss a band that formed in the early ’70s is beyond me.
          I listened to the Why Don’Cha album whiile driving in. It surprised me how little it sounded like either Cream or Mountain. West’s power chords are jacked way out in front and it’s heavy, like “How you doin’ tonight, Cleveland?” heavy.
          Some of it I like, some of it is just full-bore and lacks subtlety. I’ll say that the younger me would have liked it better than the older me does. They bring a hammer to “Third Degree” when a chisel is needed. Compare their ‘Third Degree’ with Johnny Winter’s and you’ll see what I mean.

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        8. Yeah, I’m always studying Johnny’s licks. He’s on the Top 100 but still underrated. He was the original Texas blues-rock guy while SRV was still a teenager. He set the blueprint. But that said, I’m always studying Stevie too.

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        9. I like the WBL noise but Winter’s guitar is good stuff. His cut of 3rd was quite a few years later. I’m sure I’ve heard others cover it also. But since you were talking about Jack I really love his singing and playing. ‘The Bruce/Winter Band’?. Who on skins?

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        10. Clapton, that’s the one. I really like that version also. Plus that was a good album by him. A little more old school. Last one of his that really grabbed me (also a album with J.J. Cale) I think I’ll pull it out. You’re sending me on a blues jag. Hotfox did a take on a Ben Harper/Charlie Musslewhite album. Really good stuff.

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        11. I saw that ‘Cradle’ tour. It’s funny. He’s a real split personality kinda performer. I saw him a few times and it was always the ‘Play Lay Down Sally’ crowd with some blues mixed in. But on that tour – especially since he had Jerry Portnoy on harp, Muddy’s long-time harpist – the hard-core blues crowd came out. Most of them wouldn’t be caught dead at a Clapton pop/rock/blues concert but here they were at a ‘real’ down-and-dirty blues concert. From my perspective, Clapton played no differently.

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