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Jack Bruce, Bassist for Rock’s Cream, Dies at 71

Versatile and influential player had jazz and blues background

John Medeski, Vernon Reid, Cindy Blackman Santana, Jack Bruce: Spectrum Road, 2012
Tony Williams, Larry Young & Jack Bruce, 1970
Cream: Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton

Jack Bruce, best known as the bassist and primary vocalist of one of rock’s most influential trios, Cream, died today (Oct. 25) at age 71 at his home in Suffolk, England. The cause was liver disease-Bruce had received a liver transplant in 2003.

Although he was heralded primarily for his work with Cream-along with guitarist Eric Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker-and other blues-oriented bands, Bruce began as a jazz musician in his teens and dabbled in the music both before and after Cream, which reigned only from 1966-68.

Born John Symon Asher Bruce on May 14, 1943, in Lankarshire, Scotland, Bruce moved often in his youth but found his footing after being awarded a scholarship to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. He left the school after joining Jim McHarg’s Scotsville Jazzband. He next played acoustic bass with the Murray Campbell Big Band but by 1962 the blues had won him over. Bruce joined Blues Incorporated, a British band led by Alexis Korner-Baker was also a member during this period. When that group split, Bruce, along with Baker and guitarist John McLaughlin, joined the Graham Bond Quartet, in which he still played upright bass.

Bruce’s switch to electric bass-the instrument with which he would ultimately build his reputation-came when the quartet became the Graham Bond Organisation. Bruce left that group in 1965 to join John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, which also included Clapton, who had just left the Yardbirds. Following that Bruce spent a brief period with the Manfred Mann group before Cream came together in July 1966. The trio’s popularity was instantaneous, and peaked with its second album, 1967’s Disraeli Gears. Known as a ferocious live act, their lengthy improvisations onstage drew heavily from jazz although the music was undeniably squarely in the blues-rock vein. Bruce, who co-wrote the group’s signature hit “Sunshine of Your Love,” as well as songs such as “White Room” and “I Feel Free,” also provided most of the lead vocals for Cream.

After the group’s breakup in 1968-Bruce and Baker have never made a secret of their long-standing disdain for each other-Bruce released his debut solo album, Songs for a Tailor, in 1969. Things We Like, which followed in 1970, utilized McLaughlin on guitar and was Bruce’s most jazz-oriented release (it was actually recorded before Songs for a Tailor). While Bruce never veered fully into jazz, he often aligned with jazz musicians for various projects, including Larry Coryell, Tony Williams (Bruce was an original member of the drummer’s group Lifetime), Billy Cobham, Carla Bley, Kip Hanrahan and others.

Bruce also worked with rock guitar heavyweights such as Robin Trower, Leslie West, Rory Gallagher and Mick Taylor during his career. Bruce played on Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe album in 1974.

Cream was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and reunited for some shows in London and New York in 2005.

In 2012, Bruce, guitarist Vernon Reid, keyboardist John Medeski and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana recorded a self-titled tribute album to Tony Williams Lifetime under the name Spectrum Road.

Bruce released Silver Rails, his final album as a leader-there were more than a dozen in all-this year.

Originally Published