By Ray Shasho
Jack Bruce is the esteemed bassist, lead vocalist, and songwriter for an array of legendary bands and distinguished musicians. Most notably, Bruce was a key member with the British rock power trio Cream which featured Eric Clapton (guitars, vocals), Ginger Baker (drums, vocals) and Jack Bruce (bass guitar, lead vocals). Bruce handled most of the lead vocalist and songwriting duties for Cream, recognized as one of the most revered groups in rock history.
Bruce wrote or co-wrote such Cream classics as… “I Feel Free” (1966), “We’re Going Wrong” (1967), “Sunshine of Your Love” (#5 Hit in1968), “White Room” (#6 Hit in 1968), “Politician” (1968), and “Doing That Scrapyard Thing”(1969). Bruce co-penned many of those classic tracks with poet & lyricists Pete Brown. Cream remained a group for less than three short years. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. The original lineup reunited briefly in 2005.
When you think of respected quintessential musicians, Jack Bruce immediately comes to mind. Bruce has performed in such bands as … Alex Korner’s Blues Band Inc., the Graham Bond Organisation, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Manfred Mann, Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse, Cream, Lifetime, West, Bruce & Laing, Jack Bruce & Friends, Robin Trower, Ringo’s All-Star Band, and The Big Blues Band.
Jack Bruce almost joined Marvin Gaye’s band when he was in his early 20’s.
Bruce fronted many other bands that included artists …Carla Bley, Mick Taylor, Billy Cobham, Simon Phillips, Tony Hymas, David Sancious, and Gary Moore … to name just a few.
Jack Bruce is a multi-instrumentalist and has collaborated on albums with Frank Zappa, Lou Reed, and Kip Hanrahan to name just a few.
Bruce also wrote “Theme for an Imaginary Western” which was performed by classic rock legends Mountain.
The critically-acclaimed ‘Seven Moons’ (2008) was Jack Bruce’s most recent album with longtime friend and collaborator Robin Trower.
‘SILVER RAILS’ NEW RELEASE:
Jack Bruce has recorded 14 solo albums, but his highly anticipated new release ‘Silver Rails’ may be his very best yet. It’s his first studio release in more than ten years. The album was recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios. I gave ‘Silver Rails’ (5) STARS.
‘Silver Rails’ is an all-embracing blend of pure innovative musical genius, while complemented by brilliant lyrical content. The album features legendary guest artists … Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music), Uli Jon Roth (Scorpions), Robin Trower, Bernie Marsden (White Snake), and others. Many of the lyrics were co-penned with Cream lyricist Pete Brown, long-term collaborator Kip Hanrahan, and Jack’s wife Margrit.
‘Silver Rails’ is available NOW on CD, Vinyl or as Digital Download. The limited edition deluxe version of the album comes with a behind the scenes documentary DVD filmed on location at Abbey Road Studios. -Released on Esoteric Recordings/Cherry Red Records.
I had the rare pleasure recently of chatting with legendary bassist, singer, and songwriter Jack Bruce to talk about his highly anticipated new release ‘Silver Rails.’
Here’s my interview with Cream legend, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Lifetime Grammy Achiever and just an incredibly nice man … JACK BRUCE.
Ray Shasho: Hello Jack!
Jack Bruce: “How are you doing Ray?”
Ray Shasho: Did you have a rough winter in the UK?
Jack Bruce: “It was very wet and there was so much rain here that you wouldn’t believe it. It rained for like six months. It was very bad, a lot of flooding.”
Ray Shasho: I’d like to dive in and talk about your new album ‘Silver Rails.’ “Reach for the Night” was definitely one of my favorite tracks.
Jack Bruce: “I think that’s also one of my favorites because it’s kind of biographical isn’t it. To me it’s like a film noir version of me. I can see myself in the Philip Marlowe look, wearing the fedora and smoking camels.”
Ray Shasho: The first track of Silver Rails is entitled “Candlelight” which has a Calypso flavor to it.
Jack Bruce: “You being from Florida and not far from Cuba … I was over there a couple of years ago with Phil Manzanera who plays guitar on “Candlelight.” We went over there to play with some Cuban musicians and we became good friends. He’s a great guy and guitar player. So when I wrote that I thought I needed to get him on there.”
Ray Shasho: Jack, I’ve always admired the collaboration between you and Robin Trower. Robin and you perform together on the song “Rusty Lady” which is about the death of Margaret Thatcher? Talk about the track.
Jack Bruce:“Yea, I thought it was a lot like “Politician.” So I said to Pete Brown, let’s write a more modern version of “Politician.” So while trying to write something more up to date he came up with the death of Thatcher. So I thought, okay then, that’s cool. But the song is about … a lot of changes came out of that period in the 80’s in this country, and we’re still feeling the effects of it, like economically. I’m no politician but I do feel that a lot of damage was done because of misguided principals and the country is still suffering from it. You’ve got to write some stuff that has something to say.”
Ray Shasho: I really enjoyed all your work over the years with Robin Trower. I was saddened to hear of the loss of Robin’s wife recently.
Jack Bruce: “Yes, it was just terrible. He really had a bad time for years. I’m feeling for him right now, he’s a beautiful guy.”
Ray Shasho: One of my favorite albums with you and Robin was B.L.T. (1981).
Jack Bruce: I liked ‘Seven Moons.’ Robin is much underrated but I think he gets more recognition in the states and I’m glad to see that. I’m sure he’ll be touring again soon because he loves to tour. He toured nonstop. With his wife going like that it was very hard for him and he had to cancel a lot of tours. He’ll be back, I know him, and he’s a wonderful guy. He’s one of those hard workers who gets out there and plays.”
Ray Shasho: Were you trying to model ‘Silver Rails’ after your first solo album … ‘Songs for a Tailor’?
Jack Bruce: “Yes, it was sort of like a template, because when I did my first album, I didn’t just want to do a blues rock thing like Cream, great as it was, I wanted to do something different. I wanted horns … wanted to play piano, cello, and just wanted to do different things. This is my fourteenth album and I think that’s what I was trying to do, just continue that diverse thing. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music and rather than just doing one thing when I make an album, the challenge to myself is to write all these diverse tracks, but to make them work. It’s like a jigsaw because if you’ve got a lyrical track going into a hard rock track …it’s got to work. You’ve got to write things that will work together.”
Ray Shasho: Pete Brown and Kip Hanrahan collaborated with you on various tracks on the new album. We all know about your relationship with Pete Brown that began back in your Cream days, but you’ve also established a bond with Kip Hanrahan over the years.
Jack Bruce: “Kip Hanrahan wrote “Hidden Cities.” It was through Kip I got to know about Cuban and Afro-Cuban music. He had those great bands and we used to go to New York a lot. We made some really cool records. I learned a lot from Kip, he’s one of my closest friends. So he just came over to my house and wrote that lyric, but that was just an excuse to get him to come and hang out. Although he hates trees, he gets kind of fidgety when there are trees around (All laughing).”
Ray Shasho: You played a beautiful piano on “Industrial Child.”
Jack Bruce: “I played piano on the entire album. Because we recorded at Abbey Road, they had a bunch of wonderful pianos there among other things, so I was able to choose each piano for each track, which is a great thing. Working at Abbey Road was such a joy.”
Ray Shasho:”Hidden Cities” is another great track, the song could easily be a soundtrack to a movie.
Jack Bruce: “Love that track … that’s my version of Metal (Laughing). That’s why I’ve got Uli Jon Roth on guitar because he’s been with the Scorpions and all that. He understood that track immediately and got it.”
Ray Shasho: When was the last time you worked at Abbey Road?
Jack Bruce: “Over the years I’ve been in and out of there on sessions, but the last album I made was actually in 1965, so that’s going back a bit. It’s just fantastic that place, the music just oozes off the walls.”
Ray Shasho: Jack, how did you decide on ‘Silver Rails’ as a title for the new album?
Jack Bruce: “I know this wonderful artist called Sacha Jafri who painted the cover and some other pictures on there. I’m very fortunate to know him; he’s a friend of mine and probably one of the most well known artists in Britain. I asked him if he would improvise. I gave him a bunch of titles that I might call the album, and so he listened to the album and painted the cover. He did that and said “You’ve got to call it ‘Silver Rails’ because that’s what I was thinking.” I always create a bunch of funny titles and then end up with one.”
Ray Shasho: You have a wonderful sense of humor. In an interview you did, you said that many of the personal issues between you and Ginger Baker occurred because Ginger didn’t have a sense of humor …is that true?
Jack Bruce: “Well he’s got his own sense of humor, I don’t understand. He doesn’t get my humor that’s for sure. I think I’m a pretty funny guy but then I guess a lot of idiots do (Laughing). If you haven’t got a sense of humor you’re making your life a hundred times harder. It doesn’t matter what happens to you, if you can have a laugh about it, and don’t take yourself so serious, you have the battles halfway won.”
Ray Shasho: Who were some of the artists that got you interested in becoming a musician?
Jack Bruce: “As far as the big name influences I would say Charlie Mingus, a great bass player and American composer. I played upright bass. I wanted to write great tunes, play the bass, be a band leader, and smoke a big funny pipe like Charlie Mingus. So I went out and bought the pipe when I was around 18 or 19 years old. You know even women smoke a pipe in Glasgow. I worked with Carla Bley and she smoked a pipe, which I find fascinating. She worked in a band of mine with Mick Taylor.”
Ray Shasho: They used to say that James Brown was the hardest working man in show-biz … I think it’s Jack Bruce!
Jack Bruce: “That’s nice of you to say so but I have to take my hat off to James Brown. He was amazing. Another one of my influences over the years who is also a hard worker is Albert Collins. ‘The Ice Man’ they called him. He was a fantastic guitar player. I like the people who work hard in their career and on stage. He was one of those guys who had the big long guitar cable and would go in the audience. He said to me, “Jack, don’t forget you’re just an entertainer when it comes down to it.”
Ray Shasho: Jack, you’ve played with so many legendary artists … and you were actually asked to play in Marvin Gaye’s Band?
Jack Bruce: “I was man, when I was around 21 or something like that. We did this TV show and we just got to talking and he said let’s go to your place. We sat up all night talking about music. Then he asked me to join his band. Of course I was thrilled to be asked but at the time I couldn’t do it. I was going to get married a couple days after he asked me, I couldn’t not show up at the wedding. I don’t know the way things have panned out; maybe I should have gone to Detroit.”
Ray Shasho: You’ve been extremely successful crossing into various genres, not only on the new album but throughout your music career.
Jack Bruce: “Yea, that’s what I do. But I think people who basically do one thing like Eric Clapton is great, although he has crossed over more in recent years, doing a bit of jazz here and there. But I’ve always enjoyed playing different kinds of music and playing with different kinds of musicians because I find that really interesting, like learning and working with Kip Hanrahan. There’s a great conga player called Milton Cardona and he taught me a lot of the nuances, he’s a Santeria Priest and so he knows his onions as it were.”
Ray Shasho: You wrote lyrics on Frank Zappa’s ‘Apostrophe’ album?
Jack Bruce: “I wrote “Apostrophe,” just the one track. That was simply Frank Zappa who I got to know when Cream first went to New York. Eric and I used to go to this little theater in the Village and Frank used to do these mad things in the afternoon. At these gigs he would gather hobos off the street and give them a ukulele or something, I thought this guy’s outrageous; and then of course I had the first Mothers of Invention album and fell in love with him. Frank was very kind and helpful to me. He liked my singing. He called me up when I was in New York and asked me to come down to the studio and play some cello. I told him that I didn’t have my cello with me; it’s not something I carry around that much. He said we can rent one. I told him that you can’t really rent a cello, it’s very personal. So I went down to the studio and there was this really terrible cello and I tried to play it but it sounded awful. Frank said, “Oh well, why don’t you just play bass guitar.” So I played on “Apostrophe” with Jim Gordon on the drums and Frank. Then when he mixed it, it had that sort of distorted sound I used in Cream.”
Ray Shasho: You also worked with Lou Reed on the ‘Berlin’ album?
Jack Bruce: “That was fun because the drummer was Aynsley Dunbar who also worked with Frank. It was kind of funny to me because Lou Reed was pretty out of it actually. There was Bob Ezrin who was producing it. When I finally heard the finished product, I thought wow, this Bob Ezrin is good, and he’s really taken it somewhere else.”
Ray Shasho: I was a huge Rory Gallagher fan …one of the most energizing performances I’ve seen you do was a You Tube video with Rory doing “Politician” on the German music television show Rockpalast … what a jam!
Jack Bruce: “Rory and I should have done more together.”
“I was a big fan of Gary Moore, he was my buddy and I miss him a lot. I loved his playing because you’ve got that passion; it was sort of a Celtic thing. The Irish and Scots they just go for it and not too worried about looking good. When I was in the states touring, I landed in Seattle to do a gig and one of the fans came to me and told me about Gary’s death. It was very hard for me to carry on, it was awful.”
Ray Shasho: Jack, you’ve worked in numerous band configurations prior to the inception of Cream … Blues Incorporated, the Graham Bond Organisation, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Manfred Mann, Eric Clapton with Powerhouse. And although Cream was only together for about three years, it appeared that you finally found the musical chemistry you may have been searching for.
Jack Bruce: “I definitely was. I had worked with Eric a little bit with John Mayall, but he left the band quite soon after I joined. But it wasn’t because of me (All laughing). He left the band because he wanted to do this world tour, but he got as far as Greece. Then he saw this butcher shop with this lamb hanging up and all the flies crawling all over it and he said I’m going home. That’s the story anyway. I didn’t play with him much with Mayall. The Powerhouse thing was purely a get together thing that Joe Boyd did …the great record producer. So we did that and it was great fun. As soon as Cream got together for the first time, we all knew that there was magic there.”
Ray Shasho: You wrote or co-wrote many of the classic tracks for Cream.
Jack Bruce: “Well somebody had to do it (All laughing).”
Ray Shasho: I would have thought there’d be a little more songwriting collaboration at that time.
Jack Bruce: “That was really done because of the management. They just worked us so hard. When we were off the road, which was briefly, we just didn’t have time. Later on in the 70’s people always said we were going to go and get it together in the country… that was the phrase. But we never had that. We were making so much money you can’t fret about it. They didn’t want us to stop, because every time we had a day off they were losing money. They just kept us going because I think they thought it wasn’t going to last, and it didn’t last as long as it might have because of that. We had a shortsighted and really terrible manager. He just kind of worked the band to death. The one thing that would have kept the band alive would have been if we all got together and co-written the songs, but we never had the chance to do that.”
Ray Shasho: Jack, I’m really going to put you on the spot now …Do you think Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton was the better blues guitarist?
Jack Bruce: “That’s a hard one, but I would say Eric. Simply because Jimi was this force of nature, and I don’t even think of him as a great blues guitarist, he was something else, like from another planet. Just this amazing force and he was a friend of mine. But it’s very difficult to say whose better. Eric had such a great knowledge of the blues; he knows the blues inside out, like a musicologist. So I would have to say Eric, but that’s probably out of loyalties love.”
Ray Shasho: Jack, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish like the movie, to play, sing or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Jack Bruce: “It’s a tricky one for me. We nearly had a band with Jimi Hendrix and Tony Williams. We were talking to each other about forming a band with those guys and I would have loved to see what would have happened if the three of us had got together. So I would say Jimi and Tony Williams.”
Ray Shasho: Final thoughts Jack?
Jack Bruce: “I’ll probably be doing some gigs in the UK later on in the year and hopefully get to the states, do the odd festival here and there. But I’m going to be taking it nice and easy. I just really like what I’m doing …enjoying life. I bought a wonderful new house in New York. I just want to go hang there and write some more songs and then get back into Abbey Road … I’ve got the recording bug back. It’s not a bad life.”
Ray Shasho: Jack, thank you for being on the call today but more importantly for all the incredible music you’ve given us and continue to bring.
Jack Bruce: “Ray, I really appreciate speaking to you and it’s been very interesting.”
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Very special thanks to Chip Ruggieri of Chipster PR
Coming up NEXT … My recent interview with Chris Thompson former lead singer and guitarist of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (“Blinded by the Light”)
Contact classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho at firstname.lastname@example.org
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