Britain’s Jack Bruce combined blues and psychedelia
Jack Bruce was part Mississippi Delta and part Carnaby Street. In his glorious heyday as bassist and lead vocalist of 1960s power trio Cream, he helped create a sound that combined American blues and psychedelia to thrill audiences throughout the world.
Bruce, who died Saturday of liver disease at age 71, enjoyed a long, respected solo career after the band’s acrimonious breakup, but will be best remembered for his stint with Cream and for classics like “Sunshine of Your Love” and “I Feel Free.”
Much of the attention was focused on guitar wizard Eric Clapton, but Bruce wrote many of the band’s signature tunes and served as lead vocalist. He also provided the intense bass guitar that, with Ginger Baker’s explosive drums, underpinned Cream’s rhythmic, driving sound.
They had it all — commercial and critical success — until individual egos intervened and they disbanded, entering rock and roll mythology as the original supergroup: super-talented, and super-troubled.
Bruce was an important member of the British blues movement, which saw bands like the Animals and Rolling Stones first imitate and then expand on the American blues tradition as exemplified by Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and other stalwarts.
Cream, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, played a mix of traditional blues songs, with long, often improvised instrumental breaks, and their own tunes. They enchanted critics and fans alike at first, but after two years, some found their extended jams to be self-indulgent, with band members seeming to show off their musical virtuosity rather than trying to complement each other.
Songs like “Spoonful” often lasted 20 minutes or longer, with each member playing extended solos that sometimes seemed repetitive.
Bruce enjoyed a long career after Cream’s acrimonious breakup, and in 2005 he reunited with former Cream bandmates for critically acclaimed concerts in London and New York City.
Five years later, however, Bruce said Cream was “over” — an indication of ongoing tensions between the band members. Clapton had said the familiar problems were just beneath the surface during the band’s reunion performances.
Publicists LD Communications said Saturday Bruce died of liver disease at his home in Suffolk, England. He had received a liver transplant some years ago and continued to suffer a variety of health problems.
A statement released by his family said, “The world of music will be a poorer place without him but he lives on in his music and forever in our hearts.”
“It is with great sadness that we, Jack’s family, announce the passing of our beloved Jack: husband, father, granddad, and all round legend,” the statement said.
Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi said on Twitter that Bruce had been his favorite bass player and greatest influence.
“He was a hero to so many,” Iommi said.
In its heyday, Cream sold 35 million albums in just over two years and the band was awarded the world’s first ever platinum disc for their double album “Wheels of Fire.”
The band started out playing traditional blues tunes, but quickly added a psychedelic flavor that brought still more popularity at the height of the flower power era.
But they broke up with little warning, in the midst of their commercial success. Clapton wrote in his 2007 autobiography that the band lost its direction musically and that “any sense of unity” had disappeared.
“We were also suffering from an inability to get along,” he said. “We would just run away from one another. We never socialized together and never really shared ideas anymore.”
He also felt they were eclipsed by the arrival on the scene of guitarist Jimi Hendrix, whose trio seemed to break new ground with each album.
Bruce went on to record the first of his solo albums, “Songs For a Tailor.” He also fronted many of his own bands.
He was known for mixing rock, jazz and classical sounds, and his songs were covered by many artists, including Hendrix, David Bowie and Ella Fitzgerald.
Bruce returned to the studio around 2000 to record his solo album “Shadows in the Air,” which hit number five on the British jazz and blues chart.
He was born to musical parents in Glasgow, Scotland, on May 14, 1943. His parents traveled extensively in Canada and the U.S., and the young Bruce attended 14 different schools. He finished 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 Scotland at the age of 16 and in 1962 joined his first important band, the influential Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, in London. The band featured drummer Charlie Watts, who later joined the Rolling Stones.
Bruce was playing and touring with his Big Blues Band until recently. In 2012 he played in Cuba, and performed in London at the famed bar Ronnie Scott’s. His 14th solo album, “Silver Rails,” was released earlier this year.
He is survived by his wife, Margrit, four children and a granddaughter. Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.