His parents travelled extensively in Canada and the U.S.A. and 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 travelled 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. with whom Charlie Watts, later to join the Rolling Stones, was their drummer. 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 McLaughlin left, and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith joined. Jack was compelled by Ginger Baker to leave this band after three years, because his playing was “too busy”!
Jack turned down Marvin Gaye’s offer to join his U.S.-based band because of his impending first marriage. He then joined John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, where he first met Eric Clapton, followed by Manfred Mann in an ill-advised attempt at commercialism. It was Ginger Baker who initially asked Jack to form a trio with Eric Clapton. Eric insisted that Jack would be the singer.
Cream went on to sell 35 million albums in just over two years and was awarded the first ever platinum disc for Wheels of Fire. Jack wrote and sang most of the songs, including “I Feel Free”, “White Room”, “Politician” and perhaps the world’s most performed guitar riff, in “Sunshine Of Your Love”. Cream split in November 1968 at the height of their popularity; Jack felt that he had strayed too far from his ideals and wanted to re-discover his musical and social roots.
Following the demise of Cream in 1968, which opened the doors for another super group, called Led Zeppelin, Bruce worked mainly as a solo artist or as part of small groups.
Around this time, during the American tour of the first of Jack’s own bands (this one featuring guitarist Larry Coryell and Jimi Hendrix’s drummer Mitch Mitchell), Jack was introduced to Tony Williams by John McLaughlin. He soon joined Tony’s Lifetime, along with John and the late, great Larry Young; an experience he describes as “the musical time of my life”. Frustrated by the breakup of Lifetime and greatly saddened by Hendrix’s tragic death (Tony and Jack had been talking to Jimi about forming a “dream” band together), Jack found solace in returning to his heavy roots with the formation of West Bruce and Laing with Leslie West and Corky Laing.
From then on, Jack fronted many of his own bands (featuring, amongst others, such “side people” as Carla Bley, Mick Taylor, Simon Phillips, Tony Hymas, Billy Cobham, David Sancious and Gary Moore), recording numerous solo albums as well as collaborating on special projects with artists like Carla Bley (Escalator Over The Hill) and Kip Hanrahan (Desire Develops An Edge). He also worked as session man on carefully chosen dates with the likes of Lou Reed (Berlin) and Frank Zappa, with whom Jack co-wrote Apostrophe, which became Frank’s biggest selling album.
In 1991 Jack performed in Vienna in a new, specially commissioned work with Michael Mantler and Mike Gibbs, accompanied by the Niederoesterreichischen Tonkuenstler Symphony Orchestra. He also completed a successful tour of ten European capitals with his thirteen-piece Latin/Jazz/Rock fusion orchestra. Throughout the early 1990s he increased his knowledge of World music, his two solo albums A Question of Time and Somethin Els stating the new direction towards which his music would evolve.
At the Guitar Legends festival in Seville, in 1992, Jack enjoyed playing with Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Steve Cropper and many other friends.
The year 1993 was special, starting with Jack’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Cream, and ending with an inspired fiftieth birthday concert which featured many of his old friends including Dick Heckstall-Smith, Maggie Reilly and Gary Moore. This event which was recorded and released as a CD box set entitled Cities of the Heart led to Jack forming BBM with Gary Moore and Ginger Baker and subsequently releasing the top-ten album Around the Next Dream. The album saw them make a rare return to the top 10 in 1994, it being as near to Cream as fans thought they would ever see.
In 1995, Jack concentrated on his keyboard playing and recorded a set of piano solos and duos with organist Bernie Worrell, who played previously with George Clinton, Funkadelic and Talking Heads. The release of the recording, entitled Monkjack, represented a new departure for Jack. He was delighted to have been invited to present this material at the Edinburgh Festival and the Queen Elizabeth Hall in September of that year.
In Copenhagen in the autumn of 1996, Jack took part in the first performances of Michael Mantler’s School of Understanding, which has been described by Michael as a “sort-of-an-opera”. There were further performances in Berlin early in 1998.
During the late 1990s, Jack toured with several iterations of Ringo Starr’s All Star Band, along with guitarists Peter Frampton, Todd Rundgren and Dave Edmunds, keyboardists Gary Brooker and Eric Carmen, drummer Simon Kirke, and horn player Mark Rivera.
In 1999 and 2000 Jack returned to the studio with co-producer Kip Hanrahan to record his solo CD, Shadows in the Air, which hit #5 on the UK Jazz & Blues Chart. The album’s cast featured a pantheon of musical guests, including Eric Clapton, Dr John, Gary Moore, Vernon Reid and Changuito Luis Quintana. Jack’s supporting 2001-2002 world tour included the talents of Vernon Reid, Bernie Worrell, Robby Ameen, El Negro Horacio Hernandez and Richie Flores, known collectively as Jack Bruce & The Cuicoland Express.
In 2002 Jack participated in a summer tour with A Walk Down Abbey Road, a tribute to The Beatles featuring Alan Parsons, Todd Rundgren, Mark Farner, Christopher Cross, Godfrey Townsend, John Beck and Steve Murphy. In November, Jack joined Uli Jon Roth, Glenn Hughes and Michael Schenker for the Legends of Rock tour.
The year 2003 saw the release of Jack’s second album on Sanctuary Records, More Jack Than God. Like its predecessor Shadows in the Air, the album was co-produced by Kip Hanrahan. Among the musicians was the core band from Shadows in the Air, Godfrey Townsend, and Jack’s son, Malcolm Bruce. More Jack Than God blended a diverse range of musical styles from classic, Willie Dixon inspired blues, to hints of the Latin and World music flavors that Bruce and Hanrahan explored through the 1980s and 1990s, to the subtle and gentle beauty that reflected Jack’s growing introspective approach to songwriting.
The year 2005 was a momentous one. Jack reunited with former bandmates Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker for Cream’s first concert tour in 37 years. In May the band played four historic nights at London’s Royal Albert Hall, which were recorded and subsequently released on both audio and video. In October the band played three concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York City; during the same week Jack was honored, along with Ron Carter, with the Bass Player Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his pioneering musicianship and his outstanding influence on the development of modern bass technique. In February 2006 Jack took the stage at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California to accept a special Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of Cream.
Cream reunion was short lived, as the animus between Baker and Bruce, which had made Cream so combustible in the 60s, and had caused Bruce to leave the Graham Bond Organization even before then, appeared to make any further Cream activity unworkable. The irony was that both had achieved their greatest commercial success together.
Recent years saw Jack continuing his involvement with his passion – music. In 2007 he was awarded with a Doctor of Music degree from his Alumni College, The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Two new albums were released in 2008. The first was Jack Bruce with the HR Big Band, versions of Jack performing songs old and new arranged for the wonderful German orchestra of the Hessische Rundfunk. The second was Seven Moons, an album of new material, with master guitarist, Robin Trower and drummer, Gary Husband. Also released in 2008 was Spirit, a multi-disc set of recordings of Jack’s live performances at the BBC. Also released was the six CD box set entitled Can You Follow? which traces his career from the age of nineteen up until 2003.
In 2009 Jack was awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters from Glasgow Caledonian University.
2010 saw the release of Jack’s authorized biography, ‘Composing Himself.’ In 2011, Jack was awarded the third Bass Player International Lifetime Achievement Award at the NAMM Show in Los Angeles, released the amazing album, Live At The Milky Way with his Latin band The Cuicoland Express, toured and recorded with his new band, Spectrum Road featuring Vernon Reid (guitar), John Medeski (keyboards) and Cindy Blackman Santana (drums) as well as playing a special concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London celebrating its 60th anniversary. The event celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Blues in Great Britain, Jack played with his Big Blues Band and special guest guitar virtuoso Joe Bonamassa.
Festival appearances with his Big Blues Band continued throughout the UK and Europe. Jack also appeared as a special guest of the Stax label tribute band, The Staxs at Cornbury Festival 2011, which was recorded by Abbey Road Studios.
Jack started 2012 playing the Gerry Rafferty tribute concert in Glasgow, followed by a date with the traditional Celtic band Lau and in February of that year he was found playing in Havana, Cuba, along with guitarist Phil Manzanera, supporting the mambo band of Augusto Enriquez. March saw a residency at Ronnie Scott’s in London supported by his Big Blues Band, followed by a UK tour. The concert at the Stables, Milton Keynes was recorded and a live double album Jack Bruce & his Big Blues Band – Live 2012 was released by Instant Live.
Spectrum Road was released in June 2012 by the U.S. Jazz record label Palmetto Records, accompanied by a series of dates at large Jazz festivals in North America and Europe throughout June and July.
Jack’s 14th solo album Silver Rails was released worldwide during early 2014 to extremely good reviews – Rolling Stone commenting that Jack had finally moved past Cream – and to the delight of a vastly burgeoning group of very faithful fans, new as well as old. Jack and his beloved wife Margrit planned to spend time in their beautiful estancia in Majorca peeling grapes and making pa amb oli from their home grown tomatoes and olive oil. By mid-2014 Jack had several new musical pieces on the boil including a follow up to Candlelight again with lyrics by Margrit Seyffer.
Bruce’s life had been marked by health and financial troubles. In the late 1970s he struggled with drug addiction, and worked as a session musician to make money. In 2003 he was diagnosed with liver cancer, and that September he underwent a transplant. His body initially rejected the new liver, and Bruce almost died, but he recovered well enough to return to performance in 2004.
Jack Bruce died of liver disease on October 25, 2014. He was 71. In a statement issued by his family on Saturday, October 25, 2014 his family said: ““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 world of music will be a poorer place without him, but he lives on in his music and forever in our hearts.”
My all-time favorite songs from Jack Bruce are In a White Room, Sunshine of your Love and Swlabr, where the lyrics describe that beautiful time in the second part of the sixties, when for a moment we thought or at least hoped that the world could be guided back on track to civility.
Check out these videos:
Sunshine of Your Love from the Royal Albert Hall on November 26, 1986 at Cream’s Farewell Concert
In a White Room with Gary Moore and Ginger Baker in 1994
RIP JACK, we hope you get with Gary Moore and blast one off for all of us.