Jack Bruce

TrackAlbum
Never Tell Your Mother She’'s Out Of TuneSongs For A Tailor
Theme For An Imaginary WesternSongs For A Tailor
HCKHH BluesThings We Like
You Burned The Tables On MeHarmony Row
Morning StoryHarmony Row
TimesHow’'s Tricks
She’'s Not The OneSeven Moons
Life On EarthA Question Of Time
No SurrenderA Question Of Time
The Best Is Still To ComeJet Set Jewel

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Contributor: David Lewis

In a just world, Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton would have an equal share of the fame and fortune that has befallen Clapton. Bruce is one of the six or seven innovators that moved the electric bass from being either a replacement for the double bass, or more usually, a four string guitar. Bruce, along with James Jamerson, Rick Danko, Paul McCartney, John Entwistle, Phil Lesh and Duck Dunn showed the bass to be its own instrument, with its own dynamics and technique. A child prodigy, he studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, where he fell in love with classical and jazz. As a young player, he played in jazz bands, honing his chops. He gravitated towards the London blues scene, playing with Alexis Korner and John Mayall. He has since played with Gary Moore, Frank Zappa, Robin Trower, and many many others.

Bruce’s approach is an aggressive, upfront, ‘lead’ bass. He’s not a soloist, like, say, Stu Hamm; Jack’s playing is always within the service of a larger song. He describes himself primarily as a composer. He has claimed to have come up with a new theory of music: new scales, new harmonies, etc, although this isn’t terribly apparent in his commercially available work. His bass playing allowed serious jazz musicians (apart from himself) to use the electric bass as a jazz instrument: Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller. Too many rock bassists to mention cite Bruce as an influence. He continues to be active, despite a liver transplant a couple of years ago.

Cream dissolved in a heap of tears, malice, acrimony and general bad feeling. Clapton tried to form Blind Faith, which was likely stymied by Ginger Baker’s appearance at the first rehearsal. Jack released the extraordinary album Songs For A Tailor in 1969. It showed the way for quite a lot of music, with jazz, hard rock, fusion and ballads all jostling for attention. Although it’s generally frowned upon here at Toppermost, I can’t go past the opening track, Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out Of Tune. Although it’s in 4/4, the accents, the clashing rhythms shake 4/4 to its foundations, and gives a great groove and a challenging, yet satisfying, rhythm. The title has nothing to do with the lyrics, instead being a piece of advice given to Jack by guitarist Chris Spedding. Spedding had noticed that some of the ladies in his mother’s choir were a bit flat. Her told her, and he felt the brunt of her anger.

Perhaps Jack’s best known solo song, Theme For An Imaginary Western, must make any top 10 Jack Bruce. An evocative and effective lyric (by long-time collaborator Pete Brown) over a gorgeous linear melody and subtle chord progression. It’s been described as the best Bruce song that never became a hit, though Mountain covered it later.

Jack also released an outstanding album of jazz that year, with John McLaughlin, Jon Hiseman and Dick Heckstall-Smith. All instrumental, Things We Like also features Jack on the double bass. HCKHH Blues is a pure jazz piece – Jack claimed he did ‘Scottish bass player jazz’, pointing out the personal nature of jazz. Whatever it is, it works.

The follow-up album, Harmony Row, saw Jack strip things back somewhat, yet none of the power or complexity of the songs were lost. You Burned The Tables On Me is a hard rock number with the best of Jack’s performance in it. Morning Story is an epic song: great melody, interesting harmonic ideas and a powerful arrangement.

From the album that was supposed to really launch Jack’s career, How’s Tricks, I’ve picked the outstanding Times which straddles the divide between rock and jazz.

Jack Bruce had a longstanding professional relationship with Robin Trower, one of the best post-Hendrix guitarists. On Seven Moons, you can hear an approximation of what Jack and Hendrix might have sounded like (and it is entirely conceivable that Hendrix and Jack, neither of whom were prone to settling on one style, and both of whom changed how their instrument was played, would have teamed up formally). I’ve chosen She’s Not The One, which gives a real sense of the Hendrix/Bruce might-have-been.

Jack released the terrific A Question Of Time in 1990. Life On Earth with its Bach-infected bass line, and its angry lyrics: “Why don’t you seas rise up and take back what you spawned anyway?” is just superb. Also, No Surrender, a rock anthem with a singalong chorus and a terrific performance on guitar by Jimmy Ripp adds to an already terrific song.

From 2003’s Jet Set Jewel (originally recorded in 1978), the closing track, The Best Is Still To Come, is both a great song and a statement. Jack Bruce has forged his own idiosyncratic furrow in music. More experimental and stylistically diverse than his contemporaries, he’s never denied his past, but never wallowed in it either. A passionate, driven performer and composer, he remains one of the great innovators and players in 20th and 21st century music.

 
The Official Jack Bruce Website

Jack Bruce biography (iTunes)

Cream topperpost #163. Eric Clapton topperpost #189. Ginger Baker anyone?

TopperPost #224

5 Comments

  1. Ian Ashleigh
    Mar 15, 2014

    Great list David, but you missed Dave Pegg from you list of bass players.

  2. Andrew Shields
    Mar 15, 2014

    Great list on an under-appreciated artist… There are also some excellent clips on youtube showing Bruce playing with Rory Gallagher.

  3. Peter Viney
    Mar 15, 2014

    Enjoyable article, David. I think Jack Bruce had as much influence as a “prog vocalist” as he did as a bass guitarist.. If you start listing those influenced by his vocal style it grows and grows. OK, a pub quiz trivia fact: Jack Bruce played bass with Manfred Mann (he was briefly a member) on Pretty Flamingo a UK #1. He sang lead vocal on some of the Graham Bond Organization songs too, and “The Sound of 65” is a classic example of its era … I say “example of” rather than just “of” because I’m not sure how well it’s carried the years. Both Jack and Ginger were in that one, as was Dick Heckstall-Smith. Actually, my list of bass players I prefer is long.

  4. David Lewis
    Mar 16, 2014

    Thanks. I didn’t forget Dave pegg as put him on the other side of an arbitrary line probably unfairly. He is a great bassist, just a tad behind those other guys chronologically. So he can go in.

  5. David Lewis
    Oct 26, 2014

    Very sad news on the passing of Jack. I’ll be listening to Jack all day.

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