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JACK

BRUCE

 

by Alan Lefton

 

"I really hit the strings... guess I'm just not a
subtle player."

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All Cream fans both know and appreciate Jack Bruce’s incredible bass playing ability, powerful vocals, versatility and songwriting ability, however, not everyone understands what Jack has done for the instrument itself and for bass players since Cream. Before Jack, bass players were usually background musicians, who stood next to the drummer, and were barely heard yet not seen. Sometimes bass players sang, more background than not, but if they did, they usually couldn’t play either. Paul McCartney was an exception to this, and though his bass lines blended nicely into Beatle songs, he was not the featured musician/front-man.

I remember the first time I heard Cream play the live version of Spoonful from Wheels of Fire. I was a drummer at the time who was intimidated by Ginger Baker’s playing, and was learning how to sing too. I remember sitting in my friend’s house and saying" I hear the drums, I hear the guitar, but what the hell is that other instrument?" He said it was a bass. I said no way …. all bass player were supposed to play with the bass on 8, the treble on 2, and to have a sound that was so "boomey" , that no one could tell if you were out of tune. I think we listened to it all afternoon. Next week, I started taking bass lessons from the bass player in my band, who couldn’t seem to understand why I was interested in learning to play in the first place. You need to understand that at the time, this guy was the ONLY bass player within a 5 mile radius I then started listening to Disraeli Gears, and working my way backwards, then got into Fresh Cream. I was fascinated with Jack’s playing. Each song had an intricate yet distinctive bass line, that if played on it’s own, you would still know what song was playing.

It wasn’t just the music either but the look of the band. Groups at that time played with small to medium amps, one each, and moderate drum kits. But here was Cream, with a wall of amps bigger than my room, and Ginger Baker’s drum kit, which had had enough pieced to make 2 separate drum kits out of it. They were visually impressive as well. And…. To say the least ….they all could play……really play.

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After practicing bass to the point that there were more blisters on my hands then skin, I learned how to play "Sunshine of Your Love". I would play along with Cream records ( sorry … there were no CD’s then .. ) for hours, trying to copy Jack’s playing note for note. After a while, I graduated to a newer level and became the second bass player within 5 miles. I saved my money, and dad helped too ( thanks dad !!! ) got a Gibson EB-3, and started to learn the ‘live songs". I played along to Spoonful, Crossroads, and the intro to Toad, for weeks. After time went on, I sold the drums to get a big loud bass amp, and joined a band as a bass player and singer.

As time progressed, I noticed a very interesting thing happening. As my band start to play jobs at school, parties, and Friday night church dances, more and more bass players started coming out of the woodwork. What made this VERY interesting was that they were all influenced initially by Jack Bruce. You would play at a battle of the bands ( do they still have that ? ) and EVERY band would play "Sunshine" or "Tales of Brave Ulysses". Jack’s playing influenced an entire generation of bass players. As things progressed and Cream disbanded, some of these bass players sold their equipment at yard sales, and others went on to other bands, and other influences. Some even got recording contracts. Me? Well … I’m still playing on weekends, still have the EB-3, have to pay a mortgage too, and still love to listen to Jack.

To this day, I have read that Jaco Pastorius, Geddy Lee, ( and some others) who are noteworthy themselves, were influenced by Jack Bruce, and got their start from listening to Cream songs. I don’t think that Jack realizes himself what an impact he has made in the history of music, and specifically bass players. To say that Jack Bruce is the greatest bass player of all time could be debated and is a matter of opinion. But to say that Jack Bruce has influenced the course of the bass guitar more than any other bass player in history….. is a no-brainer.

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Alan has written the cover notes for this new Jack Bruce release of
Jack Bruce and Friends
from the
"I Always Want'd to Do This" Tour

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Alan Lefton, 1999