He was the prototypical progressive rock bass guitarist/singer in Cream, capable of belting out the blues with the best of them or pushing the limits of rock with psychedelic artistry. Although Bruce and Ginger Baker had played together in The Graham Bond Organization, it was Eric Clapton who requested Bruce’s presence in Cream. Clapton gained most of the attention in Cream, but Jack Bruce was the most complete songwriter in the band and authored many of their greatest songs (usually with lyricist Pete Brown), including “I Feel Free,” “N.S.U.,” “Sunshine of Your Love, “SWLABR,” “White Room” and “Politician.”
When Cream folded, Bruce embarked on a solo career, beginning with the well-received Songs For A Tailor (1969). He confounded many, however, with the release of the avant-garde jazz elpee Things We Like (1970), recorded with Dick Heckstall-Smith and former Graham Bondsman John McLaughlin in 1968. Harmony Row (1971) returned to a more traditional song format, yet even here Bruce’s songs were often unconventional and album sales less than robust.
For his next act, Bruce returned to the power trio format by joining Leslie West and Corky Laing (both of Mountain) in West, Bruce & Laing. The trio released two records of heavy blues rock—Why Dontcha (1972) and Whatever Turns You On (1973)—before breaking up. Over the years, Bruce would return often to the trio format, notably with Robin Trower (B.L.T.) and with Baker and Gary Moore in BBM.
While Bruce brought the adventurous spirit of Cream with him, it came with the excess baggage of addiction. Perhaps as a result of this, Bruce’s solo music is often excessive: his vocals are sometimes over the top, his bass playing even moreso, and his treatment of Cream’s music (especially in his later years) is more irreverent than reverential. As a general rule of thumb, the early song-oriented albums (Tailor, Harmony Row, Out of The Storm, How’s Tricks) are the most rewarding.
Like Greg Lake and John Wetton, Jack Bruce continued to perform a mix of old and new material to a loyal cadre of progressive rock fans at home and abroad into his 60s. His voice is no longer the commodity it once was, and at 70 it seems likely his performing days are past, but he leaves behind a rich legacy of recordings that are begging to be rediscovered and properly appreciated.