Jack Bruce Talks Cream in 2012 Interview

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Cream circa 1967

One of the most celebrated bassists in rock history, Cream‘s Jack Bruce, died on October 25, 2014, at age 71. The following interview was conducted in 2012, two years before his death. The vast majority of it had never before been published until Best Classic Bands did so in 2018. Bruce was born on May 14, 1943.

Best Classic Bands: Does it bother you that so many people still focus on Cream? You’ve done so much since.
Jack Bruce: It used to bother me but I’m resigned to it now. That’s just the way it is. The positive aspects of it far outweigh the negative ones and there’s nothing anyone can do about that. I used to work a lot with Ringo and I knew John Lennon and George Harrison very well. And it wouldn’t matter what they did, they will always be a Beatle. They still say Beatle Paul McCartney. I’ve tried desperately over the years to get away from it, but not even Eric [Clapton]’s managed to do it. People love that band and it’s a wonderful thing.

How do you look back on the Cream reunion of 2005?
It was good to do, good to get it out of the way. I don’t mean it in a negative way. It was very good for me because it came at a point in my life when I needed something to live for. I was very ill.

This was shortly after you had a liver transplant.
Yeah. It was good to have that goal to aim for, to give me a reason to go on. I had other reasons but that was a little extra one.

When Cream broke up in 1968 was it the right time or do you regret not keeping it together longer?
We could have continued but I think it’s the right time because that’s what happened. We could have stuck together or done something else, but I think we had all fallen out of love with the band. You have to love what you do, to a certain extent, otherwise it’s just false.

On the other hand, it must have been great to go off on your own and make your solo album Songs for a Tailor and do the other things you’ve done.
I’m very happy with the things I’ve done, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if that band had stuck together, or maybe I could have done it as well. But there’s no point in worrying about that now. I’m not complaining.

What do you feel Cream’s legacy is?
I think it’s like Frank Zappa said, a nifty little trio.

Related: A capsule history of Cream

The first time I saw Cream was the band’s U.S. debut in 1967 at the infamous Murray the K-hosted show in New York that also featured the first U.S. performances by the Who. Do you remember those shows?
Oh God, yeah. I’ll never forget that. I remember mostly they had security to keep the bands in. I also remember going to the be-in in Central Park and eating some popcorn that I innocently thought was popcorn and turned out to be acid.

Probably not your first time though.
It was pretty close to the first time. It might have been the first time. I remember the Who’s dressing room becoming a swimming pool.

Is the legendary clash between you and Ginger Baker overblown?
To a certain extent. It did exist, but I think those things are in every band, from that time certainly. People now are probably more tolerant of each other. We just didn’t give a shit and we were making it up as we went along. But if you think of the Police, they were even worse, but you don’t really hear about that.

Related: When Ginger Baker died in 2019, he was mourned by fellow rock legends

Is there a chance we’ll ever see another Cream reunion?
There was gonna be one next year, but I think probably Ginger screwed up. I don’t know if it would have been the right thing to do anyway, but I would have gone along with it. We were getting paid a million pounds a night each at the Albert Hall. [Editor’s note: No further reunions ever took place.]

An early promo shot of Cream (from their Facebook page)

What is your relationship with Eric like? Are you in touch?
Oh, fine. We’ve always been all right, Eric and me. Mutual respect. I think Eric quite understands me. He knows how I tick.

Going back even earlier, you were first playing upright bass in swing bands. Why did you decide to pick up the electric bass?
I did a session for a Jamaican guitarist called Ernest Ranglin, a very important guy who was on just about every Jamaican record. He requested that I play bass guitar and I switched. As soon as I played it, I realized it’s a lot easier to play and to carry around.

Was that around the same time that blues and rock came into the picture for you?
I was playing with the Graham Bond Organisation at the time and it was my formative years, obviously.

You’ve played in all sorts of situations from the Golden Palominos to Carla Bley, people like Leslie West and Robin Trower. How do you know when a project is right for you?
Usually somebody gets in touch (laughs). I just play it by ear. There are some people who get in touch and I say no because I wouldn’t be comfortable doing it but people I respect, I love to do things.

How did your gig with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band come about?
Ringo asked me to be in the very first [All-Starr] band that he had, but I was doing something else. Then he asked me again and I wasn’t doing anything much, so I did it. I loved playing with that band.

Watch Bruce perform “White Room” with the All-Starr Band in 1997

Do you have a favorite bass player?
I love the guy with Living Colour [Doug Wimbish]. I love his use of electronics. As far as rock players go, I really like Flea.

What do you do to keep your voice in shape?
I don’t do anything. I don’t smoke or anything like that, but I never used to warm up my voice. I’d just go and sing but my voice has gotten better. It’s quite scary. So, I just go along with it. In the old days I always used to lose my voice, but it’s gotten electro-plated or something naturally.

You’ve recently been touring with a band called Spectrum Road, which features you on bass, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, drummer Cindy Blackman Santana, and jazz organist John Medeski. The band was conceived as a tribute to the late jazz drummer Tony Williams. Do you see any similarities to what you were doing with Cream, maybe in terms of improvisation?
The early Cream days, when we were trying to find out what it was, that was psychedelic in the original sense of the word, that feeling of idealism. There’s a lot of that going on with Spectrum Road.

Related: Our 2019 review of Music of Cream, featuring sons of Bruce and Baker, and Clapton’s nephew

When you play with your own band, do you still play Cream songs?
Oh yeah, I’ve got an eight-piece band with horns. I do a lot of different kinds of material, but I still enjoy playing those songs.

What’s left for you to do that you haven’t done?
I’m pretty much there now. I’m really happy with what I’ve done. I’ll keep going. We’ll see how it goes.

Watch “Sunshine of Your Love” from Cream’s 1968 farewell concert

Many of Cream’s recordings are available in the U.S. here and in the U.K. here.

Jeff Tamarkin

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