JACK BRUCE: He will always be for us a world-class pioneer in his main instrument, the bass guitar; a composer of some of the most enduring and recognizable rock songs of our time; an accomplished classical, jazz and Latin musician and one of popular music’s most distinctive and evocative voices. He is none other than the founder member of the British psychedelic rock power trio, Cream – John Symon Asher “Jack” Bruce. This past week, we lost this great and daring bassist and vocalist on October 24th, 2014.
Jack Bruce was born on 14 May, 1943 in Bishopbriggs, Scotland to a musical family. He grew up listening to jazz and took up bass and cello as a teen. After three months at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, he left, sickened with the politics of music school. Then after traveling around Europe for a while, he settled into the early blues scene in 1962 in London, where he eventually met drummer Ginger Baker. He played with British blues pioneers Alexis Korner and Graham before leaving in 1965 to join John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, whose guitarist was Eric Clapton. This gave him time to get his chops together without having to practice. With Manfred Mann, who he also played with before forming Cream, Bruce learned about the business of making hit songs. Cream’s reputation for long, extended blues jams began at the Fillmore in San Francisco at a concert organized by impresario Bill Graham. Bruce later realized that Cream gave him a chance to succeed as a musician, and admitted that if it weren’t for that group, he might never have escaped London.
After Cream split up in November 1968, Bruce formed Jack Bruce & Friends with drummer Mitch Mitchell and guitarist Larry Coryell. Recording-wise, Bruce took a different tack away from blues and blues-rock, leaning more in a folk-rock direction with his solo albums Songs for a Tailor (1969), Harmony Row (1971), and Out of the Storm (1974). Some of his most famous songs include (mainly blues tunes) “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Strange Brew,” “Politician,” and “White Room.” His best songs remain those he penned for Cream, the legendary blues-rock trio he formed with drummer Ginger Baker and guitarist Eric Clapton in July 1966. Baker and Bruce had played together for five years before Clapton came along, and although their trio only lasted until November 1968, the group is credited with changing the face of rock & roll and bringing blues to a worldwide audience. Through their creative arrangements of classic blues tunes like Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” Skip James’ “I’m So Glad,” Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” and Albert’s “Born Under a Bad Sign,” the group helped popularize blues-rock and led the way for similar groups that followed the same path, like Led Zeppelin. Many of his albums featured in the top of the Billboard 200 Jazz Albums and the Top Blues Albums. The highest peak was received by “Seven Moons Live” (2009) at 6 (Top Blues Album). Other notable ones are “B.L.T.” and “I’ve always wanted to do this”. His latest release is the Silver Rails album released in the year 2014.
His last live show was at the Music Hall in Aberdeen in March 2014 for the release of the latest album by his Band “Jack Bruce & His Big Blues Band”.
The bass gear used by Jack Bruce. Jack at an earlier stage showed liking for small, short-scale electric basses in spite of being trained on the upright bass. One of his first was the Fender Bass VI, a 6-string bass tuned EADGBE like a guitar, but one octave lower. Jack recorded most of Fresh Cream with this bass, before moving to the classic Gibson EB-3, the sound of which he made famous during Cream’s live tours. In 1976, Jack progressed to the fretless bass. After trying some Aria and Spector long-scale basses, he found Warwick, a German producer of high quality electric basses. Jack suggested some improvements for the balance and pickups, and Warwick produced the instrument he now uses. The Warwick Jack Bruce Signature Model first appeared in 1988, is a modified fretless 4-string Thumb Bass featuring MEC active pickups and LED position markers on the side of the neck. Jack strings his instrument with S.I.T. medium gauge roundwound strings (.050 – .105). Jack also uses some Warwick 5-string basses for recording, though he doesn’t use them onstage. Recently he acquired a fretless Star Bass II at Warwick’s New York City custom shop. For fretted bass playing Jack occasionally makes use of a refitted Gibson EB-1 bass.
In 1960s, Jack plugged his EB-3 into a stack of Marshall Amps (Marshall 4x12s with Marshall 100 heads). As he always desired for greater volume, it encouraged him to crank up the volume control, unintentionally producing the heavy, distorted tone that became so popular in the ensuing years. Later, Jack had instrument technician Dan Armstrong install a diode into the EB-3’s wiring to produce the same effect without overdriving his amplifiers. Lately, Jack has been using a Samson wireless unit which frees him to roam the stage. He used no effects. His more recent amplification consists of a Hartke 7000 head, driving four Hartke XL cabinets: two 4x10s and two 1x15s. Jack sets the graphic EQ on the head to a “frown” which boosts the midrange. He hits the strings hard, producing a punchy, thick, slightly distorted tone. In 2012 Warwick issued the Jack Bruce JB3 Signature Survivor Bass. The JB3’s design is based on the Warwick Jack Bruce CRB Bass, an instrument released by Warwick on the occasion of Cream’s 2005 Royal Albert Hall reunion concerts. Jack commented on the JB3: “For many years after I found the fabulous Warwick Thumb Bass we struggled to come up with my idea of the perfect players’ instrument. At long last here it is. The Jack Bruce JB3 Survivor Bass. The best there is.”
References: http://www.allmusic.com/artist/jack-bruce-mn0000152312 http://www.jackbruce.com/ http://www.jackbruce.com/2008/Gear/gear.htm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Bruce http://www.uberproaudio.com/who-plays-what/782-jack-bruce-bass-guitar-rig-gear-and-equipment http://www.jackbruce.com/2008/Tours/tours.htm