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Interview: JACK BRUCE

Rock Stars...  

Jack Bruce
Photo: Marco Van Rooijen (Blues Magazine NL)

Buoyed by the success of the Cream re-union and perhaps more importantly a return to full health, iconic rock bass playing vocalist Jack Bruce is basking in the critical acclaim of his new '7 Moons' album with Robin Trower.

With the live DVD and CD '7 Moons Live' on Ruf Records about to be released and some hotly anticipated summer live dates, Jack talks to Pete Feenstra about the new album and his career.

It's 25 years since your last recording with Robin, How did '7 Moons' originally come about?

Well it was Robin's idea really. He got in touch with the idea of compiling a CD from the two previous albums we had done and I suggested 2 new songs. He came round to my house and we started writing. It was all very fluid and happened very quickly.

Was Blues the natural meeting point for both your styles?

Well we were almost in 'separate bands together' for over several thousand years or whatever it is, but I've always had an affinity with what Robin does so there was common ground.

Is this project likely to outlive BBM (Baker, Bruce & Moore)?

Yes 'cos Ginger Baker isn't there (laughs). No really, Ginger is my brother and he's a really great drummer. But there were problems on all three sides with the band. Ginger was a major cause of one of the problems and Gary (Moore) couldn't handle the reviews.

Underneath that bluff Irish character there's a big softy. I don't think the public accepted it for what it was which was an attempt to make a record of what Cream would have sounded like if they were still together.

In fact it was a bit like Oasis at the time who actually got lauded for being what the Beatles might have been had they continued. And Gary was actually criticised for not being Eric Clapton. Not everyone likes Eric tone for example. Personally I think he's up there with the greats. But that's' how it was.

But the '7 Moons' project is much different from that isn't it?

Yes it is, as the challenge now is to bring to life the new material written with Robin. When we did BLT for example, which was quite successful, we didn't actually tour behind it because we didn't have enough original material at the time.

Now we don't just want to get into revisiting our respective back catalogues, as this is a different and new project, though there are a few old warhorses from Cream on the live album. But mainly we'll play the whole of the '7 Moons' album and a couple of things from when we recorded before with Bill Lordan.

So you enjoy playing your old Cream material then?

Well up and until the Cream re-union gig I hadn't played any of it for quite some time, but at this stage of my career people get pissed off if you don't. It reminds me some years ago when I went to see Bob Dylan, and he didn't do anything at all from the past and everyone really got fed up. It's part of my musical past and really when it comes down to it we are entertainers after all and you don't want to disappoint your audience.

It has been suggested that you jumped at the chance of this project because there were no further Cream gigs planned?

No not at all. There really wasn't any suggestion of any other Cream gigs other than the Albert Hall show. We really enjoyed it and of course we did another one at Madison Square Gardens but there was never any other plans.

It's also been said that in the original line-up you played simply for yourselves without worrying about commercial considerations etc?

Yes that's true, though this time round it was different and I would be happy to do it all over again. A few years ago when we last played together at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame we were talking about perhaps recording a new CD and that would have been a valid reason for starting up again. But throughout my career I've pursued musical interests first, which wasn't perhaps always the wisest thing to do, but I haven't really changed in that respect, and I'm really enjoying playing with Robin at the moment.

My function and that of my instrument is to make everyone else sound really good. I think people like to play with me and it's my job to get people to go up a level...


You also played with Garry Husband with Gary Moore on the Dick Heckstall Smith memorial gig. I thought that seemed to be a possible second option to Cream?

Well Gary is a great guitar player but we've already done that with BBM. We played together well on Dick's Memorial show, but I think it comes from me doing my job as a bass player.

My function and that of my instrument is to make everyone else sound really good (laughs). I think people like to play with me and it's my job to get people to go up a level and perhaps we did that night.

But as I said this band excites me as I hadn't played live with Robin before so I was very interested in that. Robin is really amazing. He's stayed true to himself down the years and in many respects he is unique.

He's carried on touring through the years and he is actually a much harder worker than me, but I think we share an affinity in pursuing what we both want to do. There really is something special about Robin.

He's playing better than ever and he's really an edifice of Rock! It's been great since our first magical gig - which I think was a small place in Germany. It was also a very emotional gig and I had to struggle not to break down. It was a wonderful feeling and it all felt so right and hopefully the music conveys that feeing.

Seven Moons Live

On the evidence of '7 Moons Live' this band works extremely well. Did you keep in touch with Robin down the years?

No not at all, we were both doing other things as is often the case with musicians. With some musicians you become real friends, like I did with Dick Heckstall Smith, and you'd ring each other and talk. But that was never the case with Robin, but it's all worked out so well.

The '7 Moons' album also seems to have been recorded very quickly in contrast with recording techniques of the past?

It was very quick yes with mostly two takes and a few overdubs. The thing is nowadays we have computers which potentially make things quicker but you have a complexity of choice.

When I started out there was one choice of margarine! (laughs) Now you have 57,000 different choices of reverb and it's too easy to get hung up on that. I didn't do that too often in my career though I have to say 'Out of the Storm' was an exception to that. I flew to LA with the intention of spending 10 days with Jim Keltner to work on the basic track, but I ended up being there for 5 months and it still wasn't finished after that. In fact I think it was finished in London. But we got our ideas down very quickly for this album

Gary Husband,Jack Bruce & Robin Trower
Photo: Marco Van Rooijen (Blues Magazine NL)

Where was '7 Moons Live' recorded?

It was recorded in a beautiful old hall in Nijmegen in Holland, which I think was built after the war, as all round there got flattened.

In fact I wanted to call the project "A Gig Too Far" (hahaha) but they wouldn't use that.

At the end of the jammed outro of 'Sunshine of Your Love' you say, "Now we're beginning to get somewhere", was this the spark that ignited the set?

Yes I think that was definitely the case. When you play the way we do you have got to build up towards something and it was at that point that it all came together.

I've got to say the audiences on that small tour were great, especially as we'd never played live together. I did see Robin a few years ago in San Francisco and I thought then I'd really like to play live with him so this band is great for me.

Were they your lyrics on 'Distant Place of the Heart'? They seem very close to the Cream style lyrics.

Yes I guess there are distant echoes of Cream, but really most of the lyrics and ideas for the title came from Robin. He was the instigator and then we wrote together. It's become a kind of a formula we have now. I've lots of ideas, but they are very much my own ideas, so my attitude it let's do what we can do and develop it together.

Songs like 'Carmen' sound like you had an idea that is sketched out leaving room for guitar improvisation. Is that how you construct some songs?

Yeah on 'Carmen' the basic thing was all written but the vocals and bass parts are improvised, which I enjoy doing. I tend to do a lot of the melodies while Robin come sup with the ideas.

There is also a strong guitar led groove on 'Bad Case of Celebrity', was this song written round Robins musical ideas?

Again his ideas kick started things and I improvised a lot on the vocals.

And I guess the title track is fairly representative of what fans can expect from the band?

Yes its pretty much a statement of what we are about, it's really what I do and what Robin does rolled into one right there.

Things were much better with Bill Graham at his original Fillmore and we could actually hear each other on stage, whereas before that all you could hear was my distorted bass.

You also have recently been the subject of a 6 CD retrospective 'Can U You Follow?' box set. Looking back you've enjoyed a startlingly varied musical career?

Well it's not a complete box set as I did stuff for the BBC which has come out separately and some for Sanctuary, but it is a kind of career chronology in a way starting from when I was 19 to a few years ago.

I'm lucky in that I've been able to pretty much musically follow what I wanted to do, though that may not have always been the best move. In the early 70's I worked with a great band with Graham Bond and Chris Spedding, and then with West, Bruce and Laing.

At the time it seemed like an interesting thing to do though it didn't turn out like that. But it was an incredible time to be in the US. That period 1973-74 or whatever, was the maddest time, it really was the period when the insanity of rock and roll was prevalent.

When I think back, in the 60's we were all pioneers really, almost making it up as we went along, then suddenly we were in stadiums with just a crew of 3. Things were much better with Bill Graham at his original Fillmore and we could actually hear each other on stage, whereas before that all you could hear was my distorted bass.

The box set also takes in Zappa and Lou Reed? What was it like working with Zappa in particular on 'Apostrophe'?

Well I'd known Frank Zappa from when Cream were in New York. Frank hadn't quite made it yet and he had a residency in a tiny theatre with the Mothers. He did these afternoon shows and I went to see him with Eric. He'd invite these bums and street people on stage and give them ukuleles and kazoo's to play.

Anyway it turned out he liked my singing and cello playing. He phoned me up and said 'I've got this track Id like you to play cello on'. I said, 'but I haven't got my cello here', so he suggested renting one. But really a cello is a very personal instrument (it's hundreds years old). And I couldn't play the one they had, it really sounded like shit. So he said 'OK let's try something else', and really I think he wanted me to play bass on it all along. I just played riffs on one track on 'Apostrophe' with Jim Gordon on drums.

What about working with Lou Reed on 'Berlin'?

Well I did the whole of that album in Willesden actually with producer Bob Ezrin. It was just me Aynsley Dunbar and Bob Ezrin on piano. It was amazing because Lou seemed to be off head. He just had an acoustic guitar and mumbled some weird stuff into the mic. When I heard the result later I was amazed because it had incredible arrangements and an orchestra on it.

You also have an early session with Duffy Power on there?

Yes I was with the Graham Bond band at the time and I think it was Ron Richards the A&R guy above George Martin at EMI who had Duffy signed to EMI. I think it was a Robert Stigwood management licensing deal that put it all together. Anyway we did a version of 'Saw Her Standing There' before the Beatles had recorded it. But I think they regarded the first version as too jazzy and then after we re-recorded it the tape disappeared!

You've also seemed to have been drawn to playing with some of rock's most volatile characters from Graham Bond to Ginger Baker and Leslie West?

Well you do things at the time and you think they might be good. With Ginger for example, it was something that had to happen. He had a strong personality and I just knew I had to play with him.

At that stage jazz drummers were very polite and no one was doing what this guy was doing. We were great friends before I grew up (laughs) He used to love me (hahaha). He used to say, what a nice little guy, what happened? Well, basically I grew up. I was maybe 18 or 19 when I first met him and then I knew a lot more.

With Graham Bond he was only a semi pro when I first worked with him. I think he was a salesman, selling infra red ovens or something like that. And when we used to do pubs and clubs he'd actually sell these things to landlords on the road (laughs).

He was also very forceful character. He wanted both me and Ginger in the band and that was it. I'll always remember going to an Alexis Korner rehearsal and Alexis was very angry and I didn't know why. So I said, 'what's up' and he said, 'you know what's up, you and Ginger have both left the band'. Graham Bond had apparently resigned the both of us from the band without us knowing about it! And Alexis wouldn't talk to us for a log time after that. Graham was Ok when he was straight, but the stuff he took basically took his soul.

Then there was Leslie West?

Well it didn't work out. Bill Graham used to call Lesley a 300 pound psychedelic canary (laughs). Overall I did enjoy working with all of those guys though in different ways.

Your wide ranging career has also taken in World Music and particularly Latin influences. Where did that interest come from?

That goes way back to my late teens actually and Dizzy Gillespie's big band. He had the original 'King of Congas' Chano Pozo in his band who was incredible. Then some years later Kip Hanrahan sent me a cassette (as it was in those days, the early 80's) of some beautiful music for me to sing over and I got really involved in that music on the back of that.

Your kids are now musician in their own right, do they help keeping you up to speed?

Well they are all doing things on their own really, it wasn't me that led them to it. Malcolm my oldest son who is in his 30's is a composer, arranger and plays guitar and keyboards.

My eldest daughter Natascha who is 26 has her own outfit Aruba Red (Arubaredmusic.co.uk), while my other daughter Kyle is a really good singer and my 16 year old son Corin is a drummer (who had his first lesson from Ringo Starr).

Is playing music still a passion for you?

Absolutely. I certainly would be doing this if it wasn't. I might have slowed down a bit now but I still love playing. There's a new biography coming out written by Harry Shapiro and I look at some of those old tours and think how did we ever do that? The mind boggles.

Jack Bruce, Robin Trower & Gary Husband play the Shepherds Bush Empire on Wed 5th August

'Seven Moons Live' will be released on Ruf Records.

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Interview June 2009 Pete Feenstra


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