Jack Bruce – Part Two
The formation of Cream in conjunction with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker was Bruce’s ticket to the big time, finally realising some good income from music (though not as much as was expected due to yet another manager rip off story) but more importantly giving him the opportunity to play and reach out to so many new fans without compromising his musical beliefs.
Their sound was characterised by a hybrid of blues rock, hard rock and psychedelic rock,combining Eric Clapton’s blues guitar playing, the psychedelia-themed lyrics, voice and blues bass playing of Jack and the jazz-influenced drumming of Ginger Baker.
The anticipation had been that the band would give Eric Clapton the conduit to become a band leader and major star, as it turned out initially it was Jack Bruce that emerged as the leader and driving force of the band, however, as we find out in Part Three next week it would indeed be Clapton who would move on to superstar status.
Cream made its unofficial debut at the Twisted Wheel on 29 July 1966.
Its official debut came two nights later at the Sixth Annual Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival.
Being new and with few original songs to its credit, Cream performed spirited blues reworkings that thrilled the large crowd and earned it a warm reception.
In October the band also got a chance to jam with Jimi Hendrix, who had recently arrived in London. Hendrix was a fan of Clapton’s music, and wanted a chance to play with him onstage.Hendrix was introduced to Cream through Chas Chandler, the bassist of The Animals, who was Hendrix’s manager.
Hendrix would later show his admiration for the band by breaking from an agreed script on the Lulu Show to promote Cream by playing “Sunshine Of Your Love” during his performance of “Hey Joe”.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves Cream’s debut album, Fresh Cream, was recorded and released in 1966.
It mainly consisted of blues covers, including “Four Until Late”, “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” (an old blues number recorded by Hambone Willie Newbern in 1926, which became a blues standard thanks to versions recorded by Muddy Waters and Elmore James in the early 1950s), “Spoonful” (written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf), “I’m So Glad” (written by Skip James) and “Cat’s Squirrel”.
The rest of the album featured songs written (or co-written) by Jack Bruce, most notably “I Feel Free” (which was a UK hit single, but only included on the American edition of the LP), and two by Ginger Baker (one of which, “Toad”, contained one of the earliest examples of a drum solo in rock music).
Ginger Baker also collaborated with Jack Bruce’s then-wife Janet Godfrey to write “Sweet Wine”; Godfrey also provided lyrics for the trio’s first original blues composition, her husband’s “Sleepy Time Time.”
Cream first visited the United States in March 1967 to play nine dates at the RKO Theater in New York.
They returned to record Disraeli Gears in New York between 11 May and 15 May 1967 which was released in November 1967 and reached the Top 5 in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Disraeli Gears is often considered to be the band’s defining effort, successfully blending psychedelic British rock with American blues. It was also the first Cream album to consist primarily of original songs, with only three of the eleven tracks written by others outside the band. Disraeli Gears not only features hits “Strange Brew” and “Tales of Brave Ulysses”, but also “Sunshine of Your Love”.
In August 1967, Cream played their first headlining dates in America, playing at the Fillmore West in San Francisco for the first time. The concerts were a great success and proved very influential on both the band itself and the flourishing hippy scene surrounding them.
Faced with a new listening audience, it was during this time that Cream started to stretch out on stage, incorporating more jamming time in their repertoire, some songs reaching 20 minutes. Long drawn-out jams in numbers like “Spoonful”, “N.S.U.” and “Sweet Wine” became live favorites while songs like “Sunshine of Your Love”, “Crossroads”, and “Tales of Brave Ulysses” remained reasonably short.
In 1968 came Cream’s third release, Wheels of Fire, these studio recordings showcased Cream moving slightly away from the blues and more towards a semi-progressive rock style highlighted by odd time signatures and various orchestral instruments.
However, the band did record Howlin’ Wolf’s “Sitting on Top of the World”, plus both Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” and “Born Under a Bad Sign”, which became a popular track off the record.
The opening song, “White Room”, became a radio staple. Another song, “Politician”, was written by the band while waiting to perform live at the BBC.
The album’s second disc featured three live recordings from the Winterland Ballroom and one from the Fillmore. Eric Clapton’s second solo from “Crossroads” has made it to the top 20 in multiple “greatest guitar solo” lists.
While with Cream,Jack Bruce played a Gibson EB-3 electric bass and became one of the most famous bassists in rock, winning musicians’ polls and influencing the next generation of bassists such as Sting, Geddy Lee and Jeff Berlin.
Jack co-wrote most of Cream’s single releases with lyricist Pete Brown, (who remained his co-writer long after Cream as we will see later) including the hits, “Sunshine of Your Love”, “White Room”, and “I Feel Free”.
By 1968, Cream were hugely successful; they grossed more than the next top six live acts of the day added together (including Jimi Hendrix and The Doors). They topped album charts all over the world, and received the first platinum discs for record sales, but the old enmity of Bruce and Baker resurfaced in 1968, and after a final tour, Cream broke up.
Cream were eventually persuaded to do one final album. That album, the appropriately titled Goodbye, was recorded in late 1968 and released in early 1969, after the band had broken up.
It featured six songs: three live recordings dating from a concert at The Forum in Los Angeles, California, on 19 October, and three new studio recordings (the most notable, “Badge“, was written by Clapton and George Harrison, who also played rhythm guitar as “L’Angelo Misterioso”). “I’m So Glad”, which first appeared as a studio recording on Fresh Cream, appeared as a live track on Goodbye. It was the only song to appear on both Cream’s first and last albums.
Following the demise of Cream Clapton went on to form the ill-fated Blind Faith “super group”, Bruce meanwhile had money in his pocket but drugs in his veins resulting from long spells touring the US where any drug was readily available, Bruce developed a heroin habit which stayed with him a long time.
His financial situation however allowed him to set out on a solo career, all three Cream members remained signed to Robert Stigwood’s RSO Label he believing he would now have “three Creams”.
Bruce had other ideas and set of on a cross genre solo career with many highs musically if not commercially and this path will be covered next week in Part Three.
By 1972 Bruce felt he was in need of a return to the mass audience of mainstream rock, possibly as much financially driven as musically or ego driven.
Such an ideal opportunnity arose in the form of “West Bruce and Laing”
The trio formed in Chicago in the spring of 1972 following the breakup of Mountain, which featured occasional Cream producer Felix Pappalardi, Leslie West and Corky Laing.
The coming together of West, Bruce and Laing was a commercial concept which was designed to build on the success of the two power trios Cream and Mountain as this would be attractiveto the massive US album and concert markets.
As such he trio toured extensively and released two studio albums, 1972’s Why Dontcha
and 1973’s Whatever Turns You On.
They disbanded shortly before the release of their live album Live ‘n’ Kickin’ in 1974.
Ultimately they failed to deliver and whilst they were a success on tour their music lacked the punch of both Cream and Mountain.
Following the split Bruce returned with more money in his pocket, though less than expected partly due to the hedonistic lifestyle on the road, and an even greater drug dependency.
The flame of creation was not diminished and he would return, all be it to a reduced audience, with more great music which we will cover next week in Part Three.
To buy the music of Cream click HERE
To buy the music of West Bruce and Laing click HERE
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