Jack Bruce has died at the age of 71.
I heard Bruce for the first time when I was 13 years old, at which point in time Cream released “Fresh Cream,” their first LP. Bruce’s harmonica work on that and subsequent Cream releases was something I listened to carefully, over and over. The first extended solo harmonica performances I ever heard were the live and studio versions of Bruce’s showpiece “Train Time,” which he performed as a showstopper at Cream concerts, and which I performed in my fashion on a number of occasions; it was a simple and powerful piece that never failed to get the audience up and clapping.
Bruce was the only bass player Cream ever had, and he was lead singer on most of their songs. He could sing a psychedelic lyric like “In a white room, with black curtains, is a station” with perfect aplomb (as he does in this video, filmed at Cream’s reunion concert in 2005). His bass work could be rock solid, or could dance around Clapton’s guitar, as it does on Cream’s live recording of “Crossroads” that’s undoubtedly engraved note-for-note on many people’s minds, including mine.
After Cream, Bruce did some hard-rockin’ work with Leslie West in the band West, Bruce, & Laing. I lost track of him after that, but I saw a video of him a few years ago in which he and Clapton, playing at home, did a brilliant duet on “Cat’s Cradle,” a staple of Cream’s repertoire; it was the first time they’d played together in over 30 years, and it sounded fresh as a daisy.
RIP Jack Bruce.