It may only have been from 1966 to 1968, but what they packed into that short period of time was nothing short of monumental. Cream wasn’t just a band. They were a force that changed the musical landscape of the times. Contained within a threesome of virtuosos stood Jack Bruce. He wasn’t just a bass player. He was the one who helped to give Eric Clapton the confidence he needed to go free-form to the hilt. He was the one who fought tooth and nail with drummer Ginger Baker to keep the drive to fly to a higher plane going. What he created for himself was a platform that helped to break the stereotype of the quiet bassist who only played underneath the song. Jack Bruce didn’t just play for the song. He could also play over the song . He could also smash right through it as if one was driving a tank through a wall-and this was often the case when Eric and Jack were playing so loud that Baker suffered permanent hearing loss as a result.
We often have a tendency to automatically consider that lead guitarists in some bands are the driving force of any given one. Truth be known, it was Jack Bruce who drove this band, as he wrote a ton of the songs which we would all call classics down the line. You, the reader, don’t need to be reminded of the classics that get overplayed on modern radio. Instead, I’d rather call your attention to a song which doesn’t seem to get much radio airplay nowadays. When I think of the artistry of Jack Bruce, I think of “We’re Going Wrong”. That performance is the essence of Jack Bruce. It contains the intense simmering pain which cries to explode in the night. I always come back to that haunting vocal of his in that song whenever I think of him.
I was one of those children of the ’60s who had to wait until the ’70s before I got exposed to Cream. When I started hearing Cream coming out of the bedroom of my two older brothers, it made perfect sense to me. Cream sounded so logical to me. I was expanding and I was hearing one of the most prime examples of musical expansion to have ever come out of the ’60s. It was Blues with a Jazzman’s flair for exploration. There were no limits. There were only boundaries to be leaped. Jack cleared the hurdles each time.
He was held in tremendous respect by the greater music community. He trail-blazed a path for others, helping them along the way. He created his own body of work after Cream broke up. I will always be grateful to him that he held out a hand to Mick Taylor after Taylor had left The Rolling Stones and they went out on tour together. At least it was something even though it may not have been as successful as either of them would have wanted it to have turned out. I am also grateful that he found the time, the inspiration, and the want to play with Robin Trower as he got older and was battling his health problems.
It’s weird how, as a kid at least, it took some of us to have to listen more than once to some particular artist or band and have the name or names associated with the band become an engraved name in your rock and roll heart. When I first heard Cream and then took a look at the liner notes of what my brothers had been playing in a discreet manner after the dust had settled, those three names instantly went into my head in high priority. It was easy to remember Jack, Eric and Ginger. They were part of a Rushmore of musicians who made Rock take the next boldly progressive step. By making the times they lived in become more progressive, they made the times I lived in more progressive. The end result is that I became more progressively well-rounded. I have somebody like Jack Bruce to thank for that.
I hate like hell that Jack has now left us. I love him so much for deciding to give it one more try with the Cream Reunion that eventually fell apart again. He was very aware of the risk he was taking in trying to live peacefully around Ginger Baker once again. He helped to bring back the magic once again for an all too brief period of time. At least we all got it. I don’t have any idea how Jack’s passing is going to manifest itself within the minds of Eric and Ginger over time. I just hope that some great good will come out of it. Some of it may be very obvious, but I suspect some of it will be not so obvious and noticeable. All I know is that he is going to be deeply missed.