White Room in the Sky

I noted with some sadness that legendary musician Jack Bruce died over the weekend at the age of 71. Bruce is best known as the lead singer and bassist for Cream, a psychedelic power trio whose songs you almost certainly know since they’ve been played pretty much continuously on the radio since the late 60’s. The other two members of Cream were guitarist Eric Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker, so you could say they were something of a super group.

As a young bassist in the 80’s I was scared to death by Jack Bruce, as his imagination and technique were so formidable. He seemed to play at both ends of the neck — and in the middle — at the same time. But for all that there was always a purpose and direction to his noodling, which made him probably the ultimate jam band bass player, right up there with John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin and John Wetton of Uriah Heep and King Crimson fame. Those three defined, at least for me, the busy, trippy 60’s (and 70’s) hard rock sound.

Because I couldn’t play like that I took the less-is more approach, drawing inspiration from bassists like Paul McCartney (needs no explanation), Tony Levin from Peter Gabriel’s band, and Colin Moulding of XTC. And while I loved to pontificate about how bass “was a rhythm, not lead instrument” I always secretly longed for those ferocious Jack Bruce chops. I never got them and to this day I always cringe a little inside when I hear a Cream track like Crossroads. Crap, that guy was just too good!

Mr. Bruce, you will be missed.

UPDATE: Reader Siggy wants to know if, as a former bassist, I have a favorite bass line. Indeed I do: on the song Philadelphia Freedom by Elton John. A flawless synthesis of driving rhythm and fluid, incidental melody. Dee Murray may have been rock’s most perfect bass player.

4 thoughts on “White Room in the Sky”

  1. Sixties. Late 60’s, not 70’s, young whippersnapper. Wheels of Fire was 1968.

    1. Yeah sure, nothing but a 40-something little punk…that’s me!

      That’s something of a judgement call though, isn’t it? I know Cream was over before 1970, but Uriah Heep and King Crimson only started in ’69! And Zeppelin lasted until ’80 or something like that. But I’ll do a tweak that will satisfy us both.

      – Joe

  2. I was so shocked to find out that Jack Bruce had died. I remember Cream from my high school days and I always loved how they played. Jack Bruce and John Entwistle were my favorite bass players. I always thought they played it like it was a lead instrument.
    Speaking of bass players, Tom Petersson from Cheap Trick lives near one of my brothers. He invented and plays the 12 string bass. I’ll bet he has super strong fingers.

    1. Hey Ellen!

      Growing up in Chicago I was a Cheap Trick FREAK. I remember I put little square white stickers all over my first bass guitar, which was black, to try to mimic Rick Nielsen’s checkerboard guitars. And you know I once played one of those Hamer 12-string basses. It was pretty much impossible for me. Pressing down three strings per note was more than my poor fingers could handle. Thanks for the memories, Ellen!

      – Joe

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