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.