The legendary bass player for one of the most important rock bands of all time passed away on October 25th this year. Cream was only around from 1966 until 1968, but their recordings from that period have proven over time to be immensely influential to scores of rock and blues musicians since then. was already an accomplished musician before he teamed up with Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton to form the world’s most famous power trio. He spent time with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers and Manfred Mann, where he performed on the chart-topping hit “Pretty Flamingo”. But it was with Cream that he became the almost universally respected figure he is today.
The name of the band came from the reputations of the three men as the “cream of the crop” of British blues musicians. While American blues music was waning in popularity in the United States during the 1960’s, British musicians were just discovering the music and creating a vibrant scene in the United Kingdom. After leaving the British Invasion band The Yardbirds, guitarist Eric Clapton was recruited by drummer Ginger Baker to form a new group. Clapton agreed, but only on the condition that his friend and former bandmate from the Bluesbreakers Jack Bruce also join. The arrangement was one built on shaky ground as Baker and Bruce were not the best of friends. In fact, when the two were bandmates in the Graham Bond Organisation, they fought so often that they actually began sabotaging each other’s instruments. Nevertheless, they put their differences aside to form Cream.
Bruce played bass without ever seeing himself as just a part of the rhythm section of the band. As with “Sunshine of Your Love”, he crafted riffs that helped give Cream a much more thunderous sound than their contemporaries. Bruce was also gifted at improvisation, as can be heard on the band’s cover of the blues standard “Spoonful”. He also acted as the band’s lead vocalist for most of their recordings. Clapton would take a greater role singing near the end of Cream’s run, but the two were also able to harmonize and add more atmosphere to their songs. Along with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream set the standard in using volume in blues music. This was the beginning of hard rock, and with later groups such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, also the origins of heavy metal.
Ultimately, Bruce and Baker could not work together. The two could not put aside their rivalry, and went back to trying to upstage each other as much as possible. When Clapton failed to get Traffic vocalist Steve Winwood to join the band, Cream finally dissolved in 1968. They would reunite for one-off performances in 1993 and 2005, but never recorded or toured again as a band.
After Cream disbanded, Jack Bruce would go on to create several solo albums that are still held in high regard by musicians to this day. His second album Things We Like included music that was more jazz-oriented, and played a role in the growing popularity of jazz-fusion music that would see commercial growth in the late 1970’s. He would also work with musicians who had been in groups such as The Rolling Stones, Beatles, Parliament-Funkadelic, Mountain and Living Colour.
Jack Bruce’s personal life was one of extreme ups and downs. Throughout his career he had a major drug addiction that left him nearly broke by 1980. He also lost his son Jonas in 1997 to respiratory illness. Bruce’s liver disease, one that had plagued him for years, finally took his life this October. However, the music he made will live on. Cream remains one of the most influential bands in rock and roll, and Bruce is still regarded as one of rock’s greatest bass players.
RIP Jack Bruce.

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