From Sept/Oct 1993: The “Legends” Issue
EVERY TIME WE STARTED TO PLAN a new issue, I hoped that we would have a strong cover story. For this one, we had three. Karl Coryat headed to L.A. to interview Stanley Clarke about his new solo album, East River Drive. Chris Jisi collaborated with Anthony Jackson and Dan Schwartz to provide a sweeping career retrospective of Jack Casady. And I got together with Jack Bruce, the man who was, as I wrote in my editor’s note, “the guy who inspired me (and many others) to become a bass player.”
Jack was such a hero to me that it was hard to maintain my journalistic objectivity. Just the thought of being in the same room with him made me giddy. On my way to the interview, I wondered if it would be okay to ask him for an autograph—but Jack was way ahead of me. As he greeted me in his San Francisco hotel room, he pulled out a promo photo, scrawled “For Jim and All at Bass Mag, Love, Jack Bruce” on it, and handed to me. (It now hangs in a place of honor in my home office.) With that out of the way, Jack put on his sunglasses, lit a cigarette, and said, “Let’s get on with it.”
The interview went great, with Jack offering insights on everything from his classical training to how he felt the first time he played an electric bass (“I thought, Wow, this is easy and it’s loud”) to the rumors of a Cream reunion. At the time, Jack said that he thought making an album of new material would be “the only valid way of doing it.” While the famed trio did get back together for a series of concerts in 2005, alas, that studio album never happened.
As a sidebar to my interview, we published an appreciation by Jeff Berlin. I knew that Jeff admired Jack as much as I did, so it didn’t take much convincing to get him to write something. It was a terrific piece, smart and funny and opinionated in the classic Jeff Berlin style. I’m pleased to offer an excerpt here, as a tribute to both of these great and enduring players. —Jim Roberts
CLAPTON ISN’T GOD …
Jack Bruce is. You didn’t know that God is a 50-year-old bass-playing Scotsman with Pavarotti’s vocal range?
I love Jack Bruce. I’m a bass player because of him. When I was 14, I sprayed his name on my bedroom wall with luminous paint to remind me who was the greatest bass player in the world. While the ’60s showcased many guitar greats, such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, on the bass mountaintop really there was only Jack.
Oh, the wonderful sound Jack’s bass made! They called it the “fart sound,” with those Marshall stacks distorting under Jack’s heavy pumping. His tone was earthy and brown, and the bass lines he played were brilliant. The live versions of “Crossroads” and “Spoonful” from Wheels of Fire are classics; Cream pushed the outside of the envelope, and Jack’s playing on these songs might be the first recorded example of an electric bass player with chops. “I’m So Glad” (Goodbye) is perhaps the most intense of the live jams, but for me the definitive Jack is on “Sweet Wine” from Live Cream. Jack’s playing on that cut changed me forever.
For pure composition, listen to “As You Said” on Wheels of Fire, which features Jack on cello, acoustic guitar, and vocals accompanied only by Ginger Baker’s hi-hat cymbal. What other composer in all of rock could have come up with that priceless tune? Check out the solo albums Songs for a Tailor, Harmony Row, and Out of the Storm (which has “Golden Days,” a moving piece of writing). Listen to “Into the Fields” from West, Bruce & Laing’s Why Dontcha and tell me if you’ve ever heard background vocals that passionate.
Jack isn’t just a famous bass player. He’s an important source of music, a fountainhead where rock and blues are done with passion and brains. He’s an original. —JEFF BERLIN