One of the greatest bass guitarists of all time is worthy of an article or two on this blog. Nick Logan did almost all of those important interviews at the start of the 70s in NME – I guess he had a nose for picking up on the artist that would continue to be relevant for us even today.
Jack Bruce and friends: `In it for the music`
By Nick Logan
SINCE his excellent “Songs For A Tailor” album gently insinuated its way into a goodly number of discerning heads Jack Bruce has kept aside from the excesses of the publicity machine to quietly pursue his musical ideals. Where others have gone rushing in and struggled to regain themselves, the canny and talented Scot has hung cleverly back.
This weekend it’s Jack’s turn, as the last of the illustrious Cream to return “live”, to step back into the limelight.
His band Jack Bruce and Friends make their bow before home Crowds at Lanchester Arts Festival, Coventry, tomorrow (Saturday) and at London’s Lyceum on Sunday, before taking on a month-long U.S. tour from the end of January.
American “Friends” Larry Coryell and Mike Mandel were flying in that evening to join him and English “Friend”, Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, when I met Jack on Friday at his manager’s Mayfair office.
“One thing it won’t be is me with a backing group” he was anxious to make clear.
“Although the material will be mostly mine, the group will be very free. Some of the songs will be done straight because they are songs as complete entities, but others I have written are intended as just jumping off points for improvisation.”
Texas-born Coryell, promises Jack, will be a relevation to British audiences “because of his style and fluency on guitar.
“His style is as fluid as Eric’s (Clapton); and on his own scene he is as great as Eric.”
Jack first met Coryell briefly when his band and the Cream played together at the Fillmore East in 1966. Then, soon after the Cream split, the American phoned Jack at his London home to express his admiration for his work and ask if they could play together.
The admiration was reciprocal and a few months back Jack flew to the States to play as a member of Coryell’s band in New York.
Also in the group was organist Mike Mandel, a blind musician now a student of music theory in Boston who in his time has played in bands with early rock stars such as Bobby Vee, Gene Vincent and Freddie Cannon.
As for the home-grown Friend, Jack says “Mitch is someone I have wanted to play with for a long time. We had a few jams together when he was with Hendrix and I’ve always dug his playing. He is very solid like a rock drummer should be but he also has the looseness of a jazz drummer.
“It’s really working out well with him because he loves Larry’s playing as much as I do and Larry loves his drumming.”
Mitch has been staying with Jack at his house in London’s Primrose Hill where the rest of the band, with wives and children, would also be putting up for the duration.
They had seven days to rehearse. Was it sufficient?
With your average musician it wouldn’t be,” he replied laconically, “but with the calibre of these guys it is enough.”
Although he hasn’t performed his own songs on stage for over a year — since the end of the Cream in fact — Jack has kept his hand in by quietly making guest appearances with various outfits.
He’d done the London School of Economics the previous evening with the Mike Gibbs Orchestra (with whom he’s also cut an album) and three months ago did a concert with Gibbs at Lanchester University which has since become something of a legend in Coventry.
So he wasn’t worried about being a bit rusty? “No — the only thing I may lack is the stamina… to get adjusted to the physical side of touring again.
“When you’re a bass player and you’re not playing your fingers get very soft. Mine have. Also my voice hasn’t been used to singing very loud but I’m looking forward to it very much.”
Unlike Air Force and apparently Blind Faith, Jack intends to make his band a fairly permanent one.
“We all hope it will continue after the tour and be permanent enough for us all to do separate things but get together for tours and records. Personally I’d like to spend three quarter of my time with this band and the rest doing other things.”
At the end of the U.S. tour they have two weeks before going their separate ways for a time, and during this period Jack plans to record his next album at Atlantic’s studios in Florida.
“I may add horns and strings for some numbers but it will basically be this band.” He says he has enough self-penned material for two albums, although contractual difficulties would have to be sorted out.
In Spring, possibly April, Jack hopes to bring the Friends together again for a European tour taking in Britain.
In the meantime, he and his music from “Songs For A Tailor” will be featured in the BBC Omnibus slot on February 1st through Tony Palmer’s “Rode Ladder To The Moon” documentary. The title is a track from the album.
Since “Tailor”, Jack has been devoting as much time as he can to the Scottish island he bought in November for £30,000. He’s bought a boat to carry him the three miles from the mainland but is also taking flying lessons to ease the journey from Primrose Hill.
“I’d like to build a landing strip so I can fly directly from London” he says ambitiously.
He and his wife Janet have been slowly decorating the farmhouse and he’s looking for a manager to care for the farm on the island and the 1,000 sheep he plans to install on it in the coming year.
It is a life obviously dear to his heart.
Back on the subject of music, he says he has watched with interest the influence of jazz on rock and vice versa.
“There are bands like Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago who are good in their way, although they don’t move me. They’re too precise; I like things a little unpredictable. That has been one trend.
“But I think a far more interesting one is jazz musicians becoming interested in rock, like Miles Davis, and it is making their music for me more exciting and enjoyable.
“If you are a musician your thing is to communicate with an audience and I think in jazz and classical music in the past the composers and performers haven’t been interested in anything except their egos. They certainly haven’t gone out of their way to meet an audience.
“The great thing about rock is that it is the music of the masses. You haven’t got any right to play for your own head.”
And, as a pioneer of improving standards in rock, he has this to say: “When I started playing on this scene there were two groups… Alexis Korner and the Rolling Stones. Then Manfred Mann came along and there were three. Now there are hundreds and I don’t think there can be any doubt that musical standards have gone up all the time.”
And finally back on the tour, he adds earnestly: “This band is really just for the music. That is truthfully all there is in it.
“The tour of the U.S. hasn’t been planned on a money-making basis because we have no wish to do huge places like Madison Square Gardens.
“It will be nice to go back to places like the Fillmore because you cannot really communicate with a large number of people. My days with Cream taught me that.”