Behold the Blistering Bass Solos of Cream Bassist and Singer, Jack Bruce (1943–2014)

I’ve writ­ten before that every band Eric Clapton’s been involved with could right­ful­ly be called a super­group. But for my mon­ey, there’s only one wor­thy of the name, and that’s Cream. Since form­ing a deep attach­ment to the psy­che­del­ic pow­er trio from a young age, I’ve found it espe­cial­ly irk­some to see them some­times billed as “Eric Clap­ton and Cream.” Drum­mer Gin­ger Bak­er and bassist/singer Jack Bruce are at least as—if not more—talented and inter­est­ing as musi­cians. But though Bak­er has long been cel­e­brat­ed, though most­ly from a safe dis­tance, Bruce, in my opin­ion, is almost crim­i­nal­ly under­rat­ed. That may change as trib­utes and reap­praisals pour in after his pass­ing of liv­er dis­ease this past Sat­ur­day at age 71.

We’re like­ly to hear more Cream than usu­al, at least, which is nev­er a bad thing. What you may not hear casu­al­ly is Bruce’s play­ing in his lat­er years. Like many rock stars of his era, includ­ing his Cream band­mates, he nev­er real­ly stopped. But unlike some musi­cians from the 60s, he only got bet­ter with age, adapt­ing his jazz and blues chops to mod­ern takes on the psych rock he helped invent. Not a flashy play­er, Bruce’s style is char­ac­ter­ized by emo­tive pow­er and a near per­fect syn­the­sis of the rhyth­mic and the melod­ic. Key to his style is the walk­ing bassline like that on “White Room,” from Cream’s third record, 1968’s dou­ble album Wheels of Fire. He plays ‘em lit­er­al­ly walk­ing around, or rather strut­ting. In the video above, see Bruce pull out an amaz­ing solo dur­ing a per­for­mance of “White Room” at an event called Hip­pie Fest in 2008.

The fes­ti­val also fea­tured leg­ends Eric Bur­don and the Ani­mals and the Tur­tles but I can only imag­ine Bruce left the strongest impres­sion on audi­ence mem­bers who’d seen him in his prime and those who hadn’t. Watch him rip through anoth­er intense solo above in “Sun­shine of Your Love,” fol­lowed by a blues num­ber record­ed ear­li­er in the day at the same con­cert. Although most of Cream’s lyrics were writ­ten by poet and “unof­fi­cial fourth mem­ber” Pete Brown, the music was most­ly Bruce. His range of influ­ences was wide, and his will­ing­ness to fol­low them wher­ev­er they led, adven­tur­ous. David Fricke at Rolling Stone has a playlist of Bruce’s top ten “Deep Tracks,” includ­ing one from ear­ly 60s out­fit The Gra­ham Bond Organization—which also fea­tured Gin­ger Bak­er and vir­tu­oso jazz gui­tarist John McLaughlin—and sev­er­al of Bruce’s solo tunes. “If you only know Cream,” writes Fricke in appre­ci­a­tion of Bruce’s ver­sa­til­i­ty,” then stray far, every way you can—as he did.” It’s good advice.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Paul McCart­ney Offers a Short Tuto­r­i­al on How to Play the Bass Gui­tar

The Sto­ry of the Bass: New Video Gives Us 500 Years of Music His­to­ry in 8 Min­utes

100 Great Bass Riffs Played in One Epic Take: Cov­ers 60 Years of Rock, Jazz and R&B

Jazz Leg­end Jaco Pas­to­rius Gives a 90 Minute Bass Les­son and Plays Live in Mon­tre­al (1982)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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