Goodbye Jack

After our recent gig with R.J. Thompson we were interviewed by Dawn of Record Overplayed. Buoyed up by what we felt was a very successful gig, we had the exuberance of a four year old after a two litre bottle of Coke and a similar level of articulation. Editing that half hour of nonsense into a printable article must have required patience akin to panning for precious metal, and I’m not sure the ‘nuggets’ we deposited for her were necessarily gold.

In the course of the interview, the inevitable ‘musical influences’ question arose. It’s a fair question, but for some reason I always freeze up when asked. It is possibly because I think the question can be interpreted as ‘who are you trying to be like?’, to which the answer would be ‘ourselves, I think’. Maybe it is because everything I have ever listened to can be considered a musical influence of some sort and I don’t want to miss anybody out.

One of the people I always tend to miss out is Jack Bruce, who passed away on 25th October 2014. I first heard Jack Bruce at the age of fourteen, when having discovered Beatles records in my parents’ record cabinet I went looking for more gems. I found the Best of Cream on compact cassette, with a jug of the white stuff on the cover some imaginative designer had been overpaid for. Asking who they were, I was told they were one of the first rock supergroups. The term supergroup needed to be explained, but once understood it posed another question. If they are a supergroup who are Bruce and Baker?

A fairly naïve question by an uninformed teenager, it now seems, but I suppose there is a nugget of truth within this; commercially Bruce and Baker enjoyed nothing like the success they managed in Cream, while Clapton went on to mega-stardom. Listening to Cream I couldn’t understand why. While both Clapton and Baker were phenomenal, Bruce co-wrote most of their classic tracks and delivered them with a powerful and distinctive vocal I immediately admired. When, the following year, I joined my first band and was coerced into taking up bass guitar I became aware as his legendary status as a bass player.

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Learning to be a  singer, I had a go at sounding like Bruce, but never did. His jazz/blues improvisational style of bass has never suited any of the bands I have been in (even if I could play it) and I’ve never liked the sound he used on his bass, especially in his solo years, and have only reproduced it after a good serving of beans.  Should he still count as an influence then?  I would say so.  Even if you don’t try to copy what someone is doing, maybe the possibilities their music demonstrates has an impact somewhere in our musical lives.

I was lucky enough to see Bruce a couple of years ago when my wife bought me tickets to see him for my birthday. I was fairly sceptical. Too many people go to see their heroes just to be in the same room as them, regardless of how their ability to deliver the music they produced in their 20s and 30s is diminished. I’m so glad, this was not the case with Jack Bruce whose performance was outstanding and worthwhile in its own right, rather than as exercise in nostalgia.

I’ll leave the analysis of Bruce’s impact on music to professional journalists and just give a few moments in my own musical life where Bruce’s influence has been felt.

1. Spending hours in my bedroom trying to play along with Bruce’s bass in the solo of Cream’s Crossroads and deciding that maybe I should adopt a more simple style of playing.

2. Age 17 at my first ever gig and terrified with stage fright and I started Badge with Bruce’s bass introduction. It’s not a complicated piece and one which I could play easily. For some reason, my hands were going to the wrong notes. I stopped and tried again, and then stopped and tried again. The audience laughed at me, and my stage fright went away for good. I completed the riff and I enjoyed the rest of the gig. I doubt the audience could say the same.

3. A couple of years later my first attempt at lead vocals on Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love, to give the hoarse singer in my band a bit of a break, gave me the confidence to think I could be a singer. I doubt the audience had the same confidence.

So, back to the interview question, I would definitely describe Jack Bruce as an influence even if this is not particularly obvious listening to the music of Candi’s Dog.  And for the benefit of future interviews, I will make a list so I don’t miss anybody else out.

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