An Interview with Jack Bruce: 8 September 2003

Jack Bruce 2003

Jack Bruce is a renowned musician throughout the world. He is probably best known as one third of the British rock band Cream alongside Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. Since Cream split in late 1968 Jack has produced and recorded a number of solo albums and also worked with many different musicians in many musical genres. In September 2003 Jack released his second album for the Sanctuary label – More Jack than God. Jon Kirkman spoke to Jack at his home in Southern England about the album and his future plans.

Jon Kirkman               The new album is called More Jack than God, which is a great title for an album. Tell me how you arrived at the title.

Jack Bruce                  Well, it’s a very mundane answer I’m afraid, nothing to do with Eric Clapton or born again religions or anything like that. The third track on the album is called Kelly’s Blues and I’m playing acoustic guitar on it and a friend of mine Godfrey Townsend is also playing acoustic guitar so when it came to the mix the engineer said, “Do you want more Jack than God?” (Laughs) So that’s the title thank you very much.

JK                               There are of couse going to be a few people who will think it is some sort of reference to Eric Clapton I guess. 

JB                                Well yeah! But why should it be?

JK                                I suppose it’s because of the connection you had with Eric in the past.

JB                                I know but that’s a long time ago. I know he played on the last record but I don’t wake up in the middle of the night thinking of Eric Clapton.

JK                                I’m glad to hear it (laughs)

JB                                It’s quite a funny thing though. Do you know a magazine called the National Enquirer? In the current issue, somebody drew it to my attention, there’s a picture of me, like a very young picture of me, and there’s a picture of Eric Clapton now and a picture of me then, and it says this is how Eric Clapton has aged. (Laughs) It’s a bit shocking – before and after.

JK                                It’s great that you can look at things like that and laugh.

JB                                Well, you’ve got to laugh haven’t you really.

JK                                Well getting back to the album, you’ve mentioned Kelly’s Blues which is a stand out track on the album but it tackles quite a serious subject doesn’t it and also a very sad one as well?

JB                                It is very sad. You know you read something in the paper or whatever and it really gets to you. We all do that and it just affected me and at the time I thought, “God! What a tragedy, really.”

JK                                I suppose as a parent you could possibly empathise.

JB                                Well also because round about the same time I lost my own son. It was the same year and it’s the whole thing of the tragic loss of a young life and it was so unnecessary in her case and it just really got to me and I actually started writing it that year, or actually it was a year later because after my son died I didn’t touch any musical instrument for a year at least. Then we kind of worked on it over the years. Between now and then and I just felt it was ready and it was a long enough period gone by. I obviously didn’t want to hurt anybody you know. It was done out of a genuine memorial or tribute whatever you want to call it.

JK                                I think with something like that there is a very fine line to be walked isn’t there?

JB                                Yeah! I wouldn’t have written a pop song or something. It doesn’t matter; people have different ways of doing it. Bob Dylan has written things in his career about tragedies and so on so yeah! It was something I wanted to do and I finally managed to do it and it’s done with respect.

JK                                Listening to the album I can see a lot of it turning up in the live set. How much of the album would you like to see in the live set yourself?

JB                                I think we could do all of it really. There’s not anything we couldn’t do there.

JK                                It’s obviously important for an artist to go out and promote the new album. Audiences want to hear certain tracks from your past, which is understandable.

JB                                Well I’m not actually planning to go out on tour until next year anyway. I’ve been having a year off and enjoying it. So even though I’m not planning on going out immediately I know a lot of those songs will show up at some point.

JK                                That’s good and it obviously bodes well for the future because I know as an artist you have to keep going and moving forward. You can’t just relax and live on the past.

JB                                Exactly! This is the second of three records that I’ve been planning to do and I’m still on course with that and I’ve done the third one, which I want to do in Cuba and then who knows? I might move in other directions. But I just feel I wanted to give this time to develop and I think the second record compared to the first one, although I like the first one a lot, it had a spontaneous thing about it; this one is kind of more homogenous.

JK                                I felt that the last album was a very nice introduction and for many people a re-introduction of your talents. But this album goes a lot deeper. Would you agree with that?

JB                                Yeah! Definitely! You know simply because it’s not a band record. I’m working with some of the band on the record but I couldn’t really call a band record because it would knock things off course. So it isn’t really a band record but the band are all there you know but having the touring band there, having played a lot together obviously it helps.

JK                                Well it makes things incredibly tight and with working together extensively I guess you guys must work very intuitively as well.

JB                                Oh yeah! The way that for instance that the first track (So They Invented Race) came together the way that I do things. I do a track here in my little studio then I’ll take that to New York and just play it to the guys and they go immediately “Oh yeah.”

JK                                Which must be good for you?

JB                                Yeah, it’s great because they respect my approach to rhythm, which is good. So we keep the original track. It’s there but they’re playing with it.

JK                                In terms of the right record label for you Sanctuary would seem to be absolutely bang on and the right company for you to be with at this moment.

JB                                Yeah, that was very lucky and something I’m very grateful to Gary Moore for. It was him who introduced me to the company and if that hadn’t happened it would have been much more difficult. I was talking to an American company, a good company and everything but it’s much better having them in London. They are a great company, the last of the great ‘hands on’ companies.

JK                                They strike me as the sort of company that signs artist and then says, “We know what you do and believe in what you do, so go and do it and when you’ve done it, we’ll go and do the business that we’re meant to do.”

JB                                That’s right.

JK                                I also think that over the last twenty years the tail has come to wag the dog in respect of the music industry.

JB                                Well all the big companies are really panicked by the internet thing and all that, and sales went down, although sales have gone up again in this country a bit and also the big companies, because they’re so big, they need big sales really so they’re not really interested. There’s a huge amount of artists, like the vast majority who aren’t selling millions – not that anyone is selling millions any more (laughs). But the kind of people like me, round about my sales potential – those companies aren’t interested in.

JK                                I think Sanctuary have targeted artists who have a genuine track record and who still retain a good audience and also have credibility.

JB                                They’ve got a tremendous amount of interesting acts now.

JK                                It also strikes me that Sanctuary has that one thing many others haven’t got and that is integrity.

JB                                Yeah, they have that and obviously you always get worried when something gets that successful. But obviously some of the big companies maybe in slightly better times would want to gobble it up. So far that hasn’t happened and I don’t think it’s really liable to happen now because they’ve got a bit too successful.

JK                                Getting back to the album, once again it’s been produced by yourself and Kip Hanrahan, I guess this must be a very good working relationship you have with Kip.

JB                                Well it goes back. I’ve worked with Kip seventeen, probably twenty years almost and I can’t imagine doing this kind of record without Kip’s input.

JK                                Going back to the work you did with Cream, you worked with Felix Pappalardi and Tom Dowd and they were very respected although there was a time in the seventies when the emphasis was on the artist rather than the productions. However it seems to have swung around again and the production is equally as important as the artist.

JB                                Well with me and all the solo records I did I never really had a producer. I suppose on Jet Set Jewel I had Dennis McKay but I always like to produce my own records because I knew exactly what I wanted because I had written all the songs and I knew what I wanted out of them, you know. But with Kip it’s just a great relationship with him. He comes up with ideas for rhythms or whatever but I’ve still got the power of veto (laughs). I’m not going with some big time producer who takes over completely and I’m just a sideman. I wouldn’t fancy that really.

JK                                One of my favourite tracks on the album is Written in Blues on her Skin and it’s a very stripped down affair with just drums and piano and sounds very late night with dare I say it a certain amount of sleaze in there.

JB                                Well it’s just something I came up with on the piano in the studio really and we just thought that might be a laugh and I thought I’d almost like to do it like in a strip club because when I started out (laughs) I worked behind strippers a lot.

JK                                I’m sure many musicians started out like that.

JB                                Yeah, when I was about seventeen and starting out in Italy it was like that so I just wanted to get that thing, and quite often you get the situation ok, if the bass players gone out for a cigarette you’ve just got the piano player and the drummer bashing away so it was a nod to that really.

JK                                Obviously many people know you as an excellent bassist but your piano playing is pretty incredible too. Do you prefer the piano or bass or the guitar?

JB                                Well I like everything but my first love has always been piano because when I started out there was a piano in my house and it was there so I just started tinkling on it really so it’s always been my first love. The bass is just such a natural thing to me now. I just sort of do it without thinking. It’s like an extension of myself. Piano is more of a challenge and I just find it very rewarding and enjoy it. It’s what I do at home.

JK                                Do you actually write on the piano or do you write on guitar?

JB                                It depends. Usually I get ideas because I play the piano a lot you know, just improvise on my nice Yamaha piano and I get ideas that way, but usually I just work the ideas out in my head, just think about them. But sometime you get an idea on acoustic guitar like Kelly’s Blues is a guitar type song so it depends really on what the song is you know.

JK                                There are three re-interpretations of Cream songs on the album including a track called We’re going Wrong or as someone said, “Can you play that song I’m Going Mad”. What’s the story behind that?

JB                                It was in my local pub and he was just a young guy, nineteen or whatever and he just came up to me and asked for that song. So it struck me if he liked that perhaps I should re-do it. So I thought of doing it live with the band on one of the gigs and so we did those three tracks (We’re Going Wrong, I Feel Free, Politician) in England and played them live you know; Live vocals, everything, just done as a live recording and it gave me a hint as to what the rest of the record should be like. It was like a starting point.

JK                                I personally love Politician and it’s sometimes difficult to re-interpret a song that is so well known but I think you have come close to bettering the original.

JB                                Well I like that version. Whether it’s better or not I don’t know. I hadn’t planned to have it on the record but the drummers, it’s one of their favourites for live and they said, “Oh we’ve got to do that”. So I had to agree (Laughs). I feel free I did because lots of people have done it like from David Bowie to Belinda Carlisle.

JK                                And used in commercials.

JB Yes, it’s been used quite a lot. I just wanted to do it myself because when we did the original recording it was done on four track and we were not experienced at all in the studio. So the end product, although it was good in its own way, it didn’t have all the inner harmonies. It wasn’t possible to do it so I really wanted to get that so you could actually hear what the song was in my opinion (laughs) so that version is, in my opinion, more how I originally saw it than the Cream version.

JK                                There’s a third album to come as part of the deal with Sanctuary. When will you start thinking about that?

JB                                Well I’ve already got some ideas and actually got some recording for that album. I would think that a nice time to do that would be to go to Cuba, say a year in February (laughs) when it’s miserable weather here.

JK                                You are still very active in a touring capacity and obviously in a recording capacity. How do you view yourself within the business these days?

JB                                Well I just think there has always been people like myself. I would say I relate more to the jazz touring musicians that I grew up as a kid always respecting. I’m not comparing myself musically but the people I admired were not the people who would just think I’ve done enough I think I’ll retire now. People like Duke Ellington you know, that was his life and I consider that very much a part of my life too. So I do think of myself in that way as hopefully someone who will go on as long as there’s an audience and as long as I can without striving to have huge hit records because I think in a way if I’d had hit singles or something like that years ago it would have been difficult for me to carry on the way I have. The fact that it’s been a regular thing as opposed to a big burst of things and then trying to recreate that kind of success. I deliberately did it this way so that I would have this fairly low key but successful in its own way career.

JK                                Neil Young said once that after Heart of Gold he was right in the middle of the road commercially so he veered off that road and said it was a more interesting journey.

JB                                Well I think that’s the same as me. After Cream I decided, and it was a deliberate decision, not to continue down that road and when Eric and Ginger were playing at Madison Square Garden with Blind Faith I was playing in a club called Slugs in the East Village which is no longer there. But that was a great experiential jazz club.

JK                                I think doing that though gives you ultimately more control over what you want to do.

JB                                Well it’ just kept me more down to earth really although I’ve equally had my moments of not being, (Down to earth) it would have been much worse if I had have joined Led Zeppelin I suppose. (Laughs)

JK                                Good luck with the album and thanks for talking to me today.

JB                                Thanks Jon.

Jon Kirkman Rockahead September 2003.

More Jack Than God

Feature: An In Depth Look at More Jack Than God