An Interview with Jack Bruce: 8 September 2003
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, its a very mundane answer Im afraid, nothing to do with Eric Clapton or born again religions or anything like that. The third track on the album is called Kellys Blues and Im 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 thats 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 its because of the connection you had with Eric in the past.
JB I know but thats a long time ago. I know he played on the last record but I dont wake up in the middle of the night thinking of Eric Clapton.
JK Im glad to hear it (laughs)
JB Its quite a funny thing though. Do you know a magazine called the National Enquirer? In the current issue, somebody drew it to my attention, theres a picture of me, like a very young picture of me, and theres a picture of Eric Clapton now and a picture of me then, and it says this is how Eric Clapton has aged. (Laughs) Its a bit shocking before and after.
JK Its great that you can look at things like that and laugh.
JB Well, youve got to laugh havent you really.
JK Well getting back to the album, youve mentioned Kellys Blues which is a stand out track on the album but it tackles quite a serious subject doesnt 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 its 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 didnt 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 didnt 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 isnt there?
JB Yeah! I wouldnt have written a pop song or something. It doesnt 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 its 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. Theres not anything we couldnt do there.
JK Its 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 Im not actually planning to go out on tour until next year anyway. Ive been having a year off and enjoying it. So even though Im not planning on going out immediately I know a lot of those songs will show up at some point.
JK Thats good and it obviously bodes well for the future because I know as an artist you have to keep going and moving forward. You cant just relax and live on the past.
JB Exactly! This is the second of three records that Ive been planning to do and Im still on course with that and Ive 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 its not a band record. Im working with some of the band on the record but I couldnt really call a band record because it would knock things off course. So it isnt 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 Ill 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, its great because they respect my approach to rhythm, which is good. So we keep the original track. Its there but theyre 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 Im very grateful to Gary Moore for. It was him who introduced me to the company and if that hadnt happened it would have been much more difficult. I was talking to an American company, a good company and everything but its 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 youve done it, well go and do the business that were meant to do.
JB Thats 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 theyre so big, they need big sales really so theyre not really interested. Theres a huge amount of artists, like the vast majority who arent 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 arent 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 Theyve got a tremendous amount of interesting acts now.
JK It also strikes me that Sanctuary has that one thing many others havent 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 hasnt happened and I dont think its really liable to happen now because theyve got a bit too successful.
JK Getting back to the album, once again its 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. Ive worked with Kip seventeen, probably twenty years almost and I cant imagine doing this kind of record without Kips 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 its just a great relationship with him. He comes up with ideas for rhythms or whatever but Ive still got the power of veto (laughs). Im not going with some big time producer who takes over completely and Im just a sideman. I wouldnt fancy that really.
JK One of my favourite tracks on the album is Written in Blues on her Skin and its 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 its 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 Id almost like to do it like in a strip club because when I started out (laughs) I worked behind strippers a lot.
JK Im 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 youve 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 its always been my first love. The bass is just such a natural thing to me now. I just sort of do it without thinking. Its like an extension of myself. Piano is more of a challenge and I just find it very rewarding and enjoy it. Its 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 Kellys 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 Were going Wrong or as someone said, Can you play that song Im Going Mad. Whats 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 (Were 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 its 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 its better or not I dont know. I hadnt planned to have it on the record but the drummers, its one of their favourites for live and they said, Oh weve 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.
JK Theres a third album to come as part of the deal with Sanctuary. When will you start thinking about that?
JB Well Ive 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 its 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. Im not comparing myself musically but the people I admired were not the people who would just think Ive done enough I think Ill 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 theres an audience and as long as I can without striving to have huge hit records because I think in a way if Id 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 its 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 thats 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 Ive 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.