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LiveDaily Interview: Jack Bruce

by Don Zulaica
LiveDaily Contributing Writer,

It might not be a full-on Cream reunion, but two out of three ain't bad.

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Artist information:
Eric Clapton
Jack Bruce
Veteran bassist/singer/songwriter Jack Bruce reunited with Eric Clapton on the recently released album "Shadows In The Air" (Sanctuary), Bruce's first studio recording since 1995's "Monkjack." The two played on Afro-Caribbean and African-tinged versions of the Cream classics "Sunshine of Your Love" and "White Room."

Although best known for his central role in the legendary power trio, Bruce never rested on those laurels, as he has also become known (very justly) for his explorations in different musical directions. Among his notable post-Cream collaborators are Lou Reed on his 1973 album "Berlin," Frank Zappa on 1974's "Apostrophe," jazz guitarist Larry Coryell, Mountain guitarist Leslie West, funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell, Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer Billy Cobham and drumming legend Tony Williams. He's also been a part of several tours with Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band.

His collaborators on "Shadows" are equally impressive. Besides Clapton, Gary Moore and Living Colour's Vernon Reid also lend guitar, and Dr. John lays down swampy organ on "This Anger's a Liar."

The Glasgow-born bassist spoke with Don Zulaica about the album, recording with Aretha Franklin, and sexy instruments.

LiveDaily: Prior to the new album, when was the last time you played with Eric Clapton?

Jack Bruce: The last time we actually played together was The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction in '93 or '94. I actually remember playing a game of football without any goalposts with Eddie Van Halen. [laughs] I think he had emptied my minibar--I think it was two minibars--of mine.[laughs.] Well, that was a long time ago. We've all changed since then.

What did Eric think of the new versions of "Sunshine of Your Love" and "White Room?"

He loved the version of "Sunshine." It's a very similar feel to the original, really. He had more problems with "White Room," in feeling it, because there's no backbeat. I deliberately wanted to make it a very different feel--it's more African. To put a backbeat on there would have been the easy way out. I think originally he said, "Oh, I don't know if I can feel this." I said, "Yes you can. Come on." And he did. I think he plays great on those tracks.

How many instruments do you play?

I'm obviously most proficient on the bass. But I play all the piano on the album, with the exception of the tracks I allowed Dr. John [laughing] to play, and acoustic guitar. I was originally going to ask him to sing on the record, but then I thought there was one constant to all 15 tracks, and that's my voice and the two drummers. So rather than taking away from that focus, it would have been great to have had Dr. John sing, but I wanted to do it myself just to maintain that focus.

"This Anger's A Liar" is certainly appropriate for Dr. John, very New Orleans. Lyrically what were you and [co-producer] Kip Hanrahan going for?

It's to do with what's happening to me, what has been happening to me and to many guys who aren't kids anymore. It's a feeling of helplessness, really, in the face of modern life. It's kind of about the working man who hasn't got work, you know, "these fists deceive me, they feel like they can hold things, they really don't hold anything at all." They idea is that this is an engineer or somebody who is sitting and drinking a Bud, probably, because he's been made redundant.

I think it's true of what has been made of the people who come from my background. I come from a very heavy industry town, Glasgow. My father worked in factories there, and it was always expected by him that I would follow in his footsteps. Because he thought that was security, he thought that if you had your papers, if you served an apprenticeship, you had a job until retirement. And that very much is not the case, as we know these days.

So I would say that song is a combination of that feeling and the helplessness that guys have with women. [laughs] It sort of equates the worker and the lover, really.

How did you go about recording all of the musicians during the session?

As far as constructing the tracks, I just wanted to record in the tried and tested way that I learned in the '60s, which is to play live and then overdub anything you may need. I have a theory that the reason why the music from particularly the '60s is still alive is because it basically was recorded live. We all went in and had the same process, which was to go in and play a backing track, usually just bass, drums and guitar. With Cream, we would just go lay down a basic track--remember it was only 8-tracks--and then we'd have the opportunity to overdub maybe one or two guitars, and vocals. And that was how it was done. I think the reason why a lot of those songs are still sort-of alive is because we recorded in a live manner.

The reason why I tried to do it that way was, I was very influenced by watching Aretha Franklin record in Atlantic Studios in New York back in the '60s. I can't remember the name of the record now, but it was about '67, I guess. The way that she recorded was simply to go out and sing a vocal, play the piano, and have a bass player and a drummer play live. Then they overdubbed the horn parts. This seems like a very natural way to do it.

I've recorded in situations where I've laid down a drum part and overdubbed the bass, so on and so forth. Which is very possible to do, but I do think you lose something, you know. You lose that intangible quality, the notes that happen in the air, but you're not playing. This is some of the magic of making music, because things happen because of the overtones, and because of various factors in the recording studio. And also in live performance, where you sometimes hear these incredible notes that nobody is actually playing. Things like that, you don't get, especially if you're using digital instruments--which are really like photographs of sound. If you're playing a piano chord, you have all of the harmonic series happening, you know. A synthesizer, no matter how accurate, is still only a photograph of a sound because it doesn't have the resonance which causes the overtones which vibrate in humans' bodies. That's what turns us on. That's why people like the bass, because it's a very sexy instrument--it gets you right in the midriff.

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    LiveDaily Interview: Jack Bruce

    Originally published: 20-Jul-2001

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