In the early 1960′s , as popular music underwent its huge catharsis, it was not just the kids in the front rooms with their cheap guitars that would make it a force to be reckoned with. A lot of Jazz musos were crossing over, experimenting with the singles and album market that was growing almost daily. One such jazz player was a certain Jack Bruce. A jazz bassist in his teens, Bruce was playing for Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated by 1962, though on double bass. It was here he met Ginger Baker, and they went on to play with The Graham Bond Organisation, where Bruce finally succumbed to the lure of the Electric Bass. However the legendary hostility between him and Ginger soon brought proceedings to a close, and he joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, where he first played with Eric Clapton. After a stint with Manfred Mann, playing on several hits, he made his career-defining move, forming the ultimate power trio with Baker and Clapton; Cream. It was in the two short years between 66 and 68 that Bruce cemented his reputation as one of the greatest and most influential bassist/vocalists of all-time, his Gibson EB-3 bass becoming almost iconic. His fluid bass lines, almost solos in their own right, and rich, timbred vocals, singing the fantastical lyrics of Pete Brown, ensure that he’s still worshiped to this day.
His fondness for the Power trio never waned, and he experimented with it in several line-ups, including West, Bruce and Laing, (featuring ex-Mountain men Corky Laing and Leslie West) and BBM (Bruce, Baker and Moore, featuring the Irish guitar legend).
Following an almost fatal liver transplant, he returned triumphantly to the stage with Cream for the Albert Hall reunion concerts in 2005.
Recommended: Sunshine of Your Love – an iconic riff, a great vocal. I Feel Free – Classic Bruce!
West, Bruce and Laing: Why Dontcha? – A forgotten classic
And a note from Newm: It is certainly worth mentioning that our good friends at Esoteric Recordings in England have just released an amazing career-spanning Jack Bruce box set called Can You Follow, and having heard it, it’s absolutely brilliant. It’s got stuff that he’s done with Alexis Korner, Graham Bond, Cream, West Bruce & Laing, solo, Eric Clapton & The Powerhouse, Zappa, Manfred Mann, and more.
A Big thank you to Newms for inviting me to post my series on bassist/vocalists. I’m going for a roughly chronological theme here..by “roughly” I mean that if I get to the mid-80′s and suddenly think of a guy from ’72, i’ll just stick it in. Who else to start with but the Daddy:
When it comes to the bass guitar, there are two people whose importance cannot be overstated: Leo Fender, who pretty much got everything right with his first attempt when he invented the Precision Bass, and Paul McCartney, who elevated it to an art form, and almost single-handedly saw to it that it was recognised as a serious instrument in its own right.
McCartney wasn’t satisfied with simply underpinning the song, he wove wonderful countermelodies between the chords, demanding the listener’s ear. Take the bassline to “With a little help from my Friends” – taken alone, it is a wonderful melody, never resting on the root notes, but moving around with a great fluidity. But what also elevated McCartney into a very select group was the fact that he was a lead vocalist, and probably the first of his kind that doubled on bass. Traditionally, its a lot easier to strum along on rhythm, or intersperse your vocal with lead breaks, than to play lines that cut directly across what you’re singing. McCartney did this to perfection, unwittingly laying the blueprint for the role of the bassist/vocalist in the glut of power trios that would follow in the Beatles’ wake. This series aims to highlight the bassists who’ve taken on the mantle of singer – interestingly, in almost every case – to great success.
Suggested McCartney basslines to listen to: With a little help from my Friends; Penny Lane; Come together. Suggested McCartney vocals: Got to get you into my life; I’m Down