It's tough to imagine how a bassist like Jack Bruce could possibly be underrated but while with Cream he was just that. It's tough to share a spotlight with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker but Bruce managed to get kudos nonetheless as an essential member of the original "power trio." It helped that he was the primary vocalist but his ability on four strings are worth considering as well. The funky edge to the blues that the band often displayed is largely thanks to Bruce.
In memory of the performer, who passed away at the age of 71 over the weekend, check out five great bass tracks from throughout his career.
Although these cuts are excellent, it's important to remember that much of Bruce's ability is best showcased in the live Cream show, changing his sound on a nightly basis to match the mood of the group, which helped make the trio one of the best live acts of its generation.
"Outside Woman Blues" (1967)
This track from classic album Disraeli Gears establishes Bruce's role in diversifying Cream's approach to the blues. Clapton's "riffing" is virtually one chord repeated, with some noodling flair in between. The true vibe of the song comes from the ever-evident drumming of Baker and Bruce's bass. He's far from echoing the riff of his guitarist, an unfortunate trend in many rock bands, instead providing a much fatter and funkier line.
"White Room" (1968)
Yes, we all love the Les Claypools of the world but ultimately some bassists need to be recognized for their more simple roles. Trust us, we'll get back to Bruce's more atypical roles but the classic track "White Room" from Wheels of Fire demonstrates that even a member of the virtuosic Cream could sit back for the good of the team. "White Room" is clearly Clapton's vehicle to shine in and Bruce is more than content to provide a simple, bouncy riff for Clapton to solo on top of. Plus Bruce gets to sing after all. He's not being forgotten.
Cream was far from the most political of bands around in the late '60s and few would argue that Bruce's songwriting with Arthur Brown on this track was the smoothest. Making the title politicians seem slimy and repulsive is much tougher from an instrumental perspective however and yet Bruce is even more successful on that front. His riff dominates the song, with a dark tone that scuttles along, giving the audio image of a spider. If this song didn't have lyrics, we'd still get what he was trying to say.
"A Letter of Thanks" (1971)
Cream had called it quits by the end of 1968 but a good bassist is always in demand. And when you're as good as Bruce, you can even take your act solo. "A Letter of Thanks" is one of the shorter tracks on Harmony, one of Bruce's longer solo albums, but he manages to cram every thought in the book/his brain into the track. He's at the microphone as he was in Cream but he didn't need to hide behind Chris Spedding's guitar playing as he might have Clapton's (that's why Spedding is one of the more renowned session guitarists in history) so Bruce goes off the wall with his plucking.
Bruce was high profile enough that he was never a session musician (no offense to session guys) but he was still high in demand. Frank Zappa asked him to make an appearance on the instrumental jam of the same title as his 1974 album Apostrophe ('). There's a rumor that Bruce's contribution to the track was actually a huge inside joke and that he had only added an awkward cello note at the introduction (Bruce does play the instrument). Listen to the album however and you can tell it's the great bassist in the recording studio. His style was so unique in fact that even Zappa, perhaps the most off-the-wall jammer of all time found it off-putting. "I found it very difficult to play with him," Zappa said. "He's too busy. He doesn't really want to play the bass in terms of root functions...I think he has other things on his mind."