Top positive review
Superb authorized biography of the great bassist, singer, and composer
Reviewed in the United States on February 5, 2021
I have been belatedly discovering Jack Bruce's post-Cream music over the last few years. This excellent biography really adds to my understanding and appreciation of a musician who is now one of my favorites. Shapiro had the full cooperation of Bruce, and also interviewed many of Bruce's musical collaborators, family, and friends. Eric Clapton contributes a warm, admiring preface.
Jack Bruce (1943-2014) was raised in a working class Glasgow family. His parents, Charlie and Betty, were dedicated members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. While this class and political orientation stayed with Bruce for life, what may surprise some is that it also started him on his musical path. His family was musical -- Charlie played piano and Betty sang, including with the Glasgow Socialist Choristers. What's more, there was a strong musical culture in the communist working class, with music a main feature of constant community gatherings.
Bruce attended the Bellahouston Academy, where he studied music, and then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, where his music studies continued. He was trained in classical music, but he discovered jazz, and by age 16 he was playing double bass with bands all over town. Before long he was making more money than his father.
While exploding into the American consciousness with Cream, in Britain Bruce was already well known for playing in a number of popular bands before 1966. These included Alexis Korner's Blues Inc, the Graham Bond Organization, John Mayall's Buesbreakers, and Manfred Mann. He played extensively with Ginger Baker, and played with Eric Clapton in the Bluesbreakers. He married his first wife, Janet Godfrey, in 1964, and they had two sons.
Of course Cream is covered in depth, including its formation and breakup. Interestingly, Ginger is the one notable person not interviewed for the book. Bruce and Baker had a notoriously volatile relationship, and that was the main reason Cream only lasted from 1966 to 1968. Bruce found a songwriting partner, Pete Brown, and most of the Cream songs that were not blues covers were Bruce/Brown compositions, including their biggest hit, "Sunshine of Your Love." Their songwriting collaboration lasted until the end.
Bruce had a very successful musical career, playing with many world-class colleagues, but he had many problems with the industry, and of course he and Ginger both failed to become superstars equal to Clapton after Cream. The book illuminates his journey from the early solo records "Songs for a Tailor" and "Harmony Row," to bassist for Tony Williams Lifetime, to West, Bruce & Laing, to the Jack Bruce Band with Mick Taylor, to BLT with Robin Trower, to the Jack Bruce Band with Billy Cobham and Clem Clemson, to bassist for John McLaughlin's band, to vocalist and bassist for Kip Hanrahan's band, to the major label album "A Question of TIme," to BBM with Ginger and Gary Moore, to the 2005 Cream reunion, which is where the book ends.
Bruce was addicted to heroin off-and-on from the WBL tour until the mid-Eighties, and drank heavily throughout his life. He had a liver transplant in 2003, and died of liver disease. His second wife Margrit, from Germany, was instrumental in his kicking the heroin habit. They had three children, two daughters and a son.
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This biography is invaluable to any fan of Jack Bruce. Included are a complete discography through 2009, and astonishlngly, a complete list of live performances (1965-2009), both compiled by Bob Elliott. Bruce was fortunate to have such a sympathetic and dedicated writer as Harry Shapiro tackle the project of his life.