Interview with Jack Bruce (Cream)

As bassist/vocalist in legendary Power Trio, Cream, Jack Bruce helped pioneer Hard Rock in the 60s and has influenced generations of Rock bands since. Mick Burgess chatted to Jack about his new solo album Silver Rails, his first in 10 years.

You’ve just released your latest album Silver Rails. Are you pleased to finally get your music out?

I’m really pleased with the reaction so far. People seem to like it so that’s good.

This is your first album of new material in 10 years since More Jack Than God. When did you start work on the follow up?

About a year ago the head of the record company, Mark Powell from Esoteric Records, just asked me if I fancied making a studio album and I hadn’t really thought about it up until that point but I thought it seemed like a good idea. So I started writing and the first one I started was “Drone”. One of my kids is really into a band called Ohm and he played me a couple of tracks and that really influenced me to write that song. I actually recorded the album twice. Once in my home studio where I’m sitting now. I recorded that with my son Malcolm who is a great guitar player and then I went to Abbey Road Studio and re-recorded it.

You’ve co-written most of the album with Pete Brown and a couple with Kip Hanrahan and Margit Seyffer. How do you work as a songwriter when collaborating? Do they provide the lyrics and you work your music into that?

I co-wrote most of the songs with Pete, we go back years together and he wrote the lyrics. The lyrics for “Reach For The Night” were just written on a flight back from Germany with Pete. He wrote the lyrics and he sent them over to me and I put them to music. With “Fields of Forever” and “Rusty Lady” we discussed the ideas for those before Pete wrote the lyrics. I wrote “Drone” by myself, “Candlelight” was written with my wife, Margit. She really came up with the goods on that one. Kip Hanrahan wrote the lyrics to “Hidden Cities”

You’ve worked with Pete as a lyricist going back to your days in Cream. Do you recall your first meeting?

I met Pete before I was in Cream. He was a beat poet and there was a thing he had called Poetry and Jazz and I was a little bit involved in that and that’s when we first met. It was actually Ginger’s suggestion to work with Pete. Me, Ginger, my first wife and Pete went back to my flat but Pete and Ginger didn’t come up with anything. Ginger started writing with my wife and I started working with Pete and we got this amazing rapport together and we’ve written so many songs together over the years.

You have covered so much ground musically over the years from Jazz, Blues, and Rock. Did you have a clear vision of what you wanted from Silver Rails before you started work or is this how it evolved over time?

I like to listen to a lot of different kinds of music and I wanted to bring that variety to my album. My solo albums have always had a little bit of Folk, Funk and heavier stuff and this is my 14th solo album so I wanted to make sure there was plenty of variety by drawing on all of my influences.

How many songs did you end up writing for the album?

All of the songs that I wrote ended up on the album except one that I didn’t quite finish in time as I had a time limit that I had to adhere to but that’ll go on the next album. I’m planning on going into the studio later in the year to start work on the next one. I had so much fun making this album and I want to do it all again as soon as possible.

On first listen two songs immediately jump out. “Reach for the Night” being the first. That seems to have a positive message about going through some hard times but coming out the other side full of hope. Is that the meaning in the song?

That’s the idea behind the song and the message we were trying to make but it’s also autobiographical and there’s a very positive outcome in that. The lyrics say just want I want them to and the music just slipped into place with those big descending chords.

“Drone” is the other. That has such an incredible fuzzy bass sound, how did you achieve that effect?

That’s created simply with my old Gibson EB1 which I’ve had for years. It has such a huge sound and I ran it through quite a small amp. I’ve got this box that a guy in Japan made for me, it hasn’t even got a name yet but it’s this amazing fuzz box thing. We re-amped it and ran it through different amps and built up the recordings from there to get that big sound.

You recorded the album in the legendary Abbey Road Studios. Why did you decide to record there?

I only had a limited budget to make the album, it’s a lot different to what it used to be. My daughter is a filmmaker and she was having a premiere for her school and I met Rob Cass the house producer at Abbey Road Studios there and he just suggested doing the recording at his studio. That sounded great to me and somehow we managed to do it on our budget.

Have you recorded there in the past?

The first time I recorded there was in 1965.

You recorded your first album with Cream, Fresh Cream, back in 1966. Technology has changed immeasurably since then. Is recording easier now than when you did that first record?

You’d be surprised at actually how little it has changed. Obviously you have more modern, digital equipment but the process itself is fairly similar. They even have the old machines lying about in the corridors. They are lovely and sometimes they still get used. It was a fabulous experience. Studio 2 is known as The Beatles Studio and that’s where I did most of my recording. Dark Side of the Moon was done there too so there’s a lot of history there.

You worked with Rob Cass as producer on this record. What did he bring to your music in the studio?

Rob Cass produced the album and he mixed it too. He just got me what I wanted and that’s what a good producer does. A good producer shouldn’t be obtrusive, they shouldn’t try to force their ideas on you. In fact a good producer may look like they aren’t really doing anything but gently guiding the whole recording process.

You produced a couple of your own albums Out of the Storm and Harmony Row back in the early ’70’s. Bearing in mind the experience that you have, did you consider self-producing?

I did originally think about producing it myself as I’d written all the music so it was just a matter of going in and recording it. It was good however to have the input of a producer into the album and also it was great to have Paul Pritchard who engineered the tracks and Piers Macintyre who did all the programming at Abbey Road studios as part of the team, those guys were all fantastic and contributed so much to the album.

You worked extensively with Felix Papalardi from Mountain as a producer when you were in Cream. How important was he in developing you as a recording artist?

He started producing Cream after our first record and he produced my first solo album too, Songs For A Tailor. He was very important, especially on my solo album, for the encouragement I got from him. With Cream, Ginger came up with unfinished songs so Felix and myself would work them up and finish them and he was so good at doing that.

Moving back to your current album, you have worked with an impressive array of guests including Uli Jon Roth. Did you first come across Uli on the Legends of Rock tour you did with Uli, Frank Marino and Glenn Hughes back in the early 2000’s?

That’s right, it was. I had certain guitarists clearly in mind when I was writing the songs and Uli was who I wanted for “Hidden Cities” and Phil Manzanera on “Candlelight”. We’d gone to Cuba and played that type of Caribbean music so I thought Phil was perfect for that. I was very lucky to get players like Uli and Robin Trower on “Rusty Lady” as well as my son Malcolm who plays on “Don’t Look Now”. We also had the great Bernie Marsden on a couple of tracks too.

Another of the guests on your album is Cindy Blackman Santana. She is an incredible drummer and spent a long time in Lenny Kravitz’s band. As a bassist, what do you look for in a drummer?

I have a band with Cindy and also guitarist Vernon Reid from Living Color and John Medeski called Spectrum Road. She is such an amazing drummer, We have played together over in Japan and The States. I love playing with her and really wanted her on the album. She has that feel and swing that’s essential for a drummer. If a drummer doesn’t have that then it just doesn’t work for me but Cindy really has that feel. She has those roots going back to the Blues and Jazz that I think is so important to me.

Talking of drummers. The first time I came across you was as a guest on Cozy Powell’s Over The Top album from 1979. What was Cozy like to play with?

He was a great drummer to play with. He was very loud. I had a lot of time for Cozy, he was a lovely guy.

Gary Moore and Bernie Marsden also appeared on that record. Bernie appears on your new album and you played with Gary in BBM in 1994. Was the recording sessions for Cozy’s album where you first met Bernie and Gary?

That was the first time I’d met with Gary and that led me to playing with Gary a lot later on. I’d known Bernie before then and had worked on his solo album around the same time as Cozy’s.

Talking of the BBM record. Do you think you said everything you needed to say on that record or do you feel that there was unfinished business with that band?

I think what happened there was because Ginger was in the band and people were going “where’s Eric?” The press were saying Gary Moore was no Eric Clapton but Gary Moore was Gary Moore. It’s a shame we didn’t carry on. The album was successful and was in the charts and we were doing big gigs all over Europe. I think it would have carried on if it hadn’t been for the press. They have a lot more power than you realise. They can really damage bands.

There’s a lot of guests on your album. Did you get to work with them all in the studio or did some of them have to send their parts over the internet?

I didn’t do any of that. Everybody on the album came into the studio. You really can’t get that feel unless you’re playing together so it was important for me to have everybody working with me in the studio. It’s a shame that we didn’t carry on and do another record as I thought that was a very good band.

Was there anyone who you particularly wanted on your album that just couldn’t make it?

Not really. I got exactly who I wanted. I didn’t want to ask Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck, those superstar guitar players, I didn’t want to do that. I wanted it to be my record.

How long did the whole recording process take?

Altogether the recording and mixing process took three weeks. I don’t hang around when I’m in the studio doing a hundred takes. I like to get in and get it done quickly. I did do one album in about seven months and that was just ridiculous.

Your album comes in a few formats including a deluxe double CD version. What have you included on the bonus disc?

It’s a “making of” DVD directed by my daughter Carla. There’s interviews and some playing. It goes well with the CD.

You were due out on the road to support the release but you had to postpone. What happened there?

I got a really bad dose of the flu and my doctor told me that I couldn’t go on tour. The dates will be rescheduled though so I’ll be out on tour again soon maybe in the summer and I’m very much looking forward to that. I’m hoping to add more dates actually as the original tour was only a handful of dates so hopefully I’ll be playing more places when we do go out on the road.

You’ve had quite a traumatic time with your health in recent years and you needed a liver transplant. How has overcoming that adversity changed your outlook on life?

It definitely changes your whole attitude to life when you have something that’s life threatening. It could have gone either way with me and I was very lucky to survive. Every day I am really grateful to be alive especially when it’s such a beautiful day as it is today. Sometimes I can’t believe that I’m still here. We should all really feel like that as I think sometimes we take life for granted. You should be grateful for every day.

Walter Trout, the Blues guitarist, is currently seriously ill with liver failure. Is there anything that you could say to him to give him hope through these difficult times?

I’ve heard that he’s very ill. I don’t know him personally but I’ve sent him a message to say I hope he gets well soon and if he wants a chat or if there’s anything I can do for him, I’m here.

As a member of Cream you have influenced so many bands and have been credited with being one of the first if not THE first heavy Rock band. Did you realise when you first started the band that you were creating something so new and fresh?

I think we all realised that we were doing something new. I think that was a conscious decision to do something new. Each member of the band had a different idea of what they wanted the band to be but I’m so grateful to have written those songs that are still being listened to today.

What did you make of the bands that followed you?

There have been some great bands and some not so great bands, that’s usually the way. Quite often the pioneers get overlooked. With Cream, we weren’t together that long but we seem to have stood the test of time. I’m very pleased with the way it went for us. We seemed to have a big influence on a lot of stuff that came after us.

As a band you were only together for 3 brief years and four albums. What was it between you, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton that has lasted the test of time? What was the spark that was so magical between you?

We had this chemistry between us and it wasn’t always that comfortable. I think that’s the same with a lot of great bands, they often have a lot of problems too but we had something really special together.

How did you feel when you played together with Ginger and Eric at The Albert Hall and then Madison Square Gardens in 2005 almost 4 decades later?

It was a very emotional experience and the feeling of love that came from the audience was overwhelming. You can’t knock that.

Did that give you closure for Cream or maybe did you leave the door open to work together in some capacity in the future?

If the others ever wanted to play together again I’m up for it. They are great musicians and we could always pick up from where we left off. Whether it’ll ever happen that’s a different matter. I’ve certainly not closed the door on that. We were three guys who loved to play together and if there’s a chance then I would love to play together again.

It took 10 years to release your new album. Do you hope to get one out fairly soon or will you just wait and see?

I hope to go into the studio towards the end of this year and hopefully get it out early next year.

What about the rest of 2014. What have you got planned for the coming months?

I’m going to get my health back and go to my place in the sun for a while and write some songs and then hopefully do some festivals and out on tour then back into the studio towards the end of the year to start recording my new record.

Jack Bruce’s new solo album Silver Rails is out now on Esoteric Records.

For more on Jack Bruce visit


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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