Saturday, November 15, 2014

All About That (Jack) Bruce: What It Is

In 1981, I received a copy of the Robin Trower album “B.L.T.” – so named for the collaboration of Jack Bruce, Bill Lordan, and of course Trower. This power trio enlisted the Hendixian leads of guitarist Robin Trower that audiences worldwide learned to love with his post Procol Harum solo albums. In this incarnation of his musical genius, Trower was joined by Jack Bruce on bass, keyboards, and vocals and former Sly and the Family Stone drummer, Bill Lordan.

Although Bruce’s and Lordan’s names appeared on the album cover, it was not considered a B.L.T. album – it was another Robin Trower solo, as he had the contract with Chrysalis Records. Therefore, Trower’s name appeared with the largest type and his name only appeared on the spine, the label, and on the label of the single releases. On the single’s picture sleeve, all participates were credited.

Be that as it may, Jack Bruce played an important role on this record, as it is his vocals that are heard on every cut. I don’t hear it now when I listen to B.L.T., but in 1981 I drew comparisons with Bruce’s work in Cream. Now that I listen to it in 2014, it sounds more like a Robin Trower album only with Jack Bruce singing instead of James Dewar who sang and played bass on Trower’s previous, but equally good projects.

Like the Graham Bond Organization, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse, Cream, and West, Bruce & Laing; B.L.T. was yet another super group to which Bruce was drawn. Like Cream and West, Bruce & Laing; B.L.T. was another power trio.  As always, Jack Bruce rose to the occasion.

Our chosen cut, “What It Is,” was released as a single in the US and elsewhere. In the UK, a special limited edition version of the single was released in clear vinyl. The song, like many of the cuts, was co-written by Trower and Procol Harum’s lyricist, Keith Reid.

If you look closely at the single’s picture sleeve and the album cover, it appears that the bacon in the BLT (bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich) is raw. I like my bacon like my music – cooking and crunchy – much like you find on this album.

Friday, November 14, 2014

All About That (Jack) Bruce: Why Dontcha

During the midst of his solo career, Jack Bruce joined yet another super group: West, Bruce & Laing. This power trio consisted of two parts Mountain and one part Cream. The impetus for the forming WB&L was the dissolution of Mountain due to bassist Felix Pappalardi’s heroin addiction. Wanting to continue the momentum started with Mountain, former members Leslie West (guitar) and Corky Laing (drums) enlisted the perfect replacement for Pappalardi – his old musical partner, Jack Bruce.

The band lasted only a short time. Three albums were produced with their debut “Why Dontcha” having the most commercial success but little critical acclaim. The third release was a live album that was issued after the WB&L had disbanded. I was excited during my senior year of high school that yet another super group related to Cream had been created. I really thought this band was going places. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Bruce is credited with playing a plethora of instruments on the album including bass, keyboards, harmonica, and other sundry items. On today’s cut, Bruce only supplies the bass. The band’s first single, “The Doctor,” which I’ve already featured in the past, was the only cut to receive a modicum of album rock airplay. The title cut, “Why Dontcha,” was released as the second single, but floundered.

The interesting thing about the “Why Dontcha” single is that its flipside did not include a West, Bruce & Laing cut – it was Mountain’s hit, “Mississippi Queen.” While smaller labels normally paired different artists on one single and even the majors paired different artists on oldies releases, it was highly unusual for Columbia (CBS) to issue two different, albeit related, artists on one disc.

Perhaps by reissuing Mountain’s biggest hit (which originally appeared on the CBS distributed Windfall label), it might generate additional interest in West, Bruce & Laing. If that were the case, it didn’t work. The album featured the power trio engulfed in waves and features Jack Bruce playing his cherry red Gibson EB-0 bass. It appears that West has a Gibson Les Paul Jr. TV Special in this photo.

When West, Bruce & Laing were reformed in 2009, Jack’s son Malcolm took his father’s place as bassist and the group was appropriately called West, Bruce, Jr. & Laing.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

All About That (Jack) Bruce: Theme For An Imaginary Western

It was his best known song . . . it was his least known song. If you’re considering compositions that Jack Bruce co-wrote during his solo period, “Theme for an Imaginary Western” was one of his better known compositions, as it was recorded by a handful of other artists. It was even performed by Mountain at Woodstock in 1969. The song was brought to the band by bassist Felix Pappalardi who produced Bruce’s debut solo album “Songs for a Tailor.”

It was his least known song, as his compositions that were recorded by Cream eclipsed anything else he had written or recorded. The Cream years were his most productive and generally the ones that people remember. Co-written by Pete Brown, Jack Bruce’s composition partner during his Cream days, “Theme for an Imaginary Western” has a lyrical content that is quite the departure from their earlier collaborations.

Brown admitted that he wrote the tune in tribute to two of Bruce’s musical collaborators, keyboardist Graham Bond and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith. The connection of these two alumni from The Graham Bond Organization to the lyrics of “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” however, is lost on me. Consider the song’s hook:

“Oh, the sun was in their eyes,

And the desert that's dries,

In this country town

Where the wagons’ bound.”

Heckstall-Smith’s band Colosseum later recorded the tune as did Colosseum alumnus Dave Greenslade with his band Greenslade.

Although 1969’s “Songs for a Tailor” was Bruce’s second solo project, it was his first to be released. He opted to sit on his first project until 1970. “Songs for a Tailor” was dedicated to a former girlfriend and costume designer for Cream, Jeannie Franklyn. Franklyn, who was then dating Richard Thompson, was killed in a van crash on May 12, 1969 that also claimed the life of Fairport drummer Martin Lamble.

Ironically, Bruce received a birthday card from Franklyn two days after her death; in it, she encouraged him to “Sing some high notes for me.” The entire album was titled in Franklyn’s honor.

On “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” Bruce plays piano, organ, and bass in addition to singing lead.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

All About That (Jack) Bruce: I Want To Know

As we study the musical history of Jack Bruce, he appears to be a man that was destined to play in super groups and today’s selection is no different. It all came about when Elektra Records was opening their London office under the management of producer/A&R man Joe Boyd.

To celebrate that auspicious occasion, Paul Jones of Manfred Mann suggested that such a group be formed. Former members of The Roosters and current members of Manfred Mann, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and the Spencer Davis Group collaborated on a recording. This short-lived band was named Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse.

The group consisted of the following:

Former Roosters members – Eric Clapton (guitar), Paul Jones (harmonica & back-up vocals), and Ben Palmer (piano).

Current Manfred Mann members – Paul Jones and Jack Bruce (bass).

Current members of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce.

Current members of The Spencer Davis Group – Steve Winwood (vocals) and Peter York (drums).

The Powerhouse recorded four tracks with Elektra releasing three of these on the sampler “What’s Shakin’.” The sampler headlined the Lovin’ Spoonful and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, but also included cuts from Al Kooper and Tom Rush.

Because Winwood was under contract at the time, he used the pseudonym Steve Anglo; however, Elektra initially got that wrong and he was credited as Steve Angelo. Winwood, under the Anglo/Angelo name, and Eric Clapton were the only two Powerhouse members to receive specific credit on “What’s Shakin’.”

In order to be distanced from this project on another label, Paul Jones’ composition “I Want to Know” was credited to his first wife under a variation of her maiden name, Sheila MacLeod; writing credits were assigned to “S. McLeod.” “I Want to Know” features the driving bass of Jack Bruce as well as the excellent musicianship of the rest of the Powerhouse team. The three cuts, including, “I Want to Know,” were produced by Joe Boyd.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

All About That (Jack) Bruce: Stormy Monday

For a short time, Jack Bruce was a member of John Mayall’s legendary Blues Breakers, but like his tenure in Manfred Mann, it was short lived. What survived are some live cuts that were recorded at London’s Flamingo Club on March 17, 1966. Mayall’s original intent was to record a live LP that featured the soaring guitar solos of Eric Clapton.

Because the quality was not the best, Mayall scrapped the idea of a live album and began recording the legendary “Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton” LP that same month. John McVie, who would later be a founding member of Fleetwood Mac, replaced Jack Bruce on bass.

While many of the recordings featuring Jack Bruce have been released over time, the first to see the light of day was Mayall’s interpretation of T-Bone Walker’s legendary “They Call It Stormy Monday,” which has been covered by a countless number of artists. “They Call it Stormy Monday” was first released in 1969 on Mayall’s “Looking Back” album.

Besides Bruce’s bass and Clapton’s guitar, “Stormy Monday” featured John Mayall on organ and vocals and Hughie Flint on drums. Besides Bruce’s solid bass, the guitar leads of Eric Clapton reinforce the idea that he is one of best guitarists of all time.

Monday, November 10, 2014

All About That (Jack) Bruce: Train Time

Featuring some of the most talented musicians in Britain, the jazz/blues band The Graham Bond Organization (also stylized with the British spelling as The Graham Bond “Organisation”) would be termed as a super group today. At the time though, the members were relatively unknown. In 1965, they released their critically acclaimed debut album “The Sound of 65.”

The lineup included Graham Bond on vocals, keyboards, and alto sax; Jack Bruce on bass, harmonica, and vocals; Ginger Baker on drums and percussion; and Dick Heckstall-Smith on tenor and soprano saxophones. Although not on this recording, a previous incarnation of the Graham Bond Quartet featured guitarist John McLaughlin (along with Bond, Bruce, and Baker).

The band recorded two albums with a third that was posthumously released. It included some live recordings from The Graham Bond Quartet days. All three albums feature Jack Bruce. While I thought about featuring a tune with Bruce’s vocals, as there were several, I decided to allow you to savor the his fantastic harmonica playing with “Train Time.”

Bruce actually composed the song, but it was credited originally to “John Group” – a pseudonym that he used with The Graham Bond Organization. Apparently, all members of the band received royalties for this number under that name. It later emerged as a live staple for Cream and appeared as “Traintime” on “Wheels of Fire” and the “BBC Sessions” albums. Graham Bond sings on the original recording.

During their tenure with the band, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce were constantly fighting with one another. Further problems with Bruce led to him being fired before the release of their second album. It is said that Baker was enlisted to do the dirty work. Apparently by 1966, Bruce and Baker patched up their differences, as they were reunited in Cream less than a year after Bruce exited The Graham Bond Organization.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

All About That (Jack) Bruce: White Room

I don’t know how I missed it, but somehow I didn’t see the report that Jack Bruce died from liver failure on October 25. He was 71. While today’s audiences may not recognize the importance of Jack Bruce’s contributions, he was a musician extraordinaire. Although he studied classical ‘cello and additionally played guitar, harmonica, and piano; he was a bassist through and through – playing fretted electric bass, a Fender Bass VI, fretless bass, and double bass during a very productive career since the 1960s.

This month, our second week feature is dedicated to Jack Bruce and its title is a play-on Meghan Trainor’s number one record from earlier this year, “All about that Bass.” Since with Bruce, it typically was all about that bass, we will be featuring a solo recording as well as cuts from his tenure with The Graham Bond Organization; John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers; Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse; Cream; West, Bruce, & Laing; and BLT.

Since I’ve already featured his one recording with Manfred Mann, “Pretty Flamingo,” it will be missing from this week’s lineup. For today, I am featuring one of the better known tracks featuring Bruce’s bass and vocals: Cream’s “White Room.” Released as a single in September 1968, the song also features Ginger Baker on drums and timpani, Eric Clapton on rhythm and wah-wah guitar, and producer Felix Pappalardi on violas.

“White Room” was co-written by Bruce and his frequent collaborator, poet Pete Brown. The single peaked at #6 on Billboard’s Hot 100. While many of us heard the single edit at 3:05, album rock played the longer cut that was nearly five minutes in length from the double LP “Wheels of Fire.”

We’ll miss you Jack Bruce, but thank you for your contributions to rock and jazz. Rock on.