Jack Bruce, the Scottish bassist and singer best known for his work with 1960s hard rock pioneers Cream, died on Saturday at his home in Suffolk, England. He was 71.
Bruce’s death was announced by his family on his official website. No cause of death was cited. “It is with great sadness that we, Jack’s family, announce the passing of our beloved Jack: husband, father, granddad and all ‘round legend,” the brief statement read.
Though he maintained substantial renown within musical circles both before and after his stint with Cream, the band’s four-album run was nonetheless the commercial high point of Bruce’s career. A supergroup composed of Bruce, Eric Clapton on guitar and Ginger Baker on drums, the band played a pivotal role in the development of hard rock and heavy metal, and along with fellow power trio the Jimi Hendrix Experience, set new standards for instrumental virtuosity in rock music.
Featuring Bruce on lead vocals, the band’s originals like “Sunshine of Your Love,” “White Room” and “I Feel Free” would quickly become standards, and the group’s third album, “Wheels of Fire,” was the first double-LP to go platinum, effectively legitimizing the format.
Cream was burdened by interpersonal combustion almost from the start, and the band broke up after a farewell tour in 1968; a fourth album, appropriately titled “Goodbye,” was released in 1969. Bruce stayed extremely busy in the years following, recording solo album “Songs for a Tailor” that same year, forming another short-lived power trio, West, Bruce and Lang, in the early 1970s, and playing with everyone from John McLaughlin to Lou Reed and Frank Zappa.
Cream reunited in 1993 in honor of their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and then again in 2005 for a series of concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall and New York’s Madison Square Garden. Cream received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.
Born in Bishopbriggs, Scotland, Bruce initially courted a career as a cellist, but left the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama as a teenager to pursue his interest in jazz. For most of the 1960s, Bruce was a well-regarded fixture in the London scene, playing with Manfred Mann, the Graham Bond Organisation (where he played with, and frequently clashed with, Baker) and John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers (where he first met Clapton).
The three musicians, frustrated by the creative limitations of their existing gigs, formed Cream in 1966 as an outlet to explore the further reaches of the blues, and released debut “Fresh Cream” later that year. The album charted in the U.K., but it was the 1967 follow-up “Disraeli Gears” that launched them in the U.S., reaching No. 4. Released in the months following the Summer of Love, the album located a delicate sweet spot between hazy psychedelia and muscular blues riffage, and songs like “Tales of Brave Ulysses” and “Strange Brew” now feel like unofficial anthems of the period.
As a bassist, Bruce favored deceptively simple, effortlessly flowing lines that could explode into dizzying flurries at a moment’s notice. Though Clapton’s guitar heroics drew most of the attention, Bruce’s work in Cream played an essential role in elevating the role of the bass guitar in rock music, and it isn’t hard to see his influence on the likes of Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones and Rush’s Geddy Lee. As a singer, his slinky falsetto has been mimicked by a number of descendants, with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age perhaps the most prominent modern-day practitioner.
Among his other post-Cream highlights, Bruce played bass on the majority of Reed’s ultra-depressive 1973 concept album “Berlin,” and formed an early ‘80s group with guitarist Robin Trower. In his later years, he toured with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band, and released an album of jazz piano compositions in 1995.