Clapton might be God, but there was no Cream without Jack Bruce. He sang most of the songs. If he’d found his Delaney Bramlett, maybe he too would be a household name instead of a footnote.
That’s right, Clapton had the instincts, but it was Bramlett who got him to stand out front and sing. Bruce was born with that ability. And although he cut “Songs for a Tailor” with the indelible “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” times were changing so fast, and Bruce was moving so slowly, that all the hopes and dreams we had in him were transferred to others.
But we remember the records.
Hipsters owned copies of “Fresh Cream.” They knew about John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. The cognoscenti picked up on “Disraeli Gears.” During the “Wheels of Fire” era, Cream was the biggest band in the land. And everybody went along for the victory lap on “Goodbye.”
Bruce wrote the riff for “Sunshine of Your Love” — one of the most famous songs in rock ’n’ roll history. Sure, Clapton executed the solo, but he and Bruce tag-teamed verses on the vocals. The song seemed to bubble up from nowhere, on the first side of “Disraeli Gears,” and then it got played on nascent FM underground radio, and then it unexpectedly exploded onto AM radio in the summer of ’68, and the world was revolutionized.
“Sunshine of Your Love” was the “Royals” of its day, but with more impact, and made by people who’d been there and done that, who had a wealth of experience in their souls. Anybody who bought “Disraeli Gears” went back and bought “Fresh Cream.”
Badda-ba-bup, bmm bmm bmm baddum bmm … Come on, it’s in your DNA. Your head is nodding like a beatnik, you can’t wait for the whole band to come in, you too want to feel free. That’s what our music did back then. It wasn’t tied in with corporations or featured on the “Today,” show. It was just for us — a few like-minded people; a group that kept growing until the whole world realized its size at “Woodstock.”
Cream had a wealth of hits; you didn’t buy the albums for the singles — or if you did, you were enraptured by the other tracks you discovered. So many were originals, but there were reworkings of old blues numbers like “I’m So Glad,” another Jack Bruce vocal.
That’s right, Bruce wasn’t a sideman, he was the frontman. And now he’s gone. The great migration continues. From terra firma to that spirit in the sky. Our heroes are fading away. Truth is, most of this material is not going to be remembered by later generations. But we’re never going to forget it. We grew up on it. It’s the elixir in our lives. Classic rock built the modern music business, everything from radio to arena shows, and we still go, because we still need the hit.
So, so long, Jack Bruce. You were born too young, before the Internet era — before everybody could know every detail of your life and hold you close. So long, album radio, where the deejay didn’t want to be your friend so much as he wanted to demonstrate how hip he was by playing tracks that stretched boundaries. And so long to the era of albums, when you didn’t need a hit to succeed, but they were so expensive that if you bought one, you played it incessantly and knew it by heart.
And so long to the dream that every band will reunite and come to your city, and you can relive your youth. Cream unexpectedly reunited in 2005; Bruce, Clapton and Ginger Baker together again. Played London and New York. But that was it.
Now, Jack Bruce’s music must speak for him, and ultimately, that’s grand.