Monday, October 27, 2014

Losing Jack Bruce, And So Much More

I have been around drummers my whole life. Cousins, friends and friends of cousins and uncles all seemed to be drummers and almost all have had an influence on both my listening and playing. One particularly vivid memory is of an afternoon listening to the just released King Crimson record "Larks' Tongues In Aspic," when my bedroom door opened. My uncle and his friend were paying a visit and his friend heard the music and said "Getting a good workout in here?" He knew I played drums. So did he. He offered this.

"I know you love Bill Bruford. But you should also listen to Elvin Jones and Ginger Baker."

I had already been a fan of Cream, but not really of Ginger Baker. Elvin Jones, on the other hand, was completely out of my league. As I got older, I understood both Elvin and Ginger, and of course, now love them both. My favorite drummers have always been my favorite drummers: Ringo Starr and John Bonham. I couldn't imagine The Beatles or Led Zeppelin without either of them, and though Baker never did anything for me when I was a kid, I realized when I got older, Cream would not have been Cream without Baker.

I'm thinking about this now in the wake of Jack Bruce's death and after reading a comment left by reader Heather Taylor.

"I went through a discovery and short love for Cream in college when I discovered good music. While I quickly moved beyond this band, I've always understood the impact and importance of Jack Bruce's playing on the course of rock music history."

"...when I discovered good music." I love this.

It's too easy for many, including myself for many years, to think of Cream as Eric Clapton's baby.  But this short-lived trio, though a sum of its parts, was in many ways Jack Bruce's baby. This is one huge loss.

Something else came to mind, as a person who will never pass up a solid "get off my lawn" opportunity.

Which musicians currently making "good music," will carry the torch as the best of the best when all of our heroes are gone?

Flea? Taylor Hawkins? Gary Clark Jr.?


misospecial said...

Clapton was somehow the only thing (most) people saw in Creem, and I wasn't a big fan back in the day though of course I knew the popular stuff. But Jack Bruce's solo album(s?) were so interesting it was obvious he brought not just extraordinary technique but an original musical mind to Creem. This is one of those losses that particularly stings...

William Repsher said...

I'm not feeling the loss of Jack Bruce as much as you and others are. I give Cream, along with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, credit for creating the power trio in rock. The difference with Cream being each member was on nearly equal footing creatively -- I didn't grasp Ginger Baker's role, really, until that recent documentary. But it seems like he brought a lot more to the band than an average drummer would.

And I didn't really get Jack Bruce until I heard him do "Theme from an Imaginary Western" solo one day on a Howard Stern show.

I think what happened after Cream was that Clapton became such a huge solo star that the other two just couldn't compete in terms of being visible in the culture. With a lot of these 60's rock musicians, if they didn't keep producing and exceling on that level through the 70's and 80's, they tended to get filed away by most fans. It has to be a lot of work to cross decades like that and still retain that high level of visibility -- it happened with very few artists.

I'd think you'd be doing a service with a Jack Bruce solo compilation of tracks. Aside from a handful, I'm like most people out there: not well versed on what he did after Cream, although I know he was surely still productive.

A walk in the woods said...

Nice anecdote from your early days, Sal. I don't know who will carry the flag of great bass playing forward, but sure will miss Jack Bruce.

cmealha said...

For whatever reason, I always gravitated to bass players more than drummers, guitar or keyboard players. The holy triumvirate for me was Paul McCartney, John Paul Jones and Jack Bruce. He was also responsible for so many great songs. truly sad.

Shriner said...

Dave Grohl will be the next generation's "elder statesman" of Rock after all the 60's artists have passed in the next decade or so. Oh, and maybe Weird Al and Elton John (and I'm being serious here...)

I would have thought Paul Weller maybe 20 years ago, but not so much now (same for Andy Partridge & Colin Moulding). Same for Stanley & Simmons.

Beyond Grohl -- I have no clue. Music is so fragmented these days that very few "icons" are generated any more. Johnny Rotten, maybe? Madonna?

If we are just talking *musicians who play one instrument*, though -- I've got nothing. Just because somebody is proficient with an instrument to a highly technical degree, doesn't mean they can write memorable songs. I might agree about Flea, though. But maybe not. Depends on my mood.

A Little Box o' Rhythm said...

Sal, apologies because this isn't related to your post; rather, it's about the song of the day. Have you ever heard anything about the Lovin' Spoonful mono masters being "lost"?

Sal Nunziato said...

I was unaware of the Spoonful mono masters being lost, though there are threads dating back to 2008 on Steve Hoffman's page speculating that they might be.

itsok2beright said...

I agree with Shriner on Grohl, but now I'll stick my neck out and say Chris Cornell and Slash. Flea is a possibility along with Tim Commerford.

Sal Nunziato said...

I have a lot of love and respect for Grohl. Always did, but it has grown immensely after the first two episodes of Sonic Highways.

As for Slash, Flea and even Cornell, these musicians started in bands that are almost 30 years old already and though I have no love at all for Slash's and Flea's playing, I do love Cornell's voice and still, I don't see these three guys contributing in the gargantuan ways so many from the 60's and 70's have.

Anonymous said...

I loved Cream, but I think my appreciation of Bruce grew with discovering his jazz work with Tony Williams, Carla Bley and Kip Hanrahan. Bruce's Thinks We Like is an underrated jazz album, too. Wasn't such a fan of his later rock work with West, Bruce & Laing or Robin Trower, but he obviously had his own reasons for those projects.

if you're restricting the discussion to rock, I would single out Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche from Wilco as the most likely to reach icon status as instrumentalists. Second Shriner's choice of Grohl, but I could only last one minute of his 60 Minutes interview last nite. kind of gave me the Bono vibe. at least he's using his powers for good.

Shriner said...

Oh, yeah, how could I forget Bono?

And The Edge for his guitar work. Though it's mostly studio so that would keep him from showing up to the R&RHOF jam sessions.

Oh, and now that I've had a few more minutes to ponder this: Prince, too. How can you disregard the Purple One?

Bono (vox), The Edge (rhythm guitar), Prince (lead guitar), Dave Grohl (drums) and Elton John (keys) -- with Flea on bass.

I can see each of these guys being around another 20 years (though Elton will be pretty old by then...) and filling the void that will be left when the remaining Beatles & Stones, etc, pass on.

Beyond that -- I got nothing else. Up and coming folk that would have immediate recognition? Nothing jumps out.

buzzbabyjesus said...

At the risk of all the derision I probably deserve for saying this, I think that based on "With A Little Help From My Fwends", the Flaming Lips are contenders.
I just, er, acquired it yesterday, and I think I'm going to play it 100 times.
It's a remake of The Beatles Sgt Pepper, and it is both loyal and relentlessly odd. Each song keeps just enough of the original DNA to satisfy, while going off on some remarkable tangents. Sometimes it's just the right bass line, drum fill, or background vocals. Miley Cyrus does a nice job on "Lucy In The Sky" and elsewhere.

When I was a teenager I abused the original to the point where I can't really listen to it anymore.

Somehow this album holds my interest, doesn't offend me, and occasionally cracks me up. Maybe I'm amazed.

Sal Nunziato said...

Again...all fine people...all have been around for years, though.

Think about the rock musicians that popped up between 1960-1980 and the bodies of work and the influence.

Okay, now name some bands from 1995-2015 with individuals that have had the same affect on the music world.

Who is wildly popular now? Dawes? Who is their bass player? Linkin' Park? Who is their guitar player? Muse? Avenged Sevenfold? My Chemical Romance?

Who are these people making the music?

Something happened somewhere and that individuality and power of musicianship disappeared.

Shriner said...

I get your point -- there are few "wildly popular" instrumentalists from relatively current bands.

John Mayer, maybe? Tom Morello?

Again, I've got nothing, either...

William Repsher said...

In terms of knowing the musicians, I don't think it's always a matter of quality between then and now (although I'm surely not going to disagree too strongly with that). It's also the nature of how people consume music, going back to even cassettes and CD's.

How did we grow up? With vinyl record albums. How did we listen to them after we bought them? If you were like me, you went home, to your bedroom, put on a pair of headphones, and while you listened, you read the literature that came either on the gatefold cover or on the record sleeve, be that material liner notes and/or lyrics.

I developed a pretty astute knowledge of who played what, which sessions players were making the rounds, what coast and studios they were familiar with, the engineers and producers involved, the infamous studios in each city, etc. I got a pretty good grasp of the lyrics, too, if a lyric sheet came with the album -- sometimes it would be hard to discern the actual words without the lyrics printed out.

But that culture became harder to maintain when cassettes came into vogue in the mid-80's, and then CD's immediately afterwards. For the simple reason that the print area was that much smaller and people were less likely to pour over these details while listening. Thus, that culture of "knowing" the musicians started to fall away.

To the point know with digital recordings that we often don't even have liner notes or lyrics for each song or album, no idea who's playing on what, no idea if various session players are involved. I'll often hears songs where I know the background vocalists, I've heard them before ... but I can't name them! And this is for music by older musicians where I would know the players were I to see a list of them ... much less a newer band where I wont' even know all the core members of a band!

It's a different culture and world in that respect. And that's only with digital recordings. Do you think people are going to retain anything at all in these veins with streaming taking precedence? People aren't even going to be able to name the bands much less the members in them!

Anonymous said...

well of course nobody knows who the musicians are in avenged sevenfold - you need a microscope to read a cd insert anymore. :-)

could argue that 1995 - 2005 and beyond became the age of the producer. T Bone Burnett became the go-to guy (I think of him as usurping Don Was' position), Mick Ronson lifted up Amy Winehouse, and everybody became dj's. it's hard to sound individual through pro-tools, tho, and the segmentation of radio makes it hard to top 40 and the likes of us at the same time. I like that Maclemore dude, but maybe Lewis is the real mastermind?

I would be willing to bet that the more obsessive of One Direction's and Taylor Swift's fans know the names of every musician in their backing bands - the same way we knew who Pete Anderson, Sonny Landreth, David Grissom and Gurf Morlix were - and maybe one of them breaks out someday a la Sheryl Crow. not giving up, but in the meantime there's a ton of good music available.

itsok2beright said...

Just because you can't recite the names of today's crop of musicians doesn't mean they aren't talented enough to carry the torch 20 years from now. Granted there are too many formulaic bands that blend into a chorus of mediocrity. Somewhere amongst them is some talent.

Moving the timeline to the last 20 or so years, I'd throw in Trent Reznor and Jared Leto. Trent's work while not always offering mass appeal has broken many grounds musically, and crossed many genres.

If the Leto's can get out their legal issues, I think they may bring 30 Seconds To Mars some new found respect.

An outside vote for the potential of Brandon Boyd (Incubus) and Colin Greenwood (Radiohead).

Though, none of these musicians are exactly household names. I can't speak for when Cream was contemporary whether the average music fan would know Jack or Ginger by name.

Sal Nunziato said...

I made certain not to use the word "bad" anywhere. My point was not to criticize any of these bands, but to point out the differences between then and now.

Trent Reznor is a personal fave. Loved just about everything from the debut on, but on a list of 20 or even 50, would he turn up as a best anything other than producer?

As for diehard One Direction and Taylor Swift fans, I don't doubt they know the entire team without a scorecard.

This may be my fault for not getting my point across more clearly.

I am not here to bury Dawes or Tool or Radiohead or Avenged Sevenfold. But I will stand by my original thought that, the rock "heroes" of then and now will not be the same as the rock "heroes" of the future.

I don't see it and so far no comments here have made me feel differently.

I do think this is a good point, itsok2beright:

"I can't speak for when Cream was contemporary whether the average music fan would know Jack or Ginger by name."

But,we were around when many now legendary were contemporary and we DID know who did what and who did it better. There was a lot less crap to sift through and a lot more turned away at the label doors, so we savored the music that was released.

itsok2beright said...

"the rock "heroes" of then and now will not be the same as the rock "heroes" of the future."

Sadly, that is very true. The heroes of yesterday spoke through their instruments and their songwriting. Today, their image, tattoos, goatee and twitter feeds are much more important than their talent.

Well, this just might be a consequence of 'video killed the radio star'.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem with the heroes of today's rock is the problem with modern (non-roots)rock in general: after the early 1980's rock musicians have been so busy navel-gazing and rejecting their musical elders, the entirety of modern rock has become extremely "Rococo". Without roots to strengthen and tether an art form to the ground the art form quickly become lost (and boring) and unable to soar. Thus most of Rock's last 30 years.

On another note: It's funny how the deaths of our musical heroes engages/affects us. I'm not that affected by Jack Bruce's death (I just was not that much of a fan of his nor did his personality engage me) but I'm still in mourning over Paul Revere and Lou Whitney passing.

We better be prepared for a lot of mourning in the future when we and our musical heroes really start passing away. We ain't staying forever young as much as our Baby Boomer Generation wants to.

Be well gang! (no sarcasm intended)

Captain Al

Bombshelter Slim said...

Well, as you can see from the above, the music biz has changed a lot since we were kids, Sal. But all is not lost... just walk down the street or go off into the next neighbourhood, there's somebody playing there that will blow your mind... hit up the clubs, records are now dead--it all happens at the gig(or seems to, for the most part,sorry kids). Notice I didn't list any of MY candidates for immortality (and there are a few).

Anonymous said...

actually, if Cream came along now probably the best they could hope for would be a half-hour slot on Austin City Limits, sharing the hour with Gary Clark. Still, that would probably reach more people than bought their records in 1968.

Anonymous said...

Geezus, I hadn't heard about Lou Whitney dying. Loved Cream, but the Skeletons' "In The Flesh!" is one of my all-time fave albums, and I was glad to see this site give recognition to the band in the Sept 15 posting.
RIP, boys.
C in Cali

mauijim said...

Guess Eddie Van Halen really has dropped off in stature if no one has brought him up before this as a master to his instrument. I am not ready to bury him . You and your blues from their last lp is just great.

Sal Nunziato said...

Mauijim, the great EVH has been around for almost 40 years. He is an established rock hero!

John said...

To answer your final question: no, none of the above.

Anonymous said...

Unlike many of the others here, I DO get the point of your question, which is to point out that there is no standard bearer, present day, younger than Hall Of Fame age whom people commonly know of by name, for their proficiency at a musical instrument, so much so that they might be a standard bearer for musical generations now and to come.
But everyone forgot the obvious answer.
He fits all your categories. Became known for the first time in 1997, under 40 ( he's 39), known worldwide and recognized for his playing, and has brought renewed passion for music to people younger than us old fucks. Even if you're not a full convert, Sal, he is the answer to this riddle...

Jack White

Now the fact that there is really only one ( or a few ) answers to this, of course, serves to prove or beloved Sal's ( welcome back, by the way. NEVER retire again, please, just take time off when you're sick of it )point.
When we are down to just Jack ( I'd mention Jonny Greenwood, Ben Folds, Alicia Keys, Dan Auerbach, and more, maybe ) that proves the point that there just aren't the ranks upon ranks Sal alludes to from the 60s, 70s, even 80s.
Music is now pro-tooled, beat detective-d, auto-tuned, etc into being something without flaws or human interest. It's not finally the disposable pop fluff it was accused of being 50 years ago. Will 50 year-olds born in 2002 search for artifacts of Taylor Swift or Fall Out Boy tours and recordings even in some digital equivalent of a record fair in 2052? Nope. Those "artists" PREVIOUS records are already forgotten even by their fans.
What gives us hope? The Strypes. They can play. They are popular anyway. Jack White will make this generation start playing scales, even if it only leads them to Guitar hero.

Burning Wood forever.

YankeeBoy said...

To your list of great drummers who have greatly influenced their band's sound, I would have to add Keith Moon.

After he died, to me they were no longer The Who. And that embarrassment that called themselves The Who that played at the Superbowl a few years ago literally made me cringe.

William Repsher said...

Jack White aint it. And I like Jack White and recognize he's light years beyond a lot of what goes on today in pop rock. If he had even a half dozen songs that penetrated the culture as "Seven Nations Army" has then I'd agree with you. He doesn't.

While watching that documentary It Might Get Loud lumping him in with Jimmy Page and The Edge, all I could think was, well, at least The Edge has numerous songs that are recognizable across musical cultures ... but he's not in Jimmy Page's league. Jack White struck me as a talented fan recognizing he wasn't in that league either. I like how in the commentary, he said when Page hit the first chords of "Whole Lot of Love" everyone in that film studio stopped what they were doing and just gravitated towards Page to watch his hands.

Jack Bruce's influences were rolled more so into the full entity of Cream, not so much his position as lead singer, bassist and songwriter. I'd say his inability, or lack of desire, to function on that high level of cultural recognition from the 70's onwards really diminished his lasting influence in a lot of people's minds. Cream was huge in its time, but Jack Bruce in Mountain and then as a solo artist wasn't anywhere near that level of influence.

If you look at music now, it's pretty obvious that the snyth-heavy production techniques of the 80's are more influential to most artists than any guitar, bass or drum heroes. That's what happened to R&B in the 80s, then hip-hop by extension, and this sickly pop/Top 40 genre that sounds much the same now as it did in the 90's with that same glossy, artificial production. Madonna is just as influential as anyone Cream, whether we want to acknowledge that or not.

There are still many good to great musicians making music out there, but to attain a level of influence where coming generations will be able to recognize that? I'm not so sure of that. I don't even think Jack Bruce had that power, despite his great years with Cream.

Anonymous said...

William wrote:

Jack Bruce's influences were rolled more so into the full entity of Cream, not so much his position as lead singer, bassist and songwriter. I'd say his inability, or lack of desire, to function on that high level of cultural recognition from the 70's onwards really diminished his lasting influence in a lot of people's minds. Cream was huge in its time, but Jack Bruce in Mountain and then as a solo artist wasn't anywhere near that level of influence.

I think that's a fair point which makes me all the more sadder at Bruce's passing. His name should be a larger one in the discussion.(I think some of that lack of desire was due to the Cream blowup and his own issues with addiction.)

Jack Bruce's ability to improvise, his versatility to comp and vamp to anything thrown at him, his jazz roots, his songwriting partnership with Pete Brown, and his strong identifiable voice are all things that are rare and should be celebrated more. He was as fine a musician as they come.

[I think his power trio records with Robin Trower (BLT/Truce and Seven Moons are overlooked in his catalog. Bruce's last record "Silver Rails" (2014) is quite good as well.]

As to Sal's second question, two young guitarists come to mind: Derek Trucks on the rock side and Nir Felder on the jazz side, that I think will be seen as exemplary standard bearers of their instruments. I also think Chris Thiele on mandolin is someone to think about too.

Michael D.

mauijim said...

Bringing up Derek, Warren Haynes should/could be a contender as well as he clearly has a love for the classic rock genre, keeping it alive thru his many bands. I spoke to him at a Steely Dan concert and he was there to see Larry Carlton.

With the end of the road last night, is Susan Tedeschi the Yoko Ono for the ABB?

Sal Nunziato said...

@Michael D.

Pulled out the B.L.T. record this weekend. I don't think I played it since it was released. Fantastic stuff. There are classic Trower moments, but there are also places Trower may not have visited, specifically "Once The Bird Has Flown," without Bruce's involvement. Great record.