It’s a little nerve wracking to do a telephone interview with a living legend, particularly one who has been in one of the most important rock bands of all time. How do you cover more than five decades of playing music? One of his first bands being Graham Bond Organisation in 1963, and continuing on to his 14th studio album earlier this year, Silver Rails.
Jack Bruce has given countless interviews, and no doubt answered the same questions over and over again. What interested me, though, was his drive to keep going after all these years. He is undoubtedly considered one of the best bassists of all time, and also a phenomenal vocalist. The years have not dampened his style, and yet his vocal delivery has a beautiful fragility to it, marked by the passing years, but no less powerful. At his own admission, interviews are not one of his favourite things.
Quite rightly it is the making of the music that is at the top of the list. Silver Rails was indeed a family affair, with his son Malcom playing guitar, his daughter Aruba Red singing backing vocals, and his other daughter Kyla filming the process of making the album. I got the impression that this album was one of his favourites to make although he is actually working on the follow up already. His humbleness as a musician is apparent. He leaves the accolades to the people who came before him. There were no questions about Ginger Baker or Cream in this interview. They have all been covered before, and we had better things to talk about. Jack Bruce is a solo musician in his own right and with his latest album Silver Rails he quite rightly commands the title ‘Legend’.
LJ: Talking about your new album. It’s your first album in 11 years, and your fourteenth studio album, and you have some incredible artists playing on it, including Uli John Roth and Robin Trower. How did it all come together?
JB: Do you mean from the very beginning? Well it was really the idea of Mark Powell at Esoteric Records. He asked me if I wanted to release a studio album. I hadn’t really thought about that, but when I did think about it, I thought ‘what a good idea’. That’s how the actual inception of it was. It was the end of the year before last that he suggested that.
LJ: There’s quite few different influences on the album, from the kind of calypso, Caribbean feel of ‘Candlelight’, to the bluesy rhythm of ‘Rusty Lady’, but am I right in thinking you consider yourself first and foremost a jazz musician, and how does this play a part in your song writing these days?
JB: Well I don’t consider myself a jazz musician at all, I never have. I think jazz belongs to a handful of black Americans really. I’m just a musician [laughs].
LJ: But it’s always been one of your greatest influences, going right back, hasn’t it?
JB: Yeah, I mean I started off loving classical music, and then loving jazz and then I came to the blues later than that, and then of course in the ’60s, things like The Beatles, those things happened that made me realise there’s a lot of scope for different kinds of music.
LJ: Absolutely. And talking about ‘Rusty Lady’, which is probably one of my favourite songs on the album, I love the line “like Winston in drag, but without the cigar.” Am I right in thinking that it’s about Margaret Thatcher?
JB: It’s about the death of Thatcher really, not really about Thatcher herself, but about celebrating her death [laughs]
LJ: I was going to ask you, what was your reaction to her death and all the Thatcher death parties that were taking place around the country when she died?
JB: Well, it’s not something I would do, but I can totally understand it. I wouldn’t celebrate anybody’s death, or death in general, but I had no love for Maggie Thatcher to say the very least.
LJ: You and many people.
JB: She did a lot of damage to this country.
LJ: I agree. Am I right in thinking that ‘Drone’, another one of my favourites, was influenced by your kids? Can you tell me more about that?
JB: My son is at uni, he played me a couple of bands that he was listening to at the time, that was about a year ago now, and one of the bands is called OM, and the genre of music they play is called drone. It’s an old geezer’s version of what they do. [laughs]
LJ: Are there any modern day musicians that you like at the moment, like the artists that are playing heavy, bluesy rock like Jack White. Are there any artists that have stood out for you?
JB: I do like this band Earth very much. We’re going to go and see them at a festival and meet up with them.
LJ: Is there anyone else that’s catching your eye at the moment?
JB: No, I’m not really listening to a lot of new music at the moment.
LJ: That brings me onto my next question: I always ask people who’ve been in the industry a long time what their views on the current climate in the music industry is, and how it’s changed over the years, and obviously vinyl has come back quite a lot as well as online – how do you think that’s affected how people listen to music? Is that a good thing? Or Is that a bad thing?
JB: I just think it’s the way it is. It can be very good, you have to sort it out so that the artists can make a living out of it. At the moment, iTunes have got a bunch of slaves working for them, and the amount of money you get from iTunes in particular is abysmal, and that’s got to be sorted out. A lot of people are very underpaid in this country, very low paid workers in this country, probably the worst in Europe, and certainly a lot of musicians are finding it very difficult to carry on. We have to come up with some alternatives. And if somebody could come up with a really good alternative, nobody would use iTunes. It seems that you have to go through iTunes to do everything, unless you’re a real computer boffin, you know.
LJ: So what do you think about things like Soundcloud, where artists are putting their stuff up for free, but I can kind of understand it as quite often that might be the only way of getting their music heard. What do you think of that?
JB: It’s exactly that. It’s like blackmail. Even in the worst days of the early recordings, let’s say in the early 20th century, when especially the black artists were being exploited, at least they got something. It’s a real problem, because they could actually totally destroy music. I’m not the one to come up with the answer – you sort of have to go along with it, like I have to go along with it, in order to get my stuff heard at all.
LJ: One of our editors at God is in the TV is a huge fan and he wanted me to ask you on his behalf, “on your solo album in 1971, Harmony Row is named after a street in Glasgow – have you been back there in recent times and what do you think of the place now?”
JB: Well, I haven’t been back in a while, but it’s not there any more. It’s there but it’s all modern flats. You know, it has changed beyond recognition, it’s still a pretty rough place. It’s not Windsor Castle exactly. In the old days it had a bit of charm about it. I haven’t been back for many years, that was when it was going through some rough times. I think a lot of ordinary people are doing a lot of great things in Glasgow. I think they realised the government isn’t going to help so they just do it themselves. I’m a sponsor of this thing called FAST, [Families and Schools Together] which is families who are affected by drugs and all that, and they’ve just decided to take it into their own hands, you know the mums and the parents, because they’re not going to get any help from anywhere else. It’s very necessary.
LJ: I wanted to know, there was a story that you told recently about Marvin Gaye coming over to your flat in West London, and asking you to tour with him, but you had to decline because you were getting married?
JB: Yeah, it’s true [laughs]. We did a TV show with him, and played a couple of songs, and he just really liked my bass-playing, so I sort of said “what are you doing now?”, and I assumed he’d be going off to some ritzy club or something, but he said “I’m doing nothing”, so I just invited him back to my little flat in West Hampstead, and he just came back and we were sitting talking about music all night. And during that conversation, he said I should join his band and play with him, but like you say, I was getting married.
LJ: I’ve been listening to your album and some of your earlier solo albums and you’re obviously considered one of the greatest vocalists, and I feel that your voice has got a much more haunting quality to it now, and not that it’s more emotional but there’s definitely a different tone to it now…
JB: It’s life, that’s what it is.
LJ: Yeah, I was going to say it’s much more emotional. How do you see your style changing over the years?
JB: Yeah, it’s just life. Sometimes you get criticism as you get older and people say you don’t sound the same as you did with Cream, but when I was a little boy I was a boy soprano, and I don’t sound like that either. Now I’m an old man, and I sound like that. My voice for some reason is one of the few bits that still works.
LJ: Well it’s still beautiful.
JB: Yeah, well I can talk about it like it’s not really me, it’s improved in a lot of ways. You’re not frozen in . We’re all humans. We get older and it [age] happens to everyone if they’re lucky enough to stay alive.
LJ: What’s kept you going all these years? Obviously a passion for music……
JB: I’m just a bit of an old git. I just don’t believe in giving up. I just had a message to get across. Not a political message. Just the message that… Music lovers are kind of used, they’re talked down to, if you know what I mean. They have a lot of stuff they think “that’s good enough for the public”, like these star-type shows, and people are much more discerning than they’re given credit for; and that’s always been my message. To just try your best, and not give up.
LJ: I know you haven’t been very well, so there were plans to tour but you put it on the back-burner for a while. Is there a tour that’s going to be rescheduled? Are we going to be able to see you live?
JB: We’re going to be working on that and I’d like to do it later in the year, definitely.
LJ: Just UK? Europe?
JB: Well, certainly the UK, probably bits of Europe and a little bit in the States.
LJ: Is it going to be small, intimate gigs like in Ronnie Scott’s or some of the smaller venues….
JB: I’d like to play Ronnie Scott’s. It’s a got a good vibe, and it takes me back. Normally I play slightly bigger places – I like a good hall with a good size stage, where you feel comfortable.
LJ: Have you ever played Union Chapel in Islington?
JB: No, I haven’t. I’d like to play there sometime. I’ve seen it on TV a few times.
LJ: It’s one of my favourite venues for the mere reason that the acoustics are just absolutely phenomenal. I think your stuff would sound incredible there.
JB: I think you’re right.
LJ: Well, when you do get some dates through, let me know.
JB: Well, they’ll be on the website, Facebook. I’m into all that.
LJ: You’re already working on the next album I hear?
JB: Yeah, that’s my plan. I don’t have any big ambitions to change the world or anything. If I’m given the time, just to do it again. I’d love to go back into Abbey Road again, I had such a great time. It’s such a great working environment. I think everybody should get to work there. I enjoyed it so much. All the guys down there, they’re all fantastic workers and definitely would love to go back in there and do another one.
Silver Rails is out now.