This biography is fascinating and a true find to the musical historian who thought they already knew everything about “British Rock.” I’ll admit I knew very little about Jack Bruce before picking up “Composing Himself.” Granted, I recognize Bruce as a phenomenal musician and arranger, but that is really only through his work with Cream.
Bruce, a native Scot, came from the quintessential working-class family. They had nothing and his father earned just enough to keep them fed. Bruce showed musical talent at a very early age, singing for various institutions in his home town of Glasgow. He found the bass only because his parents were too poor to buy him a musical instrument and the school he was attending had a double bass available for loan. However, his hands were deemed to be too small and he was given a cello instead. Bruce took to the cello with a passion because he knew the school was counting on him to eventually move to double bass.
Even though he received accolade upon accolade for his musical accomplishments at school, his working-class background was never far from his focus. As a teenager, Bruce became a working musician. Very soon, he was earning more than his father and making a name for himself in the Glasgow music scene and abroad. As a gigging bassist, Bruce’s name became known all over the United Kingdom and parts of Europe. The move to London was inevitable. There he found himself in a scene rich in talent and opportunity. Reading about his early experiences, it becomes apparent that London in the mid/late 1960s was experiencing a musical renaissance, where the right players with the right motivations converge at the right time. These “moments” have happened since – think Minneapolis in the late ’70s/early ’80s, Athens in the early ’80s, Champaign-Urbana in the late ’80s/early ’90s and Seattle in the early/mid 1990s. The bands and the music coming out of this hot bed of talent were notable.
The stories are all here … Bruce refusing to accept his being fired from the Graham Bond Organization by continuing to show up at gigs and only stopping after band mate Ginger Baker pulled a knife; Cream, despite being viewed as a super group at that time of a leaked announcement, still consisted of gigging musicians under contract to others – each had to complete their agreements before setting off on their own; Cream getting signed only because the label wanted the Bee Gees and their shared management insisted they take both or it was a no-go. Even after his hey-day in Cream, the stories of Bruce’s solo career and continued involvement in making and arranging music are fascinating.
“Jack Bruce: Composing Himself” brings a depth and definition to a personality deserving of more attention.