Jack Bruce is one of the largest bass icons in rock. Born in Scotland in 1943, Jack played with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, the Graham Bond Organisation, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers (where he met Eric Clapton) and Manfred Mann. Jack even turned down an offer to join Marvin Gaye’s band! He joined up with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker to form the supergroup, Cream. Cream sold 35,000,000 albums in just over two years and was awarded the first-ever platinum disc for Wheels of Fire. This song, from that album, is their interpretation of the Robert Johnson classic “Crossroads.”
Bruce and Clapton start out with a unison blues lick in the key of A. Bruce, with his trademark growling tone, plays a perfect combination of improvising and implying the signature lick. I learned a lot of ideas from Jack’s bass lines on this song. When going from the V chord to the IV chord he inverts the IV chord and plays the 3rd (F# in this key). He also hangs on a C on the IV chord (D7) to great effect and uses the A pentatonic scale (A, C, D, E, G) quite a bit. Clapton’s solo is one of the first ones I ever transcribed. Even though it is made up of mostly minor and major pentatonic scales it remains one of the best-recorded guitar solos. It’s reported that when asked about his unique phrasing on it he said, “I got lost!” Due to an edit there are another eleven minutes of his solo that are missing!
What impressed me the most about Jack’s bass playing was his ability to play complex lines and yet still be supportive. Part of this is his tone and his choice of notes. I always smile when this song comes on the radio.
Cream split in November 1968 at the height of their popularity due to personal conflict and Jack wanting to pursue other projects.
Click below to listen to “Crossroads”