No, Paul is a very melodic bass player, one of the leading bass players of the day. I sometimes tour with Ringo Starr and having to had to sit down and learn his bass parts, like “With A Little Help From My Friends”, I can see that they were very good. “Rain” is a very good one. I have always had a lot of respect for Paul, but all bass players respect what he does. His parts were very melodic in the same way that I hope mine are.
Were you into the Beatles straight away?
I wasn’t, no. When they first happened, I was very much into jazz and a great friend of mine and mentor, Dick Heckstall-Smith, told me that I had to listen to this band. They had these amazing harmonies which were consecutive fourths. I did listen to the Beatles but I wasn’t hooked on the early stuff, simply because I was into other things, but like everyone else I got sucked in there.
And George Harrison had quite a link to Cream as he co-wrote “Badge”.
He did indeed and he also played on it, which gave me the idea of asking him to play on “Songs For A Tailor”. You can hear him on “Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out Of Tune”. The thing that got me when I worked with him on “Badge” was the inversions that he used. That’s why I asked him to play on that track and I remember arriving a bit late and he’d been in there for an hour or two tuning up and getting his sound together. I was very impressed by that professionalism.
Just for uninitiated including me, what are inversions?
Instead of playing the obvious root chords, he would take them up a couple of frets, and play something unexpected. It would be upside down or inside out, an inversion, as opposed to being straight ahead. That was really nice and I think he helped “Badge” a lot.
Had he worked that out for himself?
Yes, he was a very thoughtful and serious musician. Eric had become very friendly with George and with the Beatles around that time and he would have influenced George a little, and vice versa. George was a wonderful guy and very serious about what he did.
Can we confirm a story about you from the 60s., that you are on Manfred Mann’s “Pretty Flamingo”?
Yes, I was with Manfred Mann for quite a while and that was the one hit single that we did while I was with the band.
Was it difficult to leave as it was very successful band?
No, it was very easy to leave. It was not what I wanted to do. I joined the Manfreds because I was getting married and I was skint. To me, it was like selling out and even the money which was supposed to be great wasn’t that great actually. (Laughs) No, I was very happy to leave, I was tired of playing “Do Wah Diddy Diddy Diddy”, just how many diddys are there?
And you had been offered a job with Marvin Gaye.
Yeah, that was 1965. I played with Marvin Gaye on something for TV. He came to my flat in West Hampstead and we sat up all night talking about music. At the time I was going through a difficult period, I was being criticised because I was trying to find a new direction for the bass, very much under the influence of the great Tamla-Motown player, James Jamerson. Marvin was very encouraging and he also said, “Come back and join my band”, but that was when I was getting married, so my wife wouldn’t let me. (Laughs)
Would you have enjoyed being involved with Tamla-Motown records?
Oh yes, much later in the 70s, I did “Out Of The Storm” mostly in the Record Plant in Los Angeles and in the next studio was John Lennon and in the other studio was Stevie Wonder. James Jamerson was playing on his sessions. I was doing a bass overdub, where the song, coincidentally, was called “Keep On Wondering”, and the door opened and this guy rushed in. He must have heard the music and thought it was the Stevie Wonder session. I was in the control room overdubbing and he grabbed my bass and started playing it and it was James Jamerson. (Laughs) We became very good friends and I was there for seven or eight months. He had too many sessions, and so I did some of the Tamla sessions he couldn’t cover.
Did you and Stevie Wonder and John Lennon meet up?
There was the Jim Keltner fan club and every Saturday or Sunday, everybody got together and we had a big jam session. We did this very long version of “Stand By Me”, it seemed to be John Lennon’s favourite song, and I remember doing that for hours, and when I came back there was some other bass player playing it at a completely different tempo. We did one thing that surfaces from time to time which was a session when Mick Jagger came in and John Lennon was there and it is called “Too Many Cooks”. It’s a funky thing and quite nice.
John Lennon always liked his voice bathed in echo and yet he had a wonderful voice.
That’s true, like a lot of people he was not comfortable with the sound of his own voice. It sounds strange when you’re talking about John Lennon but it was true. Another person like that is Bob Dylan, whose singing I love very much.
Have you thought of reworking any Bob Dylan Songs?
Funnily enough, yes, I am toying with the idea of getting Bob to sing one of my songs and then I will sing one of his. I would like to do “I Pity The Poor Immigrant” and I would like to get him to sing “Politician”. I don’t know, I would have to catch him on a good day. (Laughs)
Did you meet Phil Spector at the Record Plant?
No, the first time I met him was at the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Induction in 1993, and that was the first time and last time I met him. I was quite lucky!
Cream being in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame sounds a little odd to us as rock’n’roll in the UK refers to Elvis and Jerry Lee and Chuck Berry.
Yes, but that’s only this little country. Rock and roll is what we play, it is a generic term for everything and within the Hall of Fame there are a lot of different kinds of music, which is good. It started with Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis but it now includes a wonderful and varied amount of music. It is a valid term. It is an American music and no matter how great some of the British and other nationalities have become, it is still basically American. We call it the Rock Hall for short.
When it came to Cream was it difficult to know who was going to be the lead vocalist, you or Eric?
Not at all. It was very much Ginger’s idea to form that band. He wanted Eric and at the time Ginger and me weren’t the best of friends, but when he asked Eric, Eric said, “Yes, but we will have to have Jack as the lead singer”, so Ginger had to ask me to join the band. It was very much from encouragement from Eric because I used to only sing a couple of songs with Graham Bond and harmonies with Manfred Mann. I wasn’t really a singer but through Eric’s encouragement, I started to sing – well, somebody had to do it – Eric couldn’t do it so it had to be me. I started singing and gradually got confident at it, as did Eric, but it took him a bit longer.
And Eric’s voice has really improved with the years.
He has got better, yes. I always liked his singing but he wasn’t confident. If the band had lasted longer, I am sure he would have sung a lot more and also written a lot more.
If Ginger invited you into the group and wasn’t getting on with you, isn’t that sowing the seeds of your own destruction?
In a way, but we were the rhythm section at the time. He could have got somebody else, but it wouldn’t have worked as well. Plus I was starting to write songs so they made the right move. (Laughs)
It was rock played by musicians with some jazz background so something very distinctive came from it.
Certainly in the case of Ginger and myself, we were jazz players who applied our way of playing in a free jazz way to rock and blues, which became what Cream was. Not in Eric’s case though, I don’t think that he was into jazz at all at the time. What was happening rhythmically was driving Eric very much in a jazz way.
Cream was only around for two years and yet you had a great output and now, when you consider how long it takes to make an album, what you did in the 60s must astonish you.
In a way, but with Graham Bond we did a whole album in three hours and a lot of jazz records were done very very quickly. We took four or five days to make an album with Cream, and we had ten days once which was a long time for us. A lot of the songs would have been worked up on the road so it was a case of going in and recording them. Cream was two different bands – it was the band in the studio and the live band which was totally different. The approaches were different as we would use the facilities of the studio to overdub. When it was live, you simply went for it.
Which album did you make in three hours with Graham Bond?