It was “The Sound Of ’65”. It was mostly rehearsed, but it includes the first two songs of mine that were ever recorded – and they were recorded with overdubs in 20 minutes!
The “Things We Like” album was recorded, but not released, before “Songs For A Tailor”.
That was done in 1968, I think, towards the end of Cream, and I wrote most of the tunes when I was 11 which is why I called it “Things We Like” because it is a childish name. It is the name of a reading primer. I had some money and I wanted to go into a studio and make a record but shortly after that we decided that Cream would finish, would curdle. (Laughs) I decided not to release that as my first solo record as I felt I wanted to do a more personal, song type album which was “Songs For A Tailor”, and then we released “Things We Like”.
It is amazing that you kept tunes you had written when you were 11.
Composers don’t ever throw anything away as you can recycle things. “White Room”, “I Feel Free”, “Sunshine Of Your Love” and everything else have all written down and arranged on paper, that is the way I work and always have, so it is not unusual. I have the string quartet that I wrote when I was 11 or 12. Those things you don’t throw away. It’s not unusual – ah, Tom Jones – for composers to store things away as they might use them someday.
It was a great advantage for you to be able to write music from an early age.
For me it was. You can also do it by recording things, and now you can just play something into a computer or whatever and it’s very easy. But I always carry music paper with me. If I have an idea I write it down.
Presumably you would have been happy as a classical musician.
In a way, but I went to college and realised that I didn’t always enjoy being the interpreter of other people’s music, great as it is. I love Bach and Mozart but I wanted to do something of my own. If I had been to university and got stuck in like I was supposed to, I guess I could have been a classical composer but that’s not what I wanted to do really.
Were you into rock’n’roll as well as classical music when you were young?
Yes, I was in a skiffle group like everybody else of my age. I was singing and learning piano and it was a very important thing as it meant that everybody could be in a band. I was learning cello and I took my school cello and played it as a bass. (Laughs) I also got a white shirt and dyed it black. I never met Lonnie Donegan but I met Chas McDevitt recently and he has written a fantastic book about skiffle.
Was “Harmony Row” an album of improvisations?
No, one afternoon in my house I sat down and wrote the album. It poured out from beginning to end in the sequence that it was actually recorded. It was not improvisations, the songs came out one after the other in one afternoon. I guess sometimes that that can happen. Mozart was like that all the time, but if you are fortunate and lucky, you might a little gift from God.
And were you on anything at the time?
No comment. (Laughs)
Did it astonish you when that happened?
It pleased me, it was almost like tasting it. It was in the summer and very hot and I opened the windows and Catherine Deneuve lived next door with David Bailey, and I thought, “They’re going to have this.” Nobody complained. (Laughs) It was all written in my front room where the grand piano was and then I put the tape recorder on, played everything and then took it upstairs to my studio and did some demos.
“Victoria Sage” on that album is a lovely haunting song.
Um, I think there are a lot of good songs on that album. I used to do “You Burned The Tables On Me” but I haven’t done it for a while. I have over 400 songs so it is quite difficult to decide what to do.
There are certain songs you have to do.
Yes, I will always include some of the hits. When I first worked with Ringo Starr five years ago, I asked him what he wanted me to do and he said, “Just do the Number 1’s, Jack”. The band that I had in 1969/70 was with Mitch Mitchell and Larry Coryell and I didn’t do any of the material that I wrote for Cream. I wanted to move on. I went to see Bob Dylan shortly after that and he was going through a period when he wouldn’t do any of his famous songs and I felt cheated because he didn’t do “Like A Rolling Stone” or “All Along The Watchtower”. It made me think, and since then I became friendly with Albert Collins, the great great blues guitar player, and he used to say, “Jack, never forget that you are just an entertainer.” That is great advice. Ringo also taught me a lot in that way, you tend to get a little bit high-flown with your ideas, you think that you have got to do this or that, but basically you are an entertainer.
And you often do the old songs differently.
“Sunshine Of Your Love”, “White Room” and “I Feel Free” have a life of their own now. I feel quite honoured to do them, it is almost as if I didn’t write them as they have been going for so long. I still approach them with a lot of respect, apart from the fact that they have paid the rent for so many years. (Laughs) I have no problem in doing them, but I don’t often do them the way that we did them in Cream. I have my six piece band, sometimes a nine piece band if I can afford it, and so we do a modern version of those things. My drummer Horacio is from Cuba and he knows all of my material, often better than I do myself. He was growing up in Communist Cuba, not really supposed to be playing that sort of music. He had an illicit band in Cuba where they would play Hendrix and Cream and one time they were rehearsing, the police came in like it was a drug bust and they got arrested, and he said, “Hey, Jack, we were playing ‘White Room’ and I spent a month in prison for playing ‘White Room’”, so when I did my first album with those guys I had to do “White Room” for Horacio. It is a completely different version on that record, it has Eric on it, but it doesn’t have any backbeat. It is not like a rock song at all, it is completely African and it is wonderful.
“How’s Tricks” came out on RSO in 1977. I presume that this was an unfortunate label to be on as the Bee Gees had pretty well taken it over.
It was hard, but I don’t think it was the Bee Gees’ fault. The Robert Stigwood Organisation never really understood what I was about. (Laughs) They were business people who were interested in shifting units. I think of myself as a lucky guy who always has an idea of what he wants to do musically but was never into being a star, although Cream gave me the opportunity to follow my own little path and have my own musical language.
Did you know Jimi Hendrix well?
Quite well, I don’t think many people could claim to know Jimi well but I certainly spent quite a lot of time with him. He was in the studio when I recorded “White Room”, and he was very encouraging, because it wasn’t that easy for me to get the powers-that-be to recognise the quality of those songs in a commercial sense. They didn’t really see them, but I was always very lucky. When we were doing “Sunshine Of Your Love”, Booker T and Otis Redding were in the studio and they both said to Ahmet Ertegun, “Yeah, this is good stuff”, and it didn’t hurt to have Jimi around when I was doing “White Room”. He said, “I wish I could write a song like that” and I said, “Come on, give me a break, man”.
I’m surprised to hear that because Ahmet Ertegun had a jazz background.
He did, but they didn’t see them as commercial pop songs and I was trying to write commercial pop songs, very influenced by the later Beatles. Songs that would be striking and say a lot in three minutes, which is what they managed to do supremely well. By emulating that, I didn’t see why you had to have very straightforward, rigid ideas about pop songs – you know, eight bars, eight bars and then a bridge and then eight bars. You could do anything you wanted and that is what the Beatles did and that is what I was trying to do, but it was difficult to get Ahmet to see that, but I was lucky in that there were people around who saw the quality of them.
On “Cream At The BBC”, there is a track called “Lawdy Mama”, which I think developed into “Strange Brew”.
That was during the time that I was having problems with the people at Atlantic and they had decided that Eric should be the front man of the band, and I should retreat to being just the bass player. The first thing they did was to take “Lawdy Mama” and change it to “Strange Brew”. Felix went away and came back the next day with the words for “Strange Brew”. The “Lawdy Mama” bass part is slightly different from what “Strange Brew” is. That annoyed me and it still does, but it is all water under the bridge. (Laughs)
Jack Bruce, thank you very much.