Tag Archives: Eric Clapton

Jack Bruce: Folk song

27 Oct

Eric Clapton was the most famous musician in the band Cream, though Jack Bruce supplied more of the voice and the music. In rock and roll, fame can apparently be a fickle mistress.

The band lasted 18 months and made four albums, which were good enough for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which makes Cream the Sandy Koufax of its genre.

Bruce did 14 solo albums, the last just seven months ago, and collaborated with countless big-names with differing styles. Yet most of the news of Bruce’s death this weekend focused on his time with Cream or his place among bass guitarists, which was pretty high. Folks who wouldn’t know a bass guitar from an air guitar said Bruce was the best ever, although Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, who knows a thing or two about bass guitar, said Bruce was “the most gifted bass player who’s ever been,” according to Rolling Stone. That’s credible.

But Bruce could leave his bass in the corner, as he does on the link above, play the piano, put music to Pete Brown’s words and produce a beautiful song.

That his weren’t as popular as Clapton’s, or a lot of lesser musicians, is one of the disconnects of art. Popularity often has little to do with quality.

“Bruce slowly disappears from rock history over the following decades,” wrote Neil McCormick in a appreciation of Bruce for the Telegraph. “He made a lot of music in a lot of different set ups, but none of it made much of a commercial impact. … He was probably too esoteric for his own good, shifting his musical attention too often, never really pinning his flag to any particular post.

“In a way, he was too famous and too restlessly creative just to become a bit player in another band, but too musically complex for the mainstream.”

Away from the mainstream can be a fertile place to listen. Songs For a Tailor, Harmony Row and Out of The Storm were all quality work, done in the aftermath of Cream’s breakup (Harmony Row, if I had to pick one, without conviction; Bruce cited it as his favorite in the liner notes of the 2003 re-release). Folk Song, the link above to a solo Bruce performance of it, is from Harmony Row.

From Joe Viglione’s allmusic.com review of the album: “Harmony Row is the album that combines many flavors of Bruce’s experimentations, making it courageous, adventurous, and hardly the product for a mass audience. “Folk Song” is barely a folk song; it is a progressive pop tune with that elegant, Procul Harum-like, sweeping, mystical statement. … it’s a song which should have made him the darling of underground FM radio.”

It didn’t make him a darling, and it barely made him an acquaintance. Songs for a Tailor, which was released first, reached No. 55 and Out of The Storm No. 160, but Harmony Row barely sold any at all; it didn’t even crack the charts (I’m sure my copy came from the discount bin with a cutout in the side and the store was happy to get$1.99 or $2.99 instead of nothing at all).

And maybe that’s why it was Bruce’s favorite. It wasn’t popular to a wide audience, but it was wildly so for the small one it reached.

From JackBruce.com on the album’s cover: “‘Harmony Row’ was a street of slums, now demolished, close to where Jack spent part of his childhood (in Glasgow). The building pictured was famous for being the longest unbroken tenement in Europe, at just over one mile long.”


Ronnie Lane: Annie

4 Jun
Ronnie Lane/Pete Townshend: Rough Mix

Ronnie Lane and Pete Townshend's 1977 album Rough Mix

Remembering British guitarist/songwriter Ronnie Lane on the day of his death in 1997.

Lane is best known for his work with Faces and Small Faces, but what we like him best for was his rarely remembered collaboration with The Who’s Pete Townshend, the 1977 album Rough Mix.

The album was part Lane, part Townshend, part guests John Entwistle, Eric Clapton and others, and all quality from first track to last. Townshend’s songs Misunderstood and My Baby Gives It Away were great, but so too were Lane’s Nowhere To Run, Annie (see below) and April Fool; the two artists co-wrote only the title track.

John Pidgeon, on rocksbackpagesblogs.com, said Rough Mix only happened when Lane asked Townshend for a loan. Townshend turned him down, Pidgeon said, but suggested an album.

Pidgeon on Lane’s song Annie from Rough Mix: “It’s a cliché to call a song timeless, but ‘Annie’ sounded as old as the century. It could also have been the work of Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie or George Gershwin. Or a century older and by John Newton or Charles Wesley, since, sung in church by a choir, it would certainly have sounded like a hymn. Expressed most directly in its ‘God bless us all’ plea, the song was infused throughout with a hymnal tone, its melody uplifting, its message that in spite of mortality, life was ongoing, that even in death was optimism. A hymn by Ronnie Lane would almost be worth going to church for.”

Lyrics from Annie below, or why Pidgeon wrote what he did:

When all the colours have faded
When ol’ Jack comes to call
Don’t tell them no, tell them maybe
Oh Annie, may God bless us all
Oh, yeah, Annie, may God bless us all
                                        Ronnie Lane

From sfloman.com “The album doesn’t try to make any ‘big statements’ or do anything new, and as such I’d rank it as a minor rather than a major classic, but Rough Mix is at least that, as this overlooked gem of an album sounds as good today as the day it was recorded.”

I disagree in only one respect. It sounds better.

Lane died at 51 from complications of multiple sclerosis, 21 years after he was first diagnosed with the disease, right about the time Rough Mix was recorded.

Sources: sfloman.com, wikipedia.org, rollingstone.com, rocksbackpagesblogs.com

George Shearing: Move

15 Feb


If you read On The Road, you know who Dean Moriarty is. If you read it multiple times, or have a liking for music, you know who George Shearing is.

If you didn’t or didn’t, Shearing is the blind pianist who was the subject of one of the great passages of a book filled with great passages. Or, Shearing is God,  as Moriarty called him, just as a later generation referred to Eric Clapton as God.

Shearing died Monday at 91. He was preceded in death by Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, the real-life men whom the book’s characters were named after, by 42 and 43  years, respectively.

Here’s the passage Kerouac penned as 1948 turned into 1949 (pages 127-129 in my old copy of On The Road). Be forewarned — Kerouac wasn’t a great believer in paragraphs:

George Shearing, the great jazz pianist, Dean said, was exactly like Rollo Greb. Dean and I went to see Shearing at Birdland in the midst of the long, mad weekend. The place was deserted, we were the first customers, ten o’clock. Shearing came out, blind, led by the hand to his keyboard. He was a distinguished-looking Englishman with a stiff white collar, slightly beefy, blond, with a delicate English-summer’s-night air about him that came out in the first rippling sweet number he played as the bass-player leaned to him reverently and thrummed the beat. The drummer, Denzil Best, sat motionless except for his wrists snapping the brushes. And Shearing began to rock; a smile broke over his ecstatic face; he began to rock in the piano seat, back and forth, slowly at first, then the beat went up, and he began rocking fast, his left foot jumped up with every beat, his neck began to rock crookedly, he brought his face down to the keys, he pushed his hair back, his combed hair dissolved, he began to sweat. The music picked up. The bass-player hunched over and socked it in, faster and faster, it seemed faster and faster, that’s all. Shearing began to play his chords; they rolled out of the piano in great rich showers, you’d think the man wouldn’t have time to line them up. They rolled and rolled like the sea. Folks yelled for him to “Go!” Dean was sweating; the sweat poured down his collar. “There he is! That’s him! Old God! Old God Shearing! Yes! Yes! Yes!” And Shearing was conscious of the madman behind him, he could hear every one of Dean’s gasps and imprecations, he could sense it though he couldn’t see. “That’s right!” Dean said. “Yes!” Shearing smiled; he rocked. Shearing rose from the piano, dripping with sweat; these were his great 1949 days before he became cool and commercial. When he was gone Dean pointed to the empty piano seat. “God’s empty chair,” he said. On the piano a horn sat; its golden shadow made a strange reflection along the desert caravan painted on the wall behind the drums. God was gone; it was the silence of his departure. It was a rainy night. It was the myth of the rainy night. Dean was popeyed with awe. The madness would lead nowhere. I didn’t know what was happening to me, and I suddenly realized it was only the tea that we were smoking; Dean had bought some in New York. It made me think that everything was about to arrive — the moment when you know all and everything is decided forever.

There’s another short passage on Shearing more than 100 pages later, when they see him in concert again. “Sal, God has arrived,” Moriarty says when he sees Shearing.

Below is a link to a Shearing number, although it may be after he “became cool and commercial.”


Next: Nat King Cole

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