Few bands in rock history had the impact of Cream. Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, and Eric Clapton were only together for 3 years (1966-1969) but created a legacy that lives to this day. Malcolm Bruce, son of Jack, has helped put together a new tribute called Heavenly Cream – An Acoustic Tribute to Cream and recently took some time to talk about it and his father’s legacy.
Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Malcolm Bruce –
On beginning this record pre-pandemic with Cream lyricist Pete Brown – I’m glad you mentioned Pete Brown. He passed away earlier this year. He was our friend, our family friend, somebody that I worked with for most of my life as a musician. It was really his idea in collaboration with the record label, Quarto Valley, they were talking about another project and then the idea came up to do an acoustic tribute to Cream and shoot a documentary alongside it, sort of a “making of” documentary. So, Pete then came to me and asked me if I wanted to be involved, and Rob Cass, the producer, and Mark Waters, who directed and edited the documentary. So, we sort of formed the core creative group, and then we started reaching out to various artists from that point.
On losing many of the artists who performed on the record – As is the nature of these things, we thought, I think most of us thought that the record would be out, we recorded in 2018, we thought sort of the back end of 2019 going into 2020 would be the launch of the project. Then obviously we all went into the pandemic and sort of all our lives changed at that point. So I think the reason it’s been five years in the making is partly the pandemic sort of slowed the process down. We didn’t really know at that point that this would be Ginger Baker’s last recording or Pete, for that matter. I mean, Pete did a lot of other work since this record, but, obviously, as it’s coming out, he’s passed way up. Pee Wee Ellis is on the record and he passed away as well, Pee Wee being the sax player from James Brown’s band, but also worked with Ginger in the UK because he lived in the UK for a long time. So there’s quite a few people, and Bernie (Marsden), obviously, who was a dear friend and an amazing guy. So yes, we weren’t preempting all of this, it just kind of happened. I guess some people are reaching that age where perhaps they’re going to pass on, depending on if they ate their greens or how many steps on the treadmill. You just can’t predict any of this stuff. So, we’re just glad, I think we’re all collectively glad that we have it as a kind of document, a little bit of a sort of tribute to them at this point as well.
Obviously, they had incredible careers separately from this record, but this record is actually a testament as well to it, towards the end of their lives. So it’s really lovely to have that and to have a documentary where they’re being interviewed. We were in Abbey Road. It’s always a nice thing to be in Abbey Road. It’s a lovely environment to make a record. So I think we’re just grateful that we have it and it turned out well.
On when the documentary will be available – I believe it’s already available to download in the U. S. I don’t have the streaming details. Sorry, it’s available to stream in the U. S. But I’m not quite sure which streaming platform that is. It should be on the Quarto Valley website or propermusic.com are distributing the actual record. So I would imagine the information is already online. I’m not sure if it’s going to be an actual physical documentary for release these days. Do we have that anymore? The actual record will be available as a download as a CD and also as a double vinyl as well. So, anybody that’s into the high-end audio file stuff can get a nice sort of thick two-vinyl package as well of the record, which is huge. It’s nice to have.
On working with such a diverse group of guests on the record – I kind of ended up feeling like it was, I was playing a supportive role., I played bass, I played piano, I played a bit of guitar. I first met Nathan (James), I actually put together a tribute to my dad two years after he passed away, which was, he passed away in October 2014 and myself, and Pete Brown, we sort of curated a concert in London two years later Shepherds Bush Empire. That was the first time I met Nathan. He came in at the suggestion of a friend to come in and actually perform for us. So we had Trevor Horn on bass for a song with Nathan, Gary Husband on drums, and Steve Hackett and myself on bass. So we did two or three songs with Nathan and that was the first time I really got to meet him and realize his talent. So I think when we started putting this project together a year and a half, two years later, it was kind of, it made total sense to reach out to him and see if he wanted to be involved. He’s just a great talent, obviously. So that worked out really well.
Everybody else involved, they all kind of made sense in terms of the history. That’s the thing, music, certainly what we call classic rock or this history of the real story of rock and roll. It’s all interconnected, isn’t it? In the UK, it was called the British R&B Boom or whatever. Those early bands like Alexis Korner Graham Bond, and the Moody Blues, and the Stones, and the Kinks, and then Cream and a little later Zeppelin, Manfred Mann, all these bands and everyone, John Mayall, everyone was sort of hopping from one band to the next, and certain things solidified. Paul Rogers is on this record. I knew Andy Fraser, his bandmate in Free, and got to do a tour with Andy about 10 years ago. So, it’s all interconnected. Pete Brown obviously had a huge, very long career in the business. So it was just really about getting out our contact books to see and contact with people and see who might want to get involved. It was just wonderful.
Most of the recordings were done at Abbey Road and most apart from Paul Rogers’s vocal, I’ve been trying to think back through all the sessions and I think apart from his vocal that was recorded remotely in the US because he is based in the US everybody else was in the room together in Abbey Road, recording live with minimal fixes and overdubs and things like that. It was really fun to have Joe Bonamassa in the room with Ginger Baker, what’s going to happen? I wonder what will happen if we put Joe Bonamassa and Ginger Baker in the same room with some microphones. It was, as is the way with anything in life, there’s always an element of experimental, you don’t quite know what’s going to happen, but I think if you get the right people with the right intention, you’re more likely to get some chemistry and something synergistic happening. We all shared, I think everybody involved had a respect and love for that music tradition. You mentioned, Bobby Rush, who’s a legend, incredible guy. To bring him in and get his agreement to do some of the blues songs that Cream themselves covered, that was really exciting. What’s Bobby going to do with “Spoonful”? Because “Spoonful” is one of the great, we call it a blues song, but it’s more, it’s far, far more than that. It’s a composition, something that can be interpreted and stretched and augmented and taken in so many directions. So, it’s just lovely to have someone like Bobby with the kind of weight and strength of his whole career just come in and sort of take the lead on that. He was great, just an amazing person to be around for that day. So yeah, it was exciting, exciting for me. I’d worked with a lot of those people already, but, even so just that environment and the idea behind what we were trying to do, just, it was an exciting time. I think everybody involved wanted to do their best, but stay relaxed and have a good time.
On when he began to realize the impact his father had –Well, I wasn’t born during the Cream era just after that, but yeah, that’s an interesting one. I think I did become aware quite early on just because I would go to his shows and he would be on the stage and there’d be people in the audience and they might politely clap or they might “Ah”, or whatever, but he was sort of the focus. So I suppose even before I really understood what that was, I was around it and seeing that happen. Then as I became more aware of his talent and that people respected it and admired him and that he had this career, but he was also just my dad as well. It’s an interesting thing, isn’t it?
With people I really admire today, I wonder, “What is it about those people? What is it about those people? Are they different somehow? Do they not have to sleep? Do they maybe drink a different brand of coffee to me? What is it? How do they manage?” No, I’m kidding. I don’t know. It’s just what we know, we know. Yes, there was definitely an awareness of that. From a very early age, I was sort of playing music with him and he would play, he would jam with me or show me things and encourage me in a sort of gentle way. I suppose some kids wouldn’t want to be musicians, but I just naturally gravitated into it from a very early age. I was playing the piano by the age of five and writing songs by the age of eight or nine. So it was just a natural progression for me to be around it and forget my dad, what about me? No, I’m kidding. No, but it’s like you’re a kid, “Get out the way parents, I’m important”. So yeah, there’s all of that sort of toing and froing of the family dynamics and everything, I was aware of it for sure.
My father’s an interesting character in that sense because he had that huge success with Cream and then and then a very long career and lots of success in other ways, but he’s also kind of underrated in the business even though, if I go to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and I know the guys that run it and they’re always really kind to me and they say, “Oh, it’s your home. Come in and whenever you’re in town, come in”. So I’ve gone when I’m in Cleveland, I’ll email them and they’ll give me some passes and I’ll go in. My dad’s name is on a plaque on the wall and he’s got the whole lifetime Grammy recipient thing and all of that stuff. Even so, I think he deserves a much bigger profile in terms of his importance as an artist, but it’s just, you can’t predict these things. So I think he also struggled with all of that stuff because he knew, and as I’ve grown and had more experience, I realized his importance as an artist and what he achieved. But history isn’t always written that way, is it? History is written like, well, somebody else sold more records or had a better publicist or something. I don’t know, slept with the more important people. It’s complex. All that stuff is complex. So we just kind of go, we accept things how they are, don’t we?
On the Cream reunions in 1993 and 2005 – Well, I was actually I was in a band living in LA when they got inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I was living on Sunset and Vine, right in the heart of Hollywood. It’s like the first band I’d ever been in that had a record deal. I was living in a little apartment and it was sort of gunshot city in Hollywood. I got a call from my dad. He’s like, “Oh, I’m coming into town. We’re, we’re doing this ceremony”, I can’t remember which hotel is one of the big hotels in LA, so he invited me to go to it. I actually sat with Eric, Jack, and Ginger. Eric’s date that night was Naomi Campbell. So I kind of sat next to Naomi Campbell. I can’t even remember anything else except sitting next to her, can’t blame me, I don’t think she looked at me once. No, maybe she did glance at me once I don’t know. But anyway, I was actually there and it was really exciting to see those guys get up and play together and get the award. ZZ Top gave them the award. So I kind of hung out with them a little bit and they were really sweet and all kinds of people, Lenny Kravitz was there and all kinds of people. Van Morrison got inducted at the same time but didn’t show up, of course. It was really, really lovely to see them play.
When the actual proper reunion happened in 2005 it was a strange time because my dad had been diagnosed with liver cancer and he’d had a liver transplant, literally a year before the reunion concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He had gone in, as is the way with these things, everything had gone wrong. He’d had the transplant and it’s a weird thing because he was diagnosed with liver cancer, but he was absolutely fine. But they said, if you don’t have a transplant, you’re not going to live. So he made this decision to go on a waiting list and then you get the call, you literally get the call. Then it’s like, okay, you got to drive into the hospital and you’re going to have the operation the next morning or whatever. So he had the operation and then it all sort of went wrong and he was in a coma. They said he’s not going to survive and then he did pull through and then they gave him these sort of anti-rejection drugs, but they gave him the wrong medication, it didn’t work and he went back into a coma and then we thought he wasn’t going to survive again.
So this had all this really really intense extreme health situation for him had happened literally a year before he was standing on the stage with the other two guys doing the reunion. So for him, he’d had to like have kind of find his singing voice again and do vocal exercise, go back to a teacher and he had to kind of build his himself back up and he did, he’s incredible in the reunion. It’s a testament to the strength that my father had in terms of his character and his sheer will of survival and his talent. That first performance he was really, really nervous backstage, but he did it. He pulled it off. I was in the audience that first night and it was a very, very special atmosphere as the guys walked out on stage. It was almost like one of those things where everything’s in slow motion and they walk out and there’s a hush in the crowd because this is the thing Cream fans have been waiting for this like 40 years or something like that.
So it was a special moment and it was a beautiful moment and it was a kind of sacred feeling. The performance was a very, very special thing. I saw, I think three or four of those shows in London and then I flew in to see the final show Madison Square Garden. They did that, which was equally beautiful, except by that point, I believe my dad and Ginger had fallen out again or something because apparently, they were getting really nice offers from Japan to tour in Japan and do some other dates in the US, but it all kind of fell apart for personal reasons. I don’t have the answer to why my dad and Ginger had that dynamic, but it’s probably like brothers or something, sibling fallout. But yeah, it was beautiful. It was really special.
On his relationship with Eric Clapton – I don’t know Eric well, but he’s always been really nice when I’ve spoken to him. I did have a chat with him just after Ginger passed away. We spoke on the phone for quite a long time about a few things and he was really nice. I don’t ever like to bother him because he’s Eric and he’s got his own life. I don’t kind of call him up all the time and hassle him about anything. I think Pete did reach out to him, Pete Brown about the Heavenly Cream project, but I think he passed on it. But then we actually recorded, just before Pete passed away, we did Pete’s solo record, which is a separate project coming out on a different label next year. That’s called The Shadow Club and Eric is performing on that record. So we did have him on a song for that record, which is beautiful, but it’s an original song. It’s not a Cream song. So I think maybe Eric, I don’t know what his thoughts about it were, but if it was me, I might have thought, “Well, I don’t really want to do a Cream cover, but I’m more than happy to do an original song for you, Pete”. It worked out quite well, I think for Pete because it’s a beautiful record that he made right at the end of his own own stuff. I’m really happy for him. I think he was happy to have achieved that, even though he’s not going to see either. He’s not here to see either of the releases. I know that he was proud of both records.