THE MUSIC OF CREAM
A conversation with Malcolm Bruce
By Tom Craig
One of the most interesting tours coming through town this year is the Music of Cream. The pedigree of hallowed ‘60s trio Cream – Ginger Baker’s son Kofi Baker, Jack Bruce’s son Malcolm Bruce and Eric Clapton’s nephew Will Johns – return to the United States this spring for a new leg of The Music of Cream – 50th Anniversary World Tour. The outing celebrates the extraordinary music and legacy their family members created on the heels of the 50th anniversary since the original lineup’s farewell U.S. tour of 1968.
We had the opportunity to speak with Malcolm Bruce about the tour, his music and filling in the legendary shoes of his father, Jack Bruce.
SFL Music: When did you, Kofi and Will, first get together and decide to do this tour?
Malcolm Bruce: Well, we've known each other for a long time and worked with each other in various projects. But this, for the Music of Cream we were approached, or Kofi's manager at the time was approached by some promoters in New Zealand, and at the end of 2016, and they wanted to bring us over to Australia and New Zealand to do a tour. So, that was the inception of the whole thing. And then actually, one of the promoters, Simon Roberts, at the end of that tour, which is a seven-date, flying-to-each-show kind of tour.
It's such a vast country, Australia and then over to New Zealand. It was successful. And Simon who was one of those promoters said, "Okay, I'd quite like to manage this project and take it further. Maybe take it internationally." And so we, at that point in 2017, after that first tour thought, "Yeah, this might be really nice to take around the world to celebrate our heritage." And so, we're now on our third tour, second tour of the U.S.
SFL Music: That's great. How would you describe the way you and the guys approach taking on your father's music and this tour?
Malcolm Bruce: Well, as you know the tribute band genre is a particular thing. And I think that there's some amazing tribute bands out there that, they might even dress up like the original band and they learn everything note to note. They might have the same stage show and all that kind of stuff. And we're not like that at all. I guess it's partly because we grew up around the guys. So, I worked with my dad for years in various capacities from jamming at home, talking about music, to actually being in the recording studio and going on the road with him and all different things.
So, it's not that kind of ... from a distance, you know? It's part of the fabric of our lives, and I think for all three of us in different ways. We're taking the spirit we're hoping we're taking the spirit of the music and breathing new life into it. Because it's based so much on improvisation. It's not note-for-note. And my dad, he was so amazing that it would be silly for me to try and pretend to be him. I've got to be myself, find myself within the music. And its wonderful music to play.
I think also I write my own music. I produced a solo record a couple of years ago, and I'm working on my next one this year. So, if I was only gonna do this, I think again, it would be a whole different thing and my perspective on would be very different.
SFL Music: Right.
Malcolm Bruce: Because it's like a celebration of my heritage. It's really who I am. It's part of who I am. So, without sounding arrogant or whatever, we kind of have the right to do it in a way. And I think we do it well in the sense that we understand that it's part of who we are, and we're not just sort of faking it or copying it or trying to be something. We understand that it's all about spontaneity, being in the moment, allowing yourself to explore music in its purist form, you know, improvisation. And it's exciting when it comes together on stage, which is does quite a lot, it's a very magical spiritual experience or whatever. And it's that thing that you're going on a journey with the audience. It's a shared experience.
So yes, we approach it in that way. I'm not putting on the velvet flares. Anyway, I'm taller than my dad. It wouldn't work out He was 5 foot 6 Glaswegian, I'm 6 foot, so there you go.
SFL Music: Well, I was fortunate enough to see your dad once. I was 13 when I saw Cream in Miami.
Malcolm Bruce: Oh wow.
SFL Music: They played the baseball stadium. And then I saw him many years later. I was the photographer down here for a couple of dates of Ringo's tour, and got to photograph him and meet your dad on that tour. So, I felt very fortunate because the music of Cream was a big part of my life, and I was a huge fan of theirs. So, I'm very much looking forward to seeing you guys next month down here.
Malcolm Bruce: Fantastic.
SFL Music: Have the three of you talked about writing any new music together, possibly to perform along with the music of Cream?
Malcolm Bruce: Yes, we have actually. We have been writing. Me and Will currently live in the U.K. and Kofi lives over here. He is now an American citizen, so we haven't actually sort of been able to write together, physically together. But we've been sort of sending files and ideas to each other. So, we've got the beginnings of ... I think we've got 8 or 10 song ideas on the go at the moment. So yes, I mean it's definitely a possibility that we will put something together.
Having said that, it's a delicate thing because Cream's repertoire, what they did, what they came up with in those 2 1/2 years or whatever. It's just astounding, you know? There this incredible body of work.
SFL Music: Yes.
Malcolm Bruce: There's I guess 1/4 of it or whatever is fairly well selected blues covers that they were doing with the classics or whatever, like "Sitting On Top of the World," or "Crossroads," or whatever, which they then kind of adopted, made their own. But the actual original songwriting across the board, you know, obvious my dad and Pete possibly wrote the bulk of the original stuff. But then looking back on it, there was quite a few ... You know, my mom wrote a song with Ginger, "Sweet Wine." They wrote a song together and Eric did, various things. So, there is a great body of work and I think you have to be careful to start doing original stuff and adding it to that, because it's a kind of complete thing already.
SFL Music: Right.
Malcolm Bruce: I think especially when you're crafting a live set, you're thinking, we're thinking of that kind of cohesiveness. But having said that, I think at some point it will be really interesting to explore that. And maybe this band ... As I say, we're all doing our own thing. We're all taking on projects. But maybe this band will morph, will develop, or evolve into doing an original album. I mean, I would like to do that. I think we all would. So, we'll see. You know we're all musicians. We're not pop stars.
It's interesting. We're not a 16-year-old girl that's very beautiful and has 7.6 million followers on Instagram, but mimes with a hairbrush in front of a mirror, you know? That's the way the world's gone and the way the industry's gone. It's fairly interesting. If you're an actual musician that can spend a long long time, many many years, getting your craft, and each day is a continuation of that. It's interesting, how do you ... You can be a working musician being paid to do job. But to actually come up with truly original stuff. It's an interesting time in the business.
SFL Music: It is.
Malcolm Bruce: It's kind of like how do you do that? How do you do this without money? You can sell snow to the Eskimos if you have enough money, so ... It's kind of an interesting thing, doing truly original stuff and finding a way to get that out there. Yes, but I think we'd all love to see that happen, like make an album. Another good friend of mine, Ben Elliot, who has a great studio up in New Jersey, he wants us to do something. There are loads of people that wanna do something with us, so we'll see what the next step is.
SFL Music: That would be awesome. I'd look forward to that. That kind of leads into my second question: On your album, "Salvation," you co-wrote "In Love With You" with Pete Brown, who was a big collaborator of your dad's, and Cream's. Have you guys approached him about maybe working with you on some material?
Malcolm Bruce: Oh, absolutely. I mean Pete's a good friend of mine. I love Pete. I've spent a lot of time with him and we've worked together, and he’s brought me on this. We’ve been at Abbey Road Studios in London over the last year or so doing a set for a label called Quarter Valley Records which is another Cream-related project. It's a kind of Cream acoustic album with a film. We've been filming it. We've had some amazing people come into that album. Joe Bonamassa is on it. Ginger came in and did a couple of songs. And Bobby Rush came in the end of last year, which was amazing to work with him. Great guy. All kinds of people. Deborah Bonham, Jason’s sister she's a wonderful singer.
SFL Music: She is.
Malcolm Bruce: All kinds of people have come in. So yes, I've been collaborating with Pete. I've written about 15 or 20 songs with Pete over the years, two of which I really love.
SFL Music: Awesome.
Malcolm Bruce: So yeah, Pete's great. And he actually came and sang a couple of songs with us when we played a show in London the end of last year. We did about 40 shows in the U.S. and then flew over to the U.K. and did three kind of initial U.K. dates. We played a Venue called Kentish Town Forum, and Pete came and got up on stage and sang with us, which was great, because apart from Eric ... Ginger's not really very well. She still plays beautifully, but he not well enough for us to kind of ask him. And I'm not sure he would do it. Eric's like on a whole other ...
SFL Music: Whole other level.
Malcolm Bruce: A whole other plane. Although I think under the radar, Eric's kind of given Will his blessing, saying, "Yeah, it's great that you're doing this," or whatever.
SFL Music: That's great.
Malcolm Bruce: But with Pete, it's kind of ... It just helps legitimize what we're doing. It's one of the real guys who was actually involved. My mom's still around, she's in London, and she's pretty supportive of it. She wrote a couple of songs, "Sleepy Time Time," and "Sweet Wine" as I mentioned before.
SFL Music: That's right, that's right.
Malcolm Bruce: So, it's great. Pete's a wonderful guy. He just did lyrics on Procol Harum's last album. He's almost 80 and he's still actively out there working all the time and has been incredibly great. I'm very honored that he's involved in this project in the fringes. As I say, I've got a number of songs that we've written over the years too. So yes.
SFL Music: When will that project come out?
Malcolm Bruce: I'm not sure. I would hope in the next year, six months or whatever. It's done. Rob Cass, who is a great producer in London, he produced this album. He actually produced my dad's final album that was also recorded at Abbey Road called, "Silver Rails." So, I've gotten to know Rob Cass over the last few years, and I guess he's in the mixing process, or maybe the mixers are done and then there's the film. We've had a director, Mark Waters come in and film all the sessions, so it's looking great, what I've seen of it. Multi-camera shoots in Abbey Road Studio two and three, so it doesn't get much better than that.
SFL Music: No, it sure doesn't. When you think about what Cream accomplished in 2 1/2 years, what stands out to you? Not only as the son, but as a musician?
Malcolm Bruce: Well I think it's a completely unique band, unique body of work. I might be prejudiced, but I think it stands out on its own. You know, the Beatles, you've got an incredible body of work. The Stones, again, it's incredible stuff. You've got The Kinks, you've got The Who, which I love. I love all these bands and this only goes on and on, doesn't it?
SFL Music: Yes.
Malcolm Bruce: But with Cream, they were real, as you say, real musicians with real musicianship. My dad ... It's just like with Eric, more as a blues purist in that sense, coming from that background. But with my dad and Ginger ... It's funny, I posted, somebody sent me a picture of an early publicity shot of the Graham Bond Organization from I think 1963, and I think that was Jack and Ginger were in that band with Dick Heckstall-Smith and Graham Bond and at some point, John McLaughlin as well. And so, you look back at that and you realize, or I realize that they were playing 300 shows a year on the U.K. circuit, on the U.K. live circuit in '63, Jack and Ginger, and they were wearing mod suits with thin ties and sort of ... My dad’s got a mustache for God's sake.
You, kind of think okay, three years before the formation of Cream, a band that were playing kind of progressive blues music, all coming from a jazz background. So, they were all classical, in terms of my dad, classically trained but coming from an upright bass, jazz background. And they were touring and just touring incessantly, playing shows and shows, and driving before they were even ... We call them motorways, the same as you guys' freeways ... You know, there wasn't anything like that. They're driving up and down the U.K. on little roads and playing a show ever night somewhere. Manchester one night, Croydon in South London the next night, whatever. And three years later Cream, two of the guys in that band, got together with Eric and then played that same circuit, which everyone else was playing.
So, I think they paid their dues. They learned their craft by performing, not from ... Okay, let's write. How do you write a song, and you've got to use these kinds of chords, and we've gotta look a certain way, and hold our instrument like this, and smile in public? That was a whole different ethic. And I'm not against that. I love good pop music. I really love good pop music. But it's a whole different thing. These guys were actual musicians that were working musicians that suddenly found themselves, a few years later, in a situation where they were famous, internationally. And I think ... I'm not sure if they could have predicted that or if they'd even had an inkling that that was gonna happen. I think they just wanted to make a living as musicians. It wasn't about being famous.
And I think ... So, I think there's that perspective. And it's a completely unique thing. I can't think of any other musicians that have that same level of touring experience from such an early age. And then discover, with my dad I think especially, once he met Pete Brown ... And incidentally, Ginger had brought him in to write with Ginger and they didn't get along, so Pete sort of moved over to my dad and they found this synergy in terms of their writing together.
I think it all happened quite ...spontaneously, you know when you're a kid, maybe there's a fun ... You don't think about thing so much. You just think it happened, you know-
SFL Music: Yes. Just the spontaneity of it all.
Yeah. My dad, I guess he was 23, and Eric was younger than my dad, and Ginger maybe a couple of years older or whatever. It was ... They were kids really, you know? And-
SFL Music: Yeah. And it was about the ... I see it as about their combined love of music, of all the different influences they had in music throughout their life.
Malcolm Bruce: Yes. I think, there is that fairly famous quote from that time. I think my dad might have said it, which was, "Me and Ginger were a jazz rhythm section. We just didn't tell Eric." I think that's kind of quite true, you know? They put the fire behind Eric in a way that ... I mean Eric's amazing. What an incredible career he's had. He's absolute best in the world in many ways and always will be.
SFL Music: Yeah.
Malcolm Bruce: Certainly, during the late 20th century. But he's never had that, somebody push him, kick him up the butt in the same way that Jack and Ginger did. Because Jack and Ginger were throwing cymbals at each or whatever it was. That sort of energy that Jack and Ginger had that no other rhythm section had. There were other great rhythm sections, but not in that way. They sort of all pushed each other.
And also, the trio format. I think that's something, and I've talked about this a lot since I've been involved with this project. Just there's kind of a synergistic magical thing that happens when you have three people performing together. And if you introduce a fourth person it changes it. It gives us a sense of space and it's as much what you don't play as what you do in that sense. You don't want to fill up everything. And you want the freedom to explore. If you're a bass player, even though you can play high notes on the bass, it's still the bass. And if you're a guitarist, you don't wanna be sort of crowded in that frequency range. So, those three instruments in a trio, in a rock trio, they work very very well together.
And I think ... This is all quite new when they did it in 1966, I can imagine.
SFL Music: Yes.
Malcolm Bruce: So, there are so many things that make it a unique proposition. And I think fundamentally, it's the improvisational aspects that nobody else was doing that. You had improvisation. You had jazz improvisation, and sort of classical free improvisation, and all those kinds of elements. But for guys to kind of play blues/rock music, but then just to go, "Hey, we're just gonna play and see where it goes."
SFL Music: Right.
Malcolm Bruce: That was something that was completely unique, and I don't think it's ever really been touched upon since, not in that way.
SFL Music: No, and in my mind, they were the first super group.
Malcolm Bruce: Yes, absolutely, absolutely. As I said, they've all played in the top bands in the U.K. And that's why ... Chas Chandler, who I knew when I was a kid, I went to school with his son for a year in London, so I kind of got to know Chas. When he brought Jimi Hendrix to London, who incidentally Linda Keith went to school with my mom at Camden School for Girls and then Linda was Keith Richard's girlfriend, was living in New York. He went off on tour, she met Jimi Hendrix at a club and then started having a thing with him, and then introduced Chas Chandler to Jimi. It was Jimi James and the Blue Flames or whatever.
And then when Chas brought him, brought Jimi over to the U.K., the first people he took them to were Cream. He took them to a show and he took the three guys to the side of the stage, "Can I, would you let my new artist sit in?" And it was all like, "Oh, I don't know. Who is he?" And then he blew them all away after he played Killing Floor, but there you go. I think it was one of Cream's first shows, but still, on the street everybody was talking about it. As you said, it's a super group in the sense that these guys were already notorious on the music scene. They played in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers or Alexis Korner or Yardbirds.... or Graham Bond or whatever.
SFL Music: Right. You guys are doing a pretty extensive swing down here in Florida with six dates. Have you personally ever played in Florida before?
Malcolm Bruce: Yes, I have. I've played a number of times. The first time I played in Florida was in the early '90s with a band. We played Arlo Guthrie's festival, and I met Arlo. That was really a thrill, to meet him. I don't know whether he's still down in Florida, or-
SFL Music: I believe he still has a home up around the Stuart area, yes.
Malcolm Bruce: Right. Yeah, no, I remember we were on tour and we got ... We flew down and did this bigger short set of this festival. I think it was 10,000 or 15,000. It was great, it was fun. So, that was the first time I did it. And then I was on tour in the support act for George Satriani about eight years ago, nine years ago. And we came through and I played, I think, The House of Blues in Disney-
SFL Music: In Orlando.
Malcolm Bruce: ... In Orlando, yeah. So, I've done it two or three times over the years. It's lovely. We're looking forward to getting some sun. Up here, we're in Tarrytown today. It's a beautiful day, but still feel a little nip in the air, you know?
SFL Music: Well it should be nice weather for you when you guys hit the state in April.
Malcolm Bruce: Fantastic, yeah. We're going through Nashville as well, which is ... I did actually do the tracking for my album Salvation and I played in Kevin McKenzie's studio in Nashville, so it's always great to go back there.
SFL Music: Yes. Nashville's a great music town.
Malcolm Bruce: Oh, I love it. I've got some good friends there.
SFL Music: On the last leg of your U.S. tour, I saw that you offered fans live recordings from each show. Will you guys be doing that this time around?
Malcolm Bruce: Not this time around. What we've done is we've put together sort of a "best of" the last tour compilation. So, we're selling a CD, we're offering a CD at the shows. We've got some merch here, a T-shirt, posters, and this CD. But we're just excited that we do it this way around this time. It was really interesting to do that, because you're ... We had a great team with us a company called VNUE, a couple of guys, and so they'd do a kind of basic, multi-track, seven individual tracks I think, and mix it on the fly, and then have a rack of CD burners so people could actually just collect a double CD at the end of each show.
And so, it's a process of, "Okay, I'm gonna have to let go. I didn't really sing that song very well tonight," or "That was a really bad bum note in the bridge," or whatever. And you've just gotta kind of let it go and say, "Okay, all right."
SFL Music: That's what happens, you know, sometimes.
Malcolm Bruce: You know, as we say, it's "keepin' it real."
SFL Music: That's right.
Malcolm Bruce: Yes. I hope we will work with that again in the future, I think. So, this one we just thought it was, rather than another couple of guys on the road, we thought the simple solution was just come up with a really nice compilation of the best takes over the last tour, and put that together, so-
SFL Music: Is it a double CD?
Malcolm Bruce: It's a single CD. Yeah. But I think some of those shows are still available to purchase on our website from the last tour, the double CDs. I can check that out, I think.
SFL Music: Okay.
Malcolm Bruce:I think that's possible, yeah.
SFL Music: How much of Cream's song book have you guys worked on for this tour?
Malcolm Bruce: Yeah, when we got into the rehearsal process, we sort of made master list of pretty much every Cream song. Even great ones like, "Anyone For Tennis," which we were considering doing because it's such a fun, kind of lighter side of Cream. The lighter side of Cream. So yes, we kind of put this master list together, and then during the rehearsal process, we sort of came up with what made sense and sort of started to shape it. What is the song order gonna be? How are we gonna open the show? How are we gonna end the first set? How are we gonna open the second set? Kofi’s drum solo in Toad. So, things leading up to that. And I think now we've got a really nice 2 1/2 hour show. It's got a really good sense of shape. It's so much to do with that ebb and flow, building things up, peaking etc.
SFL Music: Sure. I was gonna ask how long the show is? So, 2 1/2 hours?
Malcolm Bruce: Yeah. Well yes. The last tour we were playing three hours, three hours of play time actually on stage, and I think it wasn't the audience feedback. It was more some of the venues. A few of the venues are like, "Well, that's a little bit too long." Some of the people coming to the shows are of an age and have to get home, have their cocoa." So, we'll play ... I mean, I can happily three, four hours a night, especially with this kind of music because you just, you get into it. You know? But I think we've ... I'm not sure if we've timed it this time around, but we've shortened it a little bit. We're making the jams a little bit more succinct in places. Whereas maybe you can stretch out something for 15 or 20 minutes maybe we're doing it for 7 minutes or something. But we're fortunate in this run, and I think last night it was starting to feel really good, you know comfortable again. It takes a few shows, I think.
SFL Music: Sure. To get that groove.
Malcolm Bruce: To find that… In terms of the content of the show, we've got all the ones that people that know that music will expect like, "Sunshine of Your Love," "White Room," "Crossroads," as I said, "Sitting on Top of the World." One of my favorites is, "We're Going Wrong," which we do. Then we have, "Toad," we have “Spoonful”
SFL Music: N.S.U.?
Malcolm Bruce: We have “N.S.U.” We have "Strange Brew." So pretty much all the classics. There's a couple ... "Tales of Brave Ulysses," we haven't put in the set, and that's a great song. We can't have ... We just don't have time to do it all.
SFL Music: Sure. And I believe I read somewhere that you guys also mix in some video and also some personal stories.
Malcolm Bruce: Yes. We've got a great guy who's sitting next to me, so I'm gonna say something nice about him, Alex Hopple, right? Yeah so, Alex is coming. He's a new guy on his first tour with us, and he's doing all the videography and lighting and everything. It's a really great addition to the show. It puts people in that back to the '60s. It's like dropping acid without dropping acid. We actually work with this guy, Marc Rubinstein from the Pig Light Show. He's great. He did a lot of the original kind of psychedelic imagery for all kinds of bands. Probably at the Fillmore and all of that stuff. So, he's sent us some great video stuff to work with and to sort of work into everything else that we've got. We've got some great photos of us with Jack, Ginger, and Eric.
SFL Music: Oh great.
Malcolm Bruce: Will used to go fishing with his uncle, so there's some really lovely little shots. So, it's all kind of blended together. And yes, we tell some stories, a few different stories about us growing up with our parents and our uncle. It's simple, and it's sincere, and it's authentic. It's who we are. We're not trying to be flashy about it. We're just trying to round out the show. It has all the music there, but to round it out with some nice things that make people, that give people the opportunity to have a little bit more insight into who we are and how we're connected to the music.
SFL Music: Right.
Malcolm Bruce: And that we sort of know how we're accessing it in the way that we feel that we have that unique perspectives, to whatever degree. So yeah, I think people come away ... So far, we've had very very positive feedbacks from the audiences. They seem to love what we're doing. We're honored to be able to do it. It's great.
SFL Music: Well, what would you like to say to the South Florida fans that are going to come out and see you at these shows?
Malcolm Bruce: Just that it's a great opportunity and honor for us to be able to do this, and we appreciate the support and I think people will be surprised by what we're doing. It's not ... We're doing all right, and I think they'll come away with a great sense of ... The people that saw the original band, we're not the same, but it's reliving the spirit of the whole thing. And the joy of making music, you know? The joy of the freedom to improvise and have fun and search outside of what seems to have become music currently in the marketplace.
We have the freedom with this thing. And I think it's shared experience with the audience every night. People are there with us, right there with us. Last night ... It's always a bit funny sometimes. You play a show and it's really quiet out in the audience. You think, "Ah, maybe they think we're crap," you know? But then at the end of the song, they're just wailing and cheering and people are actually listening, you know? They're actually there with you in each note, listening to what you're doing because it's that kind of music. There's nothing fluffy or filler about Cream's music. It's a real journey, and so we're really excited to be able to do it. It's a great opportunity for us, individually as artists as well collectively, and see you at the show hopefully. That would be great.