In Part 1 of this interview series with Malcolm Bruce, we discussed his new release, “Heavenly Cream” [Quarto Valley Records], including his favorite tracks on it, and what his late father, Jack, would have thought. Here, in Part 2, we cover both his and his father’s relationships with drummer Ginger Baker and guitarist Eric Clapton, and why he thinks Cream was the success that it was. Following are edited excerpts from a longer phone conversation with Malcolm, who was in Great Britain at the time.
Jim Clash: I’m sure you’ve had an interesting relationship since childhood with Ginger Baker. He and your dad didn’t always see eye-to-eye in Cream.
Malcolm Bruce: Ginger worked with me on the “Heavenly Cream” project off-and-on before he passed. There was a little friction between me and his son, Kofi. Was it a genetic thing, a social thing? I don’t know. I’m also not sure what was the friction between my father and Ginger. At my dad’s funeral, I was standing with Eric [Clapton] and Ginger outside before the service, and Ginger was crying. He was deeply moved and upset. He wasn’t that stoic guy we think of [laughs].
Ginger was complicated. I think he had built up a lot of defense mechanisms over time. There was one side that was incredibly intelligent, well-read, open and deeply aware. But a wall came up in many situations, too. I invited him to Pete’s [Brown] tribute show for my dad in 2016, two years after my dad had passed. I’ve got quite a few emails between me and Ginger about it, and he was always really, really pleasant. So I definitely understand that there were two sides to Ginger [laughs].
Clash: How about Eric Clapton? Your father told me that, of the three in Cream, he had a keen fashion sense, was more commercially-minded early on.
Bruce: They all looked pretty hip. My dad did like to dress well. There is a picture recently posted on the Japanese Facebook page of the three Cream guys standing with Ahmet Ertegun and the Beatles manager [Brian Epstein]. They all look incredibly well-dressed, like they had a stylist or something. Even Ginger! He was wearing a cape, for God’s sake [laughs].
It’s a strange thing to think that Eric went through his various addictions – alcoholism and drugs – and came out the other side intact. I think Eric was always more suited to a pop-type style, but was still a true musician, indisputably one of the great guitarists of our time. He played the game better, perhaps had a narrower sensibility of what he wanted to do.
My dad was purely based on an incredible depth of musical ability and composition, and it did include some pop song-writing to achieve commercial success. But he also was more exploratory and into musical things that Eric steered clear of. As we all know, the industry functions in a certain way. My dad was totally uncompromising, maybe too uncompromising. I don’t know. It’s so subjective when you come down to it.
Clash: I saw Eric at the Budokan in Japan this past spring. He was great, but then again he had half-a-dozen backing musicians. It was a pretty full sound. But honestly, when Cream was at its peak in 1968, just the three of them – Eric with your dad and Ginger – sounded better.
Bruce: I think that was what made Cream so unique. The point is it was really quality musicianship and sound. I think about this a lot because there have been some great musicians, artists and all of that. I’m going to generalize, but in blues and rock it tends to be the front-man, the bass player behind him and the drummer keeping the beat. With Cream, as you’ve said, they all matched each other in terms of levels of musicianship. There was no person smaller or lesser. It was equal – the magic of three – with the opportunity to expand, improvise, be yourself, within all of that. If you add a fourth member, a tambourine or second guitar, it becomes a whole other thing.
Clash: But you don’t want to add a cowbell, do you?
Bruce: I did have a band with Corky Laing and Leslie West for awhile [as did Malcolm’s father], and Corky was playing the cowbell. The “more cowbell” [Saturday Night Live] thing probably came from him [laughs]. Even in Spinal Tap, the bass player modeled himself after my dad. You can hear it in the songs, actually. One of them is sort of like “White Room,” the shape and dynamics of it. “Spinal Tap was influenced by Cream” – there’s a quote for you [laughs].