Jack Bruce has long been one of my all time favourite bassists due to his work with Cream but I’m ashamed to say that aside from his 1969 solo album Songs For A Tailor, I’m not overly familiar with the rest of his solo career. However that changed after hearing this excellent recording of a show he played at Fillmore East in New York with Jack Bruce & Friends, which includes Mitch Mitchell on drums, Larry Coryell on guitar and Mike Mandell on organ. The band only played seventeen dates together between the 24th January and 1st March 1970 and sadly there are less than a handful of live recordings of them. Thankfully, however, this late show recording from the 31st January is one of them.
The band open with the Cream song Politician. Immediately it’s obvious that Bruce has no hesitation in playing old material from previous bands unlike Eric Clapton who refused to play any Cream songs in Blind Faith aside from the odd track when the crowds demanded it. From Bruce’s point of view, he wrote them, so why shouldn’t he play them? While this version of Politician lacks Clapton’s explosive lead guitar work you can really get a sense of how the song sounds with an expanded lineup and the addition of a keys player. Mike Mandell on organ doesn’t do anything extraordinary here but he manages to lay down beautiful tones behind the bass, guitar and drums that gives the song a steady foundation that perhaps wasn’t there in the Cream version. It’s an extremely enjoyable listen which makes me wonder if this is what Cream’s sound would have gone on to become had they invited Steve Winwood to join them.
- Weird Of Hermiston/Tickets To Waterfalls
- HCKHH Blues
- We’re Going Wrong
- The Clearout
- Sunshine Of Your Love
- Smiles And Grins (Jam)
A two song medley follows Politician which features two tracks from Bruce’s 1969 debut album Songs For A Tailor. The first is Weird Of Hermiston which is one of my favourite tracks on the album. Before listening to this bootleg I hadn’t heard a live version of this song before and while parts of the song are a little different in a live setting, I absolutely love it. Bruce’s strong vocal performance dominates the song and manages to control the band and audience perfectly. The band themselves are on top form here and you can really sense they are starting to get into things as they go straight from Weird Of Hermiston into Tickets To Waterfalls. The two songs are actually the other way around on the studio album but the rotation works perfectly and the band kick it up a notch in the process. The jam sections of this particular song are some of the best from the whole show and emphasise how great the band sound together, even though they were only a unit for a short amount of time.
The fourth song is taken from Bruce’s 1970 solo album Things We Like which was actually recorded when he was still with Cream in August 1968. The album wouldn’t be released until late 1970 in the UK but the band performed the song HCKHH Blues at Fillmore East. Whereas the studio version is all jazz the band transform the song into a blues/rock monster reminiscent of Cream with the addition of a more jazz based guitarist and an organ. It’s a wonderful track with an incredible amount of energy from start to finish. This is the first time you get to fully appreciate Mitch Mitchell on drums who lays down some incredible grooves from start to finish in a way only he can. It’s a sublime performance that lasts just short of nine minutes and even though the track changes directions numerous times the band never lose the energy or focus. We’re Going Wrong comes next which gives the show a needed mellow moment after the previous track. It’s impossible to compare these Cream numbers to when Cream actually performed them because they are just so different. The music may be the same, the lyrics might not have changed, but the way the songs are performed are different with Jack Bruce & Friends. It’s a really good rendition with the organ playing a key role although it’s sometimes difficult to hear on this particular recording.
After a brief break the band return with a song Bruce originally wanted to include on Cream’s 1967 album Disraeli Gears called The Clearout. This song can be heard being played by Cream in the studio on the expanded set Those Were The Days which was released in 1997 but it was left off and eventually included on Bruce’s debut Songs For A Tailor. It’s a great track and to be honest suits his solo album a lot more than Cream so I think it was the right choice in the end, although I would have liked to have heard a finished Cream version. While the album version is just two minutes and forty three seconds long the band here extend it to seven minutes which really gives it the life and depth that it deserves as a song. It’s great. Then, out of nowhere, the explosive riff that could only be Sunshine Of Your Love sends tremors through the auditorium and the crowd goes wild. The organ here sounds excellent paired with the bass and guitar, giving the riff some added depth. Mitch Mitchell on drums lays down the kind of grooves that he did when performing the track with Hendrix and then it hits you that two members of arguably the two best trios of all time are playing together on stage. It’s a monumental moment.
Nine minutes later the final song begins called Smiles And Grins, a song which wouldn’t be released in studio format until Bruce’s 1971 album Harmony Row. The studio song itself wasn’t recorded until a full year after this show so this is an early jam rendition which rounds the show of perfectly. In 1970 there were a lot of bands that copied Cream’s lead of jamming entire songs like The Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead so it’s great to hear Bruce do what he did best in Cream once again. I’ve long thought that jamming brings out the best in musicians to the point where they have to think things up on the spot and this is exactly what happens here. The audience obviously feels the same as they explode with applause as the song comes to an end, capping off a magnificent show.
Peter Iacontino – Audience Member: “I was at that show. Mountain was also on the bill, we went to see Jack. I think Jack opened the show, Mountain was the headliner. Jack and the band were good. Played about one hour, I remember it filled the whole 60 minute tape. It was a more jazzy show with Larry Coryell on guitar, Mitch Mitchell on drums and Mike Mandel on organ. I think Jimi Hendrix was at the show also! It was a great night for music!
The cassette recorder I used for the show was new technology for 1970. It had a built in mic. The reason I’m telling you is because we had first row seats. I put the recorder on the stage. No one said anything. The Fillmore East was such a cool place to see concerts!”
I’d spoke to Peter previously about other concerts at Fillmore East including Derek and the Dominos, so to find out that this recording of Jack Bruce & Friends was his was very special. There are a vast number of great bootlegs recorded at Fillmore East and it was obviously a very special place not only to go and see bands but also to bootleg. As Peter says, no-one said anything to him when he put his recorder on the stage. And as far as recordings go it is extremely good to the point where a bit of remastering could result in an official live album, or at least some kind of official bootleg release like The Allman Brothers Band have done over the years.
This particular period of Bruce’s career isn’t widely talked about which is disappointing given the great music the band played right here on this bootleg. And as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Jack Bruce & Friends weren’t together for that long and less than a handful of good recordings are known to exist. But thankfully Peter brought his cassette recorder that night because it was a great show. We can’t thank him enough.