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Rock Reads: Jack Bruce: Composing Himself by Harry Shapiro

Reviewed by Kevin Wierzbicki

Bruce has had an incredibly long and varied career but he'll probably always be best known for his work with short-lived power-trio Cream. The bass-player's team-up with drummer Ginger Baker and guitar god Eric Clapton yielded some of the most memorable heavy rock songs of the mid-'60s including FM radio mainstays like "I Feel Free," "Sunshine of Your Love" and "White Room." This authorized biography, after the obligatory chapters on Bruce's childhood, picks up a little before the Cream days, when Bruce was playing in the Graham Bond Organization. Baker was also in Bond's band and while he and Bruce respected each other's musical talent, they rarely got along and Shapiro details here how the pair's constant fighting nearly led to a van crash and how things escalated at one point to where a knife was pulled. Aside from a few lines about Baker overdosing on heroin there isn't much juicy story-telling in the Graham Bond era; mostly Shapiro focuses on how Bruce dealt with his early breaks and more mundane situations. You might expect the action to pick up during the Cream years but it really doesn't; there's an amusing tale of how Bruce unknowingly gobbled acid-drenched popcorn but even a first meeting with Jimi Hendrix is only given a few lines. Perhaps, as is intimated in later portions of the book, details of this era are understandably a little cloudy in Bruce's mind. At least half of the book is about what Bruce did after Cream imploded, and here the narrative is much more interesting as there's lots of quirky commentary from luminaries of the rock, jazz and blues worlds. The book comes current through the recent Cream reunion where once again Bruce and Baker picked up their squabbling like not a day had gone by. Fans looking for an expose about Cream need to look elsewhere; those who want to read about the career of one of rock's gutsiest and most-respected players of all time will love Composing Himself.

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