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Old pal Brown is "doing quite well," Bruce reports, and "just produced a British blues tribute record to Cyril Davis--one of the first people to bring Chicago blues to Britain." Americans tend to assume John Mayall was Father of the British Blues, but Bruce refutes the idea: "By no means, not for 10 or 15 years." Rather, Bruce assigns that title to Davis. "He was playing a little club in Manchester when I was with Alexis Korner, and we found him. [Mayall's] the next generation. There's a whole generation of people before him who started the British blues movement in the '50s, bringing Leadbelly and Big Bill Broonzy to Britain. Even in the '40s. I was into jazz in the '50s--my dad took me to see Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald. I wasn't into the blues until later."
Even Ella Fitzgerald had a hit single with "Sunshine of Your Love," Bruce's most-covered song. "When it first came out," Bruce recalls, "it got diverse covers, from Ella to the Fifth Dimension. I once had a computer printout of who did my songs. Joel Grey did 'White Room.' It's quite amazing."
"I Feel Free" is likely his second-most-recorded song, Belinda Carlisle having the most recent hit with it in Britain. "There again, I didn't like it, but it went triple platinum," Bruce admits. "David Bowie did it recently, which I liked."
"Sunshine of Your Love" is probably the world's most familiar guitar riff, used to great effect in the movie Goodfellas' climactic cocaine paranoia scene. Only recently has Bruce enjoyed approval for the vast use of such songs: "I did get a fax from Martin Scorsese's people roughly describing the scene. But I trust him very much; he's a great director. I finally managed to get the right to say yes or no. For many years I had litigation, as many of us did from the '60s, to get my rights."
Incredibly, Bruce has little input toward what will appear on an upcoming Cream box set, and can only submit preferences for his own impending Jack Bruce box set on Polygram; because of song copyrights, he doesn't have final say. Hopefully, the Cream box will include an extraordinary Falstaff Beer commercial that Bruce wrote, but that was never released: "I don't think they ever used it. Fortunately, you can't even buy Falstaff Beer in Britain, which is about the worst beer. It was when the band was breaking up. Eric and I didn't want to do it, but Ginger needed the money, so we did it for him. We wrote and recorded it in 20 minutes."
Understandably not wanting to dwell on Cream, he does answer the obligatory question on Clapton, whose music seems uniquely designed for elevators: "That's true, you do hear it in elevators. It's his chosen path. That's all you can ever hope for, isn't it--to be successful at what you want to do? I don't listen to it. To be completely honest, he does waste his talent. Because he is amazing. The last time he moved me was in the film about Chuck Berry [Hail, Hail, Rock 'n' Roll]. He did a slow blues that was outrageous."
Prior to the All-Starr Revue, Bruce's last professional trip to America was in 1993, for Cream's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame--another pit stop in the industrial wasteland of marketing. "Like Eric, I wasn't keen to do it," he says. "It's just another award, an institution. A lot of people get left out; it's unfair. I guess you can't include everybody. Where does rock 'n' roll begin and end? I was happy to see George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic inducted."
Such ceremonial accolades do little to boost Bruce commercially. "It really doesn't matter," he says. "I've been following my particular path out of choice for many years. I never really wanted to be a huge commercial success; that wasn't even the plan with Cream. I always wanted to play a lot of different kinds of music and make a living, which I have.
"When my 14-year-old was 10, she discovered the Beatles," he adds. "I played a video of Yellow Submarine for the kids, then she bought every Beatles record. Now she's into gangster rap. I like gangster rap myself, and MTV. My favorite band in Britain at the moment is a band called Prodigy. One of my sons is in an Afro-Celt rap band. Music moves on."
At the end of the All-Starr Revue at Billy Bob's, two 13-year-old girls in braces, accompanied by a mother, staked out front stage for souvenirs. When the meat rack of security guards turned away, the best souvenir one of them could grab was Gary Brooker's sweat towel. Sensually inhaling its fragrance, the girl neatly folded the white-haired musician's rag. Once there were thousands of such girls, each night, girls who'd get up and dance--perhaps before this one's mother was born--and who would've fainted over the sweaty drippings of any one of the four men who just left the stage.
"What do you plan to do with it?" I asked.
"Keep it by my bed," she purred.