Jack Bruce: The Man Who Turned on the “Sunshine” Turns 70

The virtuosic performer created one of rock music's greatest riffs

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Michael Putland / Getty Images

Jack Bruce, somewhere in the United Kingdom; 1977

Jack Bruce, who turns 70 years old today, remains one of the great unclassifiable figures of rock music. A brilliant instrumentalist who upended the role of the electric bass with his wildly inventive and virtuosic playing in the late 1960s, Bruce is also a distinctive vocalist, idiosyncratic songwriter and daring performer whose unpredictable career has seen him moving easily through the worlds of pop, jazz, blues, and experimental music. But he may well be best remembered for composing what has become the defining riff of hard rock, the repeating ten note melodic phrase that fortifies “Sunshine Of Your Love.”

On January 29, 1967, Bruce, then a member — alongside Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker — of the original “supergroup” Cream, attended a performance at London’s Saville Theatre featuring The Who and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. After the performance, Bruce — thoroughly impressed by Hendrix’s musicianship — found himself fooling around at home with his double bass, the electric majesty of Hendrix still in his ear. The “Sunshine” riff  emerged that night and was later given song form through the contributions of lyricist Peter Brown, with Clapton writing the music and words for the chorus.

Recorded in the spring of 1967, “Sunshine Of Your Love” was released on Cream’s Disraeli Gears album in November.  With the pounding hook of the riff as its backbone, “Sunshine” immediately insinuated itself into pop culture consciousness and has yet to make an exit. For the major artists (ranging from Carlos Santana to Funkadelic) who have covered the song, to today’s neophyte guitarists and bassists struggling to get the riff under their fingers, “Sunshine” remains the melodic tag that will always scream “rock and roll.” Thanks, Jack. And Happy Birthday.

Cream  Captured in all their psychedelic finery in December of 1967 at London’s  Revolution Club, Cream perform their anthemic calling card, shortly after its initial release.

Eric Clapton  EC demonstrates what “Sunshine” sounds like when not pumped through massive Marshall amplifiers. Here, it rolls rather than rocks.

Ella Fitzgerald  “Sunshine” quickly cast its net wide. Ella swings this 1969 performance, momentarily transforming “Sunshine” into Nat Adderley’s jazz classic, “Work Song.” Thankfully this was captured on film — no one would have believed it otherwise.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience  Things turn full circle in this legendary impromptu performance, as the man who inspired the birth of the riff grabs ahold of it himself. God Bless, Jimi.

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