LONDON – British musician Jack Bruce, best known as the lead vocalist and bass player of the power blues trio Cream, died Saturday at his home, his family and publicist said. He was 71.
Bruce was one of the top musicians of the late 1960s, when Cream played its unique psychedelic blues tunes to packed houses in England and the United States. He was an important member of the British blues movement, which saw bands like the Animals and Rolling Stones first imitate and then expand on the American blues tradition as exemplified by Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and other stalwarts.
Cream — widely cited as the original supergroup — were known for hits such as "I Feel Free" and "Sunshine of Your Love," which featured Eric Clapton's innovative guitar riffs, and Bruce's vocals and roaring bass, backed by Ginger Baker's explosive drumming.
They played a mix of traditional blues songs, with long, often improvised instrumental breaks, and their own tunes.
Bruce enjoyed a long solo career after Cream's acrimonious breakup, and in 2005 he reunited with former Cream bandmates for critically acclaimed concerts in London and New York City.
Publicists LD Communications said Saturday Bruce died of liver disease at his home in Suffolk, England. He had received a liver transplant some years ago and continued to suffer a variety of health problems.
A statement released by his family said "the world of music will be a poorer place without him but he lives on in his music and forever in our hearts."
"It is with great sadness that we, Jack's family, announce the passing of our beloved Jack: husband, father, granddad, and all round legend," the statement said.
In its heyday, Cream sold 35 million albums in just over two years and the band was awarded the world's first ever platinum disc for their double album "Wheels of Fire." Bruce wrote and sang most of the band's signature songs.
The band started out playing traditional blues tunes, but quickly added a psychedelic flavor that brought still more popularity at the height of the flower power era.
But they broke up with little warning, in the midst of their commercial success. Clapton wrote in his 2007 autobiography that the band lost its direction musically and that "any sense of unity" had disappeared.
"We were also suffering from an inability to get along," he said. "We would just run away from one another. We never socialized together and never really shared ideas anymore."
He also felt they were eclipsed by the arrival on the scene of guitarist Jimi Hendrix.
Bruce went on to record the first of his solo albums, "Songs For a Tailor." He also fronted many of his own bands.
He was known for mixing rock, jazz and classical formats, and his songs were covered by many artists including Hendrix, David Bowie and Ella Fitzgerald.
Bruce returned to the studio around 2000 to record his solo album "Shadows in the Air," which hit number five on the British jazz and blues chart.
Bruce was born to musical parents in Glasgow, Scotland on 14 May 1943. His parents travelled extensively in Canada and the U.S., and the young Bruce attended 14 different schools. He finished his formal education at Bellahouston Academy and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, to which he won a scholarship for cello and composition.
He left Scotland at the age of 16 and in 1962 joined his first important band, the influential Alexis Korner's Blues Inc., in London. The band featured drummer Charlie Watts, who later joined the Rolling Stones.
Bruce was playing and touring with his Big Blues Band until recently. In 2012 he played in Cuba, and performed in London at the famed bar Ronnie Scott's. His 14th solo album, "Silver Rails," was released earlier this year.
He is survived by his wife, Margrit, four children and a granddaughter. Funeral arrangements weren't immediately announced.