Denny Bruce was born in Lancaster, PA, on October 4, 1944. His dad, Ralph, was the golf professional at the Lancaster Country Club, and his associations with club members happened to result in a friendship with a fellow who owned and operated a jukebox and pinball machine business. This gentleman also warmed up to Bruce, and he set up a jukebox and pinball machine (or two) in the family's recreation room, giving him all the 45 rpm records that were replaced by the current hits. Bruce could not have been more pleased. Not quite 12-years-old, he would spend every spare moment in the rec room playing pinball and listening to all of the pop music of the day -- not only the hits but the flip sides as well. This was the beginning of a passion that would serve him well even into the next century. In high school, Bruce often invited his friends to come to his house and take pleasure in the party-like atmosphere...all for free. By this time, he had scored a set of drums so he could play along with all the records in his jukebox. A couple of his more talented buddies joined him in putting together a band, which lead to gigs at local frat-house parties and teen dance hops. This short-lived mania would soon give rise to a more "sensible" vocational path...college. Deciding that going to school out in Los Angeles sounded cool, he hitched a ride out West and enrolled at L.A. Valley College in 1963. Two months later, President Kennedy was assassinated, and this had a profound effect on Bruce's priorities, for it somehow reminded him just how much he missed playing in a band. One night while partying at a frat "kegger," Bruce took an "Elvis moment" when the question rang out, "Can anyone here keep a beat? Our drummer just passed out!" He sat down at the drums and saved the party, which had much to do with his eventual introduction to Frank Zappa. Zappa was experimenting with a two-drummer band at the time, and Bruce would assume one of the rolls. The plan was to become danceable enough to escape the hole-in-the-wall dives in which they were currently playing and break into some of the more notable L.A. showcase rooms. It would require a live audition, however, but they achieved their goal and found themselves playing in Hollywood clubs that were also booking perennial favorites such as Trini Lopez and Johnny Rivers. This was an exciting start to Bruce's dream career, but a six-month bout with infectious mononucleosis cost him the opportunity of drumming on Zappa's debut album, Freak Out. Zappa filled Bruce's slot with another drummer, Billy Mundi, who gained job security because he could read Frank's charts, and when Bruce finally recovered, he was the odd man out. Zappa told him he couldn't afford a third drummer, so they parted as friends. Bruce managed to acquire a sizeable number of friends who were well connected to the Hollywood music scene, and as he was regaining his health, Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes dropped by to check on his progress and invited him to join their band. It sounded very attractive since they had already booked some paying gigs. Guitarists Matt Andes (Mark's brother) and Michael Fondelier were added soon afterwards to form Western Union. In 1966, quite accidentally, Jack Nitzsche dropped into a Hollywood rehearsal hall to find Western Union practicing their show. Nitzsche asked them to repeat a song he heard them playing as he entered the hall which featured Matt Andes playing Delta-style bottleneck blues. He loved their style and offered the group a record deal on the spot contingent upon the ability of his new record label to be backed by a major. The band jumped at the offer, but unfortunately the label deal fell through, and Western Union disbanded with Ferguson and Mark Andes moving on to form Spirit. After three albums, the pair left Spirit and rejoined Matt Andes, starting a new band, Jo Jo Gunne. Bruce was bandless but acquired a new housemate in Nitzsche and launched a new career in artist management and record production. Bruce's first management signee was friend, Lisa Kindred, who had two albums on the Vanguard label, then came his two former bandmates, Jimmy Carl Black and Bunk Gardner, who were now disgruntled former members of the Mothers of Invention. They had a band, Geronimo Black, who also signed a management contract with Bruce. Kindred's first booking through Bruce was to open a show for Magic Sam (Sam Maghett). He and Bruce really hit it off, resulting in yet another management relationship. Bruce was hired by World Pacific to supervise the Classic Blues series featuring Shakey Jake Harris (Magic Sam's uncle) with Luther Allison on guitar, and Sunnyland Slim with Mick Taylor and Lowell Fulsom playing on several tracks. Bruce booked a number of major concerts for Magic Sam which significantly increased Maghett's popularity. Bruce's success as an artists manager, concurrent with his role as A&R consultant to the new Blue Thumb label, landed him an enviable roster of new artists, including Ike Tina Turner, Albert Collins, Earl Hooker, and Chicago Blues Stars, featuring Charlie Musselwhite. On the single album by Chicago Blues Stars, Musselwhite's name is not featured on the cover, but his picture is. Buffy Sainte-Marie asked Bruce to be her tour manager for her upcoming solo world tour, and while she was on the road, her label ,Vanguard, took liberties of which she did not approve. Angered by the events, she asked Bruce to set up a meeting between her and the company's New York brass. Everything was finally smoothed out, and during the process, Vanguard approached Bruce and proposed that he help them to search for new West Coast acts to sign. This subsequently led to his position as head of West Coast A&R for the label. During this period, Bruce started producing John Fahey, but when the record company balked at the budget, Bruce and Fahey took this as a sign that they should make a move, so they left the label and formed a production company called Takoma Productions. Soon afterward, Fahey was signed to Warner Brothers as an artist through Takoma Productions. Fahey played Bruce an album he was soon to release on Takoma Records by Leo Kottke, whom he convinced to move to L.A. When Kottke arrived, he signed on with Takoma Productions, who, in turn, got him a recording contract with Capitol Records. Kottke joined Fahey as one of Bruce's management clients. Bruce by this time also had John Hiatt, Albert Lee, and the Blasters on his roster. Bruce went on to produce all of Kottke's seven albums for Capitol. By the mid-'70s, Kottke's popularity in Europe caught the attention of Procol Harum, who asked Kottke and Bruce if they would like to meet the top execs from their label, Chrysalis. When Kottke's contract with Capitol expired in 1975, Chrysalis quickly signed him, the first American act on their label. Bruce produced his first album, Leo Kottke, which featured string arrangements by Jack Nitzsche. In 1977, Fahey decided to sell his Takoma label, and Bruce joined with Chrysalis to purchase it, making him co-owner and President of the company. The catalog he brought with him included "American primitive artists" such as, John Fahey, Bukka White, and George Winston, then in 1978, Bruce added to the book by signing the Fabulous Thunderbirds and T-Bone Burnett. While still on Bruce's watch, the label was able to attract and sign Doug Sahm, Michael Bloomfield, Swamp Dogg, poet Charles Bukowski, and the Sir Douglas Quintet, of which Sahm was a member. A Takoma Blues series featured the 1978 Grammy winner Chicago Breakdown and the reggae soundtrack Babylon also proved to be one of the label's big successes that year. Bruce and Chrysalis sold Takoma in 1983, allowing him to snatch additional opportunities that were available, which included serving as pop music consultant to UCLA's Department of Fine Arts Productions, bringing jazz, pop, folk, and world music to the campus. He served at the University of Texas at Austin Performing Arts Center much in the same capacity. All during this period and through the 1990s, Bruce still worked as an independent producer and A&R consultant, for a music publisher whose clients included Bonnie Raitt, Huey Lewis, Bruce Hornsby, and many others. When Fantasy Records bought the Takoma catalog, the label brought him on as a consultant to compile and write liner notes for several of their albums. In recognition of his many successful years in the music business, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) elected Bruce to serve on their Hall of Fame Elections Committee and to work with less-than-fortunate kids in the "Music in Schools Program." In 2000, Bruce started Benchmark Recordings and reissued the first four albums by the Fabulous Thunderbirds -- three produced by him and the fourth produced by Nick Lowe. Girls Go Wild, What's the Word, Butt Rockin', and T-Bird Rhythm were all remastered and included bonus cuts with new liner notes and pictures. 2001 saw Three Piece Suite by Jack Nitzsche released on Rhino Handmade, with Bruce adding four previously unreleased demos to the existing material from the Warner Brothers vaults. The sessions, although never to reach final mix, were produced by Nitzsche, Bruce, and engineer/producer Bruce Botnick. All artwork used in the package came from the Denny Bruce archives. ~ Tom Kealey, Rovi
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