THE BEGINNING

In our new series Anyone Can Play Guitar Reef Younis looks back on Bruce Willis’ regular forays into the sax-addled world of blues, soul and RnB covers.

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For anyone exposed to early-90s action films, Bruce Willis will always be the sardonic perpetually bloodied cop, John McClane. Despite a few attempts to soften him up – Disney’s The Kid and Nickleodeon’s Rugrats Go Wild not withstanding – it’s difficult to remember a time when Willis wasn’t antagonising psychopaths, chasing someone, running away from someone, or generally shooting everybody in sight. In the mid-80s, however, things were a little different.

Imagine a snake-hipped, sandwich-boarded Willis bumping and grinding his way through Harlem in Die Hard: With a Vengeance; blasting Motown classics on the Freedom shuttle as it embarks on a humanity-saving mission in Armageddon; or whispering the lyrics to ‘Under the Boardwalk’ to a distressed Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. In 1987 you didn’t have to, because on the advent of his A-list fame, Willis released his debut album, ‘The Return of Bruno’, via the legendary Motown label, complete with fake HBO documentary. Working with backing musicians including Booker T Jones, the Temptations and the Pointer Sisters, Willis’ step into a sax-addled world of blues, soul and RnB reworks also came complete with a blues singing alter-ego called Bruno Randolini. It almost reads like a gratuitously ridiculous script – an Alan Partridge “Monkey Tennis”.

Bruce as Bruno didn’t endure quite the same way as Bruce as John did, but ‘The Return of Bruno’ somehow managed to claim the number-14 spot on the US Billboard Album chart while ‘Under the Boardwalk’, although struggling in the US, reached number two in the UK single charts, becoming one of the country’s best-selling singles of the year.

He didn’t stop there, either. Follow-up ‘If It Don’t Kill You, It Just Makes You Stronger’ arrived in 1989 in straighter circumstances – Bruno Randolini replaced with some upstart named Bruce Willis – but by this point the world was warming to the silver screen sight of beaten and almost-broken Willis, not this face-contorting crooner, and Willis’ short-lived music career looked to be going the way of the brothers Gruber.

Undeterred, Willis found a way back in 1996, providing the voice and throaty blues theme tune for cartoon series Bruno the Kid, adding it to a karaoke-pleasing back catalogue of ‘Devil Woman’, ‘Secret Agent Man’, and ‘Respect Yourself’ that would help shape the release of 1999’s much slept-on ‘Classic Bruce Willis’. Yeah… CLASSIC Bruce.

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