Photo Credit: Thi-Linh Le
He is the original heavy hitter… Before there was Keith Moon or John Bonham, it was Ginger Baker, who would set the standard as a drummer in the world of rock and roll. Peter Edward Baker was born in the U.K. on August 19th, 1939. He grew up in Lewisham, South London. Baker acquired the nickname “Ginger” due to his hair color as a young man. Baker developed an interest in the drums and began taking lessons at the age of fifteen. His instructor was jazz drummer Phil Seamen, who became an important mentor to Baker in terms of his style and approach to playing drums.
Baker became known for his unique, polyrhythmic style. Baker was able to combine advanced forms of jazz bebop with Afro Beat and many other traditional African rhythms. Baker is considered to be a pioneer of many things including, world music and jazz fusion. Some of Baker’s influences included Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones and Art Blakey. Note that all of these musicians are jazz drummers. Baker considered himself first and foremost to be a jazz drummer. He hated when people referred to him just as a rock and roll drummer.
The psychedelic – blues rock band Cream in 1968. From left to right: Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce. Photo Credit: Art Kane.
In the early 1960’s, Baker joined the group Blues Incorporated. This band would also help to launch the careers of musical greats such as Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger. While playing in this group, Baker met his future bandmate and nemesis Jack Bruce. Ginger Baker did not think that Jack Bruce was good enough as a bassist to play with him. He was shocked when Eric Clapton wanted Bruce as the bassist for a new project they were forming…
The three men founded the legendary rock group, Cream. Cream was a band that changed rock and roll forever in a variety of ways. Cream became rock and roll’s first power trio and they were also the first supergroup in this musical genre. Ginger Baker came from the band Manfred Mann. Jack Bruce had been a member of the Graham Bond 0rganization. Eric Clapton came from the two bands, The Yardbirds and John Mayhall and the Bluebreakers.Cream’s brilliant combination of psychedelic rock and blues fusion was the right music, at the right time.
Due to the fact that all three members came from highly popular bands, Cream created an instant buzz. These three musical virtuosos wrote beautifully and generated a cohesive sound together. They were not just fighting each other for solos. But, there were problems… Although Baker and Bruce had incredible rhythmical chemistry, the two men hated each other personally.
Ginger Baker once said this to a fan while autographing a Cream album. “Well, where do you want me to sign? Jack took up the whole front cover just like he always does…” For Jack Bruce, it was very difficult for him to say anything positive about Baker as well.
In 2005, music journalist Jim Clash interviewed Jack Bruce backstage at Madison Square Garden after Cream’s reunion performance. He asked Bruce if there was any truth behind the rumors that Cream would be going to California to play some more reunion shows. Jack Bruce responded angrily, “well, we had plans, until Ginger turned into a cu>t…”
Things got so heated between Baker and Bruce that once during a Graham Bond Organization performance, Ginger Baker attacked Jack Bruce with a knife. Ginger Baker resented all the sacrifices that he felt he had made for the group.
“At the start, Cream was mine. I took a drop in pay to start Cream, whereas Eric and Jack took a step up. Cream was always my baby…” As a result of all this conflict and tension Cream only lasted two years as a band. Even when Cream broke up Baker and Bruce were never able to get along personally. However, they still kept playing with each other on and off for the rest of their lives.
According to an urban rock and roll legend, Jack Bruce called all of his closest bandmates when he knew that he was dying to tell them goodbye. Jack Bruce was known for having a wickedly dark sense of humor. When Bruce rang Ginger Baker, he supposedly said, “I’m dying Ginger, f>ck you!” Then, he slammed the phone down.
Ginger Baker tried to call Jack Bruce several times, but got no answer. Jack Bruce knew that Ginger Baker would have wanted to have the last word. He made sure that he would not get it… No one knows if this actually happened. But if you understand the relationship between Baker and Bruce, then it is certainly plausible. Jack Bruce passed away in 2014.
Ginger Baker performing live at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany. Photo Credit: Jan Persson/Redferns
Cream live performing their smash hit song, “Sunshine of Your Love.” This also provides an excellent example of Ginger Baker’s innovative style that would go on to inspire a whole new generation of drummers.
Drum Solos and Double Bass Drums...
In addition to creating fantastic music with Cream, Ginger Baker became known for playing long and impressive drum solos during the group’s live performances. One of his best simply became known as “Toad.” Why is this significant? Ginger Baker was the first one to do it in rock and roll. Baker is also credited as being the first drummer to use a double bass drum kit within the genre of rock and roll. He had a custom, double bass drum kit built for him.
When it came to the conflict between Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible. However, it is rumored that he left Cream to get away from Ginger Baker. Clapton has never confirmed nor denied this. He joined the supergroup Blind Faith in 1969. Blind Faith members included Steve Winwood from the band Traffic on keyboards and vocals, Ric Grech bass from Family, and Clapton on guitar.
Unfortunately for Claption, if the rumors are in fact true, his plan failed. For Ginger Baker wound up becoming the group’s drummer. They released just one album, Blind Faith before disbanding. Eric Clapton left the group and joined the two groups, Derek and the Dominos and Delaney and Bonnie. It was while playing in this group that Clapton wrote perhaps what is his best song, Layla.
Delaney and Bonnie also featured guitarist Duane Allman, who played in the group until his untimely death in 1971. Ginger Baker took the Blind Faith break up hard. “It took a few years and a few bad experiences to learn that really its better to only trust yourself and not other human beings…”
Picture of the album created by supergroup Blind Faith. From left to right: Steve Winwood, Ric Grech, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton.
Ginger Baker's Airforce
Baker went on to become a pioneer in the world of jazz fusion by creating a super group called Ginger Bakers Airforce. The band’s members featured Steve Winwood on organs and vocals. Ric Grech bassist and violinist. Jeanette Jacobs, vocalist, Graham Bond alto saxophonist and many, other musicians. Baker’s former drum instructor, Phil Seamen played percussion in this group. The group released two albums. There were a lot of personnel changes on the second album. In 1970, the band kicked off the World Cup Rally by playing a set at Wembley Stadium. This band pushed the envelop between the musical realms of jazz and art fusion.
Batakota (ARC) Studios
In 1973, Baker formed the Batakota (ARC) Studios in Lagos, Nigeria. This is where Paul McCartney and his band Wings recorded their classic album Band on the Run. The album would go on to sell over a million copies. Baker also became the drummer for Fela Kuti and immersed himself in the genre of world music.
Kuti was an activist, a composer and pioneer of the Afro Beat sound. Kuti is considered to be one of the most influential and charismatic performers ever to have graced the stage in Nigeria. Fela and Baker would go on to appear on the album Stratavarious, released in 1972. Bobby Gass from the Jeff Beck Group was also involved in this project. The album was re – issued on the compilation “Do What You Like,” released in 1998.
Baker’s manager Bill Fehilly convinced him to work with brothers Paul and Adrian Gurvitz. Thus, the band Baker Gurvitz Army was created in 1974. The band released three albums. They toured extensively between 1975 – 1976. The band broke up shortly after Fehilly died in a plane crash. Ultimately, Ginger Baker’s music studio failed.
After the failure of his recording studio, Baker moved to a small, rural town in Italy in order to conquer his addiction to heroine. In 1980, he became a session drummer for the band Hawkwind. Lemmy Kilmister was a member of this band for a short time before going on to form the punk band Motorhead. Baker left the band in 1981 after one tour. He also was a session drummer for former Sex Pistol vocalist Johnny Lydon. Baker appeared on the Public Image Ltd’s fifth studio album, Album. It was released in 1986.
During the 1990’s Baker moved to Parker, Colorado. He lived there from 1993 to 1999. Baker had a passion for the game polo and played it frequently at the Salisbury Equestrian Park. He also hosted weekend jam sessions there. He formed the Ginger Baker Trio, while living in Colorado. In addition to this, Ginger Baker would get back together with Jack Bruce to form BBM, which was another power trio. The band included Irish blues guitarist Gary Moore. The group did not stay together very long.
A live performance of The Baker Gurvitz Army in 1975.
Ginger Baker Not So Nice
Ginger Baker was a man, who could be very difficult to get along with at times. He could also be extremely arrogant. When he was asked what he thought about the rock group Led Zeppelin, this was his response.
“I don’t think that Led Zeppelin filled the void that Cream left, but they made a lot of money. I probably like about five percent of what they did…” When Baker was asked what he thought of John Bonham’s abilities as a drummer, he gave the following answer.
“Years ago, John said, There are two drummers in rock and roll, Ginger and me… There’s no way John was anywhere near what I’am. He wasn’t a musician. A lot of people don’t realize that I studied. I can write music. I used to write big band parts in 1960 – 61. I felt if I was a drummer, I needed to learn to read drum music…” Apparently, Ginger Baker did not like heavy metal music at all. He had this to say about it.
“These people that dress up in spandex trousers with all the extraordinary make up – I find it repulsive, always have. I’ve seen where Cream is sort of held responsible for the birth of heavy metal. Well, I definitely would go on aborting. I loathe and detest heavy metal, I think it’s an abortion…”
But Ginger Baker was self aware enough to acknowledge his short comings. “I’m not an easy person to get on with, I know…” But, this never stopped him from becoming an incredible drummer and working with some of the best musicians in the music industry.
,In February 2016, Ginger Baker revealed that he had been diagnosed with serious “heart issues…” All of his future gigs and appearances would be cancelled until further notice. Baker wrote on his blog, “Just seen the doctor… Big shock… No more gigs for this old drummer… Everything is off… Of all the things, I never thought it would be my heart…”
On September 25, 2019 Baker’s family posted on his blog that he was critically ill in the hospital and asked for fans to please keep him in their prayers. Ginger Baker was married four times. He is survived by daughters Ginnette Karen, Leda, son Kofi Streatfield Baker and stepdaughter Lisa.
Baker told the media that he had been diagnosed with pulmonary obstructive disease as a result of heavily smoking for years. Baker underwent open heart surgery back in 2016. His family also reported that he had suffered a bad fall, which caused chronic edema in his legs and feet. On October 6, 2019, Ginger Baker died in a Canturbury hospital in England. Ginger Baker’s son Kofi is also a drummer.
There is absolutely no telling just how many rock drummers Ginger Baker has influenced. But some of them include, Alex Van Halen, Peter Criss, Neil Peart, Stewart Copeland. It has been said in the drumming world that virtually every heavy metal drummer has tried to master some aspect of Ginger Baker’s playing in some way. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Ginger Baker’s family.