Ginger Baker, the highly influential and irrepressible drummer, who gave the backbeat to bands such as Cream and Blind Faith not to mention adventurous side projects, died today. He was 80. The news was posted to his social media account today, where his family announced that he’d “passed away peacefully in hospital this morning.” No cause of death was given. The family had posted on September 25 that Baker was critically ill in the hospital.
Born Peter Edward Baker in Lewisham, South London in 1939, red hair not withstanding (hence the nickname Ginger), the drummer was a fiery tour-de-force on the drumkit, one of the first of his peers, starting and ultimately trailblazing in a late 1960s electric blues boon that found him toe to toe with other contemporaries, like the equally incendiary Keith Moon, Carl Palmer, Mitch Mitchell, Ian Paice, and John Bonham.
With an artillery of drums and cymbals, which included double bass drums, Baker was a one-man musical army, a force to behold, especially in Cream, who he co-founded in 1966 with bass wiz Jack Bruce (who died in 2014) and guitarist extraordinaire Eric Clapton. That power trio, to some the greatest power trio of all time, enjoyed international success on the strength of the most loud, powerful melodic music ever created on the rock genre. They’re best known for songs “White Room” and “Sunshine of Your Love,” but “Toad” sported a 20-plus minute drum solo showcase for Baker, who seemed to have the range of an octopus, arms and legs flailing in Buddy Rich/Gene Krupa territory, but in a style all his own.
In fact, it’s been stated many times of Baker’s passionate proclivity for Jazz music, one of his solo highlights remains his drum battle with the equally fiery and mercurial master of the skins, the late Art Blakey. Baker wasn’t only tethered by rock either, he played on and produced an album for Africa’s pioneer of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti, matching the hypnotic repetition on the backbeat that genre demands. In the ruins of Cream came the formation of supergroup Blind Faith, with Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, and Ric Grech, which produced one self-titled album in 1969. Solo ventures found him in projects like his aptly named Ginger Baker’s Air Force, which combined the power of Cream with the non-subtlety of Fusion Jazz, and the back-to-roots somewhat with the underrated Baker-Gurvitz Army.
In 1993, Baker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Cream. In 2012, the drummer was the subject of Beware of Mr. Baker, a documentary from Jay Bulger that explored the musician’s diverse musical career as well as his past self-destructive behaviors and eventual life in seclusion inside a fortified compound in South Africa. Baker is survived by wife Kudzai Machokoto and his three children from a previous marriage, Nettie, Leda, and Kofi.
Ginger Baker will remain an influential force not just in the world of percussion, but the music world as a whole. His drumming has been a factor for many drummers who followed him, pretty much an A to Z list of rock’s luminaries to wannabes. His influence still runs strong, high and deep, and any drummer who plays loud, melodic, and with verve cranked to eleven, owes tremendous debt to this master craftsman of his instrument.
Crank Ginger Baker”s music all day today in solid tribute to a man who would have it no other way. His uncompromising demeanor and almost intimidating energy was once in a lifetime, the likes we’ll never see again or hear again for that matter.
RIP Ginger Baker
August 19, 1939 – October 6, 2019
We are very sad to say that Ginger has passed away peacefully in hospital this morning. Thank you to everyone for your kind words over the past weeks.