FILE - In this Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008 file photo, British musician Ginger Baker performs at the ‘Zildjian Drummers Achievement Awards’ at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. The family of drummer Ginger Baker, the volatile and propulsive British musician who was best known for his time with the power trio Cream, says he died, Sunday Oct. 6, 2019. He was 80. (AP Photo/MJ Kim, File)

Ginger Baker, Cream’s volatile drummer, dies at 80

His daughter Nettie confirmed that Baker died in Britain

Ginger Baker, the volatile and propulsive drummer for Cream and other bands who wielded blues power and jazz finesse and helped shatter boundaries of time, tempo and style in popular music, died Sunday at age 80, his family said.

With blazing eyes, orange-red hair and a temperament to match, the London native ranked with The Who’s Keith Moon and Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham as the embodiment of musical and personal fury. Using twin bass drums, Baker fashioned a pounding, poly-rhythmic style uncommonly swift and heavy that inspired and intimidated countless musicians. But every beat seemed to mirror an offstage eruption — whether his violent dislike of Cream bandmate Jack Bruce or his on-camera assault of a documentary maker, Jay Bulger, whom he smashed in the nose with his walking stick.

Bulger would call the film, released in 2012, “Beware of Mr. Baker.”

Baker’s family said on Twitter that he died Sunday: “We are very sad to say that Ginger has passed away peacefully in hospital this morning.”

His daughter Nettie confirmed that Baker died in Britain but gave no other details. The family had said on Sept. 25 that Baker was critically ill in the hospital.

While Rolling Stone magazine once ranked him the third-greatest rock drummer of all time, behind Moon and Bonham, Baker had contempt for Moon and others he dismissed as “bashers” without style or background. Baker and his many admirers saw him as a rounded, sophisticated musician — an arranger, composer and student of the craft, absorbing sounds from around the world. He had been playing jazz since he was a teenager and spent years in Africa in the 1970s, forming a close friendship with the Nigerian musician-activist Fela Kuti.

“He was so unique and had such a distinctive personality,” Stewart Copeland of the Police told www.musicradar.com in 2013. “Nobody else followed in his footsteps. Everybody tried to be John Bonham and copy his licks, but it’s rare that you hear anybody doing the Ginger Baker thing.”

But many fans thought of Baker as a rock star, who teamed with Eric Clapton and Bruce in the mid-1960s to become Cream — one of the first supergroups and first power trios. All three were known individually in the London blues scene and together they helped make rock history by elevating instrumental prowess above the songs themselves, even as they had hits with “Sunshine of Your Love,” ”I Feel Free” and “White Room.”

Cream was among the most successful acts of its time, selling more than 10 million records. But by 1968 Baker and Bruce had worn each other out and even Clapton had tired of their deafening, marathon jams, including the Baker showcase “Toad,” one of rock’s first extended drum solos. Cream split up at the end of the year, departing with two sold-out shows at London’s Albert Hall. When told by Bulger that he was a founding father of heavy metal, Baker snarled that the genre “should have been aborted.”

To the surprise of many, especially Clapton, he and Baker were soon part of another super group, Blind Faith, which also featured singer-keyboardist Stevie Winwood and bassist Ric Grech.

As Clapton would recall, he and Winwood had been playing informally when Baker turned up (Baker would allege that Clapton invited him). Named Blind Faith by a rueful Clapton, the band was overwhelmed by expectations from the moment it debuted in June 1969 before some 100,000 at a concert in London’s Hyde Park. It split up after completing just one, self-titled album, as notable for its cover photo of a topless young girl as for its music. A highlight from the record: Baker’s cymbal splashes on Winwood’s lyrical ballad “Can’t Find My Way Home.”

“Beneath his somewhat abrasive exterior, there was a very sensitive human being with a heart of gold,” Winwood said in a statement Sunday.

From the 1970s on, Baker was ever more unpredictable. He moved to Nigeria, took up polo, drove a Land Rover across the Sahara, lived on a ranch in South Africa, divorced his first wife and married three more times.

He recorded with Kuti and other Nigerians, jammed with Art Blakey, Elvin Jones and other jazz drummers and played with John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd. He founded Ginger Baker’s Air Force, which cost a fortune and imploded after two albums. He endured his old enemy, Bruce, when Cream was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and for Cream reunion concerts a decade later. Bruce died in 2014.

Baker continued to perform regularly in his 70s despite arthritis, heart trouble, hearing loss dating from his years with Cream and lung disease from smoking. A stranger to no vice, immodesty included, he called his memoir “Hellraiser: The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Drummer.”

“John Bonham once made a statement that there were only two drummers in British rock ‘n’ roll; himself and Ginger Baker,” Baker wrote in his book. “My reaction to this was, ‘You cheeky little bastard!’”

Born in 1939, Peter Edward Baker was the son of a bricklayer killed during World War II when Ginger was just 4. His father left behind a letter that Ginger Baker would quote from: “Use your fists; they’re your best pals so often.”

Baker was a drummer from early on, even rapping out rhythms on his school desk as he mimicked the big band music he loved and didn’t let the occasional caning from a teacher deter him. As a teenager, he was playing in local groups and was mentored by percussionist Phil Seamen.

“At this party, there was a little band and all the kids chanted at me, ‘Play the drums!”’, Baker told The Independent in 2009. “I’d never sat behind a kit before, but I sat down — and I could play! One of the musicians turned round and said, ‘Bloody hell, we’ve got a drummer’, and I thought, ‘Bloody hell, I’m a drummer.’”

Baker came of age just as London was learning the blues, with such future superstars as Clapton, Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page among the pioneers. Baker joined Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, where he met (and soon disliked, for allegedly playing too loud) the Scottish-born bassist Jack Bruce, with whom he was thrown together again as members of the popular British group the Graham Bond Organization.

Clapton, meanwhile, was London’s hottest guitarist, thanks to his work with the Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, his extraordinary speed and agility inspiring “Clapton is God” graffiti. Clapton, Baker and Bruce would call their band Cream because they considered themselves the best musicians around.

“Oh for god’s sake, I’ve never played rock,” Baker told the blog JazzWax in 2013. “Cream was two jazz players and a blues guitarist playing improvised music. We never played the same thing two nights running. Jack and I had been in jazz bands for years. All that stuff I did on the drums in Cream didn’t come from drugs, either. It was from me. It was jazz.”

ALSO READ: Climate activists plan to close Vancouver bridge as part of Canada-wide protest

___

Italie reported from New York. Kelvin Chan contributed from London.

Hillel Italie, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A variety of art coming to Revelstoke gallery this fall

A members’ show in December will act as a gift market

Roots & Blues announces ticket giveaway ahead of online festival

The festival is streaming free online this year, but those who pre-register can win passes for 2021.

Molotov cocktails thrown at Revelstoke home in arson attempt

The flames were extinguished before they spread

Stay Revy launches despite pandemic

The new vacation rental management company works with legal vacation rentals

Revelstokian raises money for mental health

A Revelstoke local recently raised $2,600 for mental health services at Community… Continue reading

371 British Columbians battling COVID-19, health officials confirm

Thursday (Aug. 6) saw a second straight day of nearly 50 new confirmed cases

COLUMN: Listen to those who know about COVID-19

Accurate information is essential when understanding the pandemic

Penticton man wakes to wildfire, forced to evacuate

A wildfire sparked off the side of Highway 97 near Penticton on Thursday

Anti-gang cops probe Kelowna’s street-level drug trade over B.C. Day long weekend

CFSEU’s Gang Enforcement Team was deployed to Kelowna last weekend

Answers to 5 common questions facing families for the COVID-19 school year

COVID-19 protocols are likely to vary even more at the school board level, and even and school-to-school.

Man allegedly wielding knife at Kelowna Superstore arrested

The 29-year-old Kelowna man has been released on strict conditions for a future court date

Visitors and non-residents entering closed remote B.C. First Nation’s territories

With limited resources, they say they don’t have any authority or power to enforce the closures

UBC loses appeal on Fisheries Act convictions

BC Supreme Court upholds order to pay $1.55-million fine

Masks to be mandatory on BC Transit, TransLink starting Aug. 24

Both BC Transit and TransLink made the announcement in separate press releases on Thursday

Most Read