Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published October 6th 2019
Vale Mr Baker
On October 6, 2019, rock music lost one of the best drummers it had, although he would not like to hear that.
Ginger Baker, born August 19, 1939, died at the age of 80.
Baker in 2011
I have talked about him before, when looking at the 2012 documentary Beware Of Mr Baker. He came across as very talented, but also not the most pleasant man in the world. And he never said he was a rock drummer – he always classified himself as a jazz drummer.
That does not take away from the music he left the world.
Like most people in Australia, I am guessing, I first heard about him as the drummer for Cream, the supergroup he formed with Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton. Of course, by the time I heard about Cream they had long disbanded, but I was a Clapton fanatic, so I heard about them pretty quickly. There, his amazing 16 minutes of drumming that was the song 'Toad' (from 1968's Wheels Of Fire album, which I bought in vinyl, having found a very expensive brand new copy), set the benchmark for drum solos that reverberates to this day.
Cream (Baker, Bruce, Clapton) in 1968.
He then went on to join Blind Faith and then came a series of solo albums and albums with other bands.
Now for the potted biography, taken from the documentary, what I saw on TV today and my own recollections. But he started before Cream with Alex Korner and Graham Bond. From Cream and Blind Faith he went on to form Ginger Baker's Airforce, the Baker Gurvitz Army, and then guest on a heap of albums while recording his own solo stuff (including John Lydon's brilliant Album album). He saw a recording studio go bust in Nigeria. He formed BBM, which was Cream with Gary Moore replacing Eric Clapton. He wrote an autobiography called Hellraiser (which I am ashamed to say I have not read). He moved to South Africa. He seems to have had some sort of reconciliation with his family at the end and he died in Canterbury, England.
It was certainly not a quiet life!
Anyway, the best way, I feel to remember Ginger Baker is through the music he left the world. Here, then, are 6 tracks that encapsulate the man and his music.
'White Room' by Cream (1968) This was possibly the peak of Cream as a band, with all three members playing their sections just superbly. Bruce and Clapton were in fine voice, and Baker's drumming held the whole together, even behind a great Clapton solo. This video is taken from the 2005 reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall just because I love the guitar solo.
'Can't Find My Way Home' by Blind Faith (1969)
Following Cream, Clapton and Baker teamed up with Stevie Winwood and a few others to form Blind Faith. They had only one album before the group splintered, and this is probably the best song from that self-titled record.
This is a live recording from the time period.
'Memory Lane' by Baker Gurvitz Army (1975)
Baker joined the Gurvitz brothers to form this band that recorded a few albums and toured for a while. I didn't mind some of the BGA's music. They were described to me as like a 70s version of Cream, but Cream had the better guitarist and bass player. My favourite track of theirs is 'Hearts On Fire', but I think this track is a better example of Baker's drumming at this point in time. He does a lot, but never loses the rhythm or melody of the song. And, of course, it has a classic Baker drum solo, showing his burgeoning African influences.
An official video.
'John Brown' by Masters Of Reality (1990)
Baker appeared on the Masters Of Reality album Sunrise On The Superbus in 1992, which I bought after a friend played it to me, not knowing that was Ginger Baker, but having an inkling I'd heard the drumming style before. However, before that album came out apparently, at Sound City, they recorded this bit of rock goodness. The album, by the way, is quite incredible and is too often ignored.
This is an official video of the recording.
'Drum Duet' by Ginger Baker & Kofi Baker (2000-ish)
Baker did not have the greatest relationship with his children, as seen in the documentary mentioned earlier, but he did have times of being the if not doting then certainly proud father. His son Kofi is also a professional drummer, and together they performed at a festival in England where this track was recorded.
This is an amateur video of the event, but it shows that the apple in this case did not fall far from the tree!
And to finish, if you've got a quarter of an hour to spare: 'Toad' by Cream (1968)
There is nothing really to say. Drumming. There is a bit of guitar work, but this is Ginger Baker showing different styles and yet keeping it together in a coherent whole.
The video is not a video, just a picture still and the music from the album. Doesn't matter. Close your eyes and let it wash over you in a beat-filled frenzy of awesome.
And, to my mind, that is the best way to remember Ginger Baker. Not the cranky old man. Not the man who was not the best patriarch to his family. But as a fine musician, whose drumming influenced countless others, and continues to influence them to this day.