If you grew up wanting to be a drummer (as I did), you drew up a list of drummers you admired. My list included Keith Moon, Neil Peart, Ringo Starr, Alex Van Halen, and Ginger Baker.
A hight school friend introduced me to Cream (or “The Cream” as some insisted) when she asked me to transfer some of her brother’s vinyl to cassette. I hadn’t realized what a trailblazer he was until I heard those records.
When Baker came along with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce as part of Cream in the middle 60s, no one had seen anything like him. He wasn’t content just to keep time; he treated the drums as fully-blown instruments equal to any other part of a band.
Baker’s style and the way he set up his kit was hugely influential to generations of drummers. He was very much a rock drummer, but also drew from jazz and traditional blues. While some big band drummers utilized the double kick approach, Baker was one of the first to use this set-up in a rock setting.
Cream became the leaders in the new psych-rock sound through four albums between 1966 and 1969. When they broke up, Baker joined Blind Faith (that didn’t last long) and then formed a jazz-rock outfit called Ginger Baker’s Air Force.
Other projects included a recording studio in Lagos, Nigeria, collaborations with Public Image Ltd. and Hawkwind, and a series of jazz bands. Oh, and he became a big fan of polo.
Baker was infamous crusty and, well, mean. “Wicked” was a word that he sometimes used to describe his behaviour and temper. That was captured in a 2012 documentary entitled Beware of Mr. Baker. If you can find it on Netflix, watch it.
Baker had not been well for years. Osteoarthritis. Respiratory problems. Heart issues requiring surgery. Then came word last month that he was gravely ill in hospital. His Facebook page says he passed away peacefully this morning (October 6). He was 80.