Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


BAKER, Ginger

(b Peter Edward Baker, 19 August 1939, Lewisham; d 6 October 2019, SE England) Rock drummer. Played trumpet in youth; learned theory and notation early. Switched to drums to play trad with Acker Bilk, then Terry Lightfoot (clarinettist and bandleader d 15 March 2013 aged 77). Met bassist Jack Bruce in the Bert Courtley band; sat in with Blues Incorporated; played '63 with Bruce in the Graham Bond Organization. His style reached a peak on Sound Of '65 album, including a stage workout on 'Oh, Baby'; Baker's lively drum sound was at odds with period practice, his style of attack promoting him from timekeeper to featured musician.

He then became a founder member of the powerhouse trio Cream '66 with Bruce and Eric Clapton, his solo on 'Toad' (album Fresh Cream) inspiring a generation of rock drummers; the 15-minute live 'Toad' on Wheels Of Fire inevitably seemed self-indulgent on record. A prickly individual, Baker claimed to have formed Cream, done most of the work and got the least out of it, and that it was management's idea to promote Clapton as the star. Next he was a member of a short-lived song-oriented supergroup Blind Faith; then turned bandleader with Airforce, a ten-piece outfit with three drummers, containing famous and not-so-famous people, perhaps in reaction to supergroups: it included Rick Grech, Stevie Winwood from Blind Faith, Denny Laine, Chris Wood, drummers Remi Kabaka and Phil Seamen. (Seamen was a superb British jazz drummer; both he and Baker were then heroin addicts.) After two cluttered albums, Airforce and Airforce 2 both '70, Baker opened a recording studio in Nigeria, played host to local and international talent (Paul McCartney's Wings made Band On The Run there '73). He made his own Stratavarious '72 on Polydor with Fela Kuti, recorded with Nigerian band Salt; back to UK to form Baker-Gurvitz Army with brothers Paul and Adrian Gurvitz (ex-Gun): the trio in Cream mould made undistinguished albums Baker-Gurvitz Army '74, Elysian Encounter '75, Hearts On Fire '76, then split. After an unimpressive solo effort 11 Sides Of Baker, he came back '79 to form Energy, played briefly with heavy metal trio Atomic Rooster, space-rockers Hawkwind, Ginger Baker's Nutters.

A tax exile, he emigrated again '82 to Italy with his second wife, ran a drum school, played old Cream tunes with young Americans. Sought out by producer Bill Laswell he played on an album by Public Image Ltd '86, made Horses And Trees on Celluloid with Laswell and L. Shankar on violin, also African Force on ITM. He had played on Bruce's A Question Of Time '89 on Epic; Bruce Baker Moore early '94 was another attempt at Cream glory, but Going Back Home on Atlantic before the end of the year was instrumental jazz with Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell, Falling Off The Roof '95-6 adding guests Bela Fleck (banjo) and Jerry Hahn (guitar) on some tracks.

He was always broke because he had expensive hobbies; at one point he raised polo ponies on a big ranch in Africa which he then had to give up. He was always outspoken and a contrarian. He said he never played rock, that Cream were two jazz musicians and a blues guitarist and they never played anything the same way twice: 'We played jazz.' He said that the reason he played so hard and loud was so he could hear himself, that the music was too loud, and that he hated heavy metal: ironic then that he was the inspiration for the drummers in the loudest bands. But there was no gainsaying his technique. He said that he thought his son Kofi would be a better drummer.