October 06, 2019

This Time It Is Real — Ginger Baker is Dead

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Fela with Ginger Baker Fela with Ginger Baker

Back in the late 60’s when I was on the air at WDAS FM there were two rumors that kept popping up. The biggest one was that Paul McCartney was dead. The other was that Ginger Baker was dead. Fortunately, Paul is still alive after all these years, but unfortunately Ginger Baker died on October 6, 2019.

After my first encounter with the dynamic redhead, I was convinced that Ginger Baker was too feisty to ever die! His battles with fellow member of Cream, Jack Bruce, were legendary. Now 2/3 of Cream are gone.

In my book “Confessions of a Teenage Disc Jockey” I gave a full account of the night that I was able to convince both Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker to come to the WDAS FM studios for an interview. Eric was more than willing, but Ginger had to take a little more convincing. Perhaps the fact that Jack Bruce was coming helped. I didn’t know at the time that the two were consistently at odds, so it was a bit of luck that I was unable to even find Bruce to convince him.

Not too long after that show at the old Electric Factory, it was announced that Cream was splitting up. Each member went on to do many other projects. Eric Clapton continued to be a super star while Bruce and Baker were part of several projects that never really came close to the stardom achieved by Cream.

Ginger Baker was always a different drummer. That is meant in two ways. First, he had a very different slant on life. Second, he could be the most creative and innovative drummers of all time. He did things that many people didn’t even notice at first. Other drummers did and tried to emulate his style. It was often an exercise in futility.

Dig out an old Cream CD or record and listen with an ear to the drumming. Ginger’s skills were often lost in all the musical gymnastics that the band performed live. A great example of his hard driving and yet somewhat subtle approach can be heard in the song “White Room”. The beat that he created was hardly what can be considered mainstream rock. And he did it with such ease!

One of the reasons that Baker was a different rock drummer stems from the fact that his background was not that of your normal rock star of the time. Ginger was a little older than most of his peers. His initial goal was to be a Jazz drummer. To that end he took lessons from Phil Seamans who was considered to be one of the best British jazz drummers.

Always the rebel, Ginger decided that he wanted to do things his own way. After learning the basics, he was pretty much self-taught. His natural talent led him to be selected to play drums for Alexis Korner. That was a real honor since Alexis was not only the cornerstone of British Blues, but a real talent scout who discovered other outstanding players for his band, Blues Incorporated.

Almost ironically, it was in Blues Incorporated that Baker first met Bruce. They both went on to play in another British Jazz/Blues band known as The Graham Bond Organization. Since Graham Bond was more experimental, it gave Baker a chance to spread out a bit more.

Then Eric Clapton (who had left The Yardbirds) and John Mayall, decided to form a band with the cream of the British players. There is no doubt that Bruce and Baker were his equal with their instruments. Even though Ginger had never really played or particularly cared for Rock music, the trio blended and lived up to the name Cream.

Unfortunately, their personalities got in the way of making more groundbreaking music than they did in their brief stint together. After only being together for two years it was announced that Cream would breakup after one last tour.

Ginger stayed on with Clapton on his next project that was heralded as a supergroup. Blind Faith didn’t even last as long as Cream and disbanded after only one album.

At that point Ginger Baker started to drift away from the spotlight. He formed his own band called Ginger Baker’s Air Force, but the band lacked a strong lead singer and songwriter and was soon replaced by another one. The Baker Gurvitz Army didn’t fare any better for pretty much the same reason.

After these groups fell by the wayside, Ginger went to Africa and spent some time learning more about the African rhythms. He played with some the best, including the legendary Fela Ransome-Kuti. They even did some things together that were recorded, but largely ignored by the public.

Then for a time it looked like we heard the last of Ginger Baker. He kept a low profile on his farm and kicked his drug habits.

After being out of the public eye for some time, he suddenly surfaced played with bands like the avant-garde Hawkwind, Public Image and Ltd, Masters of Reality. He went back to his love of Jazz and put together a trio with Jazz greats, Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell. Then finally, back to being in a power trio like Cream when he surprisingly teamed up with Jack Bruce and Guitarist, Gary Moore

With apparently all being resolved with Jack Bruce, it was decided that Cream would come together for one last time. That led to some concerts in both London and New York in 2005 that were released on both CDs and DVDs. That was to be Ginger Baker’s last hurrah.

Ginger did write his life story that was published in 2009 entitled HELLRAISER. There is also a documentary video available that was released in 2012 called BEWARE OF MR. BAKER that is very interesting.

In the past few years his lifestyle caught up to him. He suffered from a series of health issues, but it was his heart that finally caused his retirement. In 2016, as he put it “no more gigs for this old drummer”.

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