He was feared as the big grudge among the British rock stars, revered as the most tech-savvy first-generation rock drummer. Ginger Baker, on the other hand, saw it as the greatest merit of his life to be accepted as a friend and equal colleague by those four masters of his craft whom he truly respected: Phil Seamen, Elvin Jones, Art Blakey and Max Roach – all of them-Drummer. And as such, Baker understood himself – whatever the rest of the world might claim.
Born in 1939 into a South London working-class family, Peter Edward Baker ("Ginger" is a common British mocking name for redheads) was a good deal older than the rest of the psychedelic rock scene, where he became famous in the 1960s. In contrast to the baby boomers around him, he had consciously witnessed the bombardments by the German Air Force. His father had not returned from the war.
As a teenager, the junkie involved in petty criminal gangs discovered his love of jazz, and soon his natural talent as a drummer. Phil Seamen, then London's most sought-after jazz drummer, gave him lessons and opened two of his biggest obsessions in the future: the rhythms of Africa and the soul-numbing one,
The middle sixties were a hard time for British jazz. In the lee of the Beatles, guitar bands took over the club scene, and England's best-known big bands lost their livelihoods overnight. Meanwhile, the young mod crowd in the London clubs discovered his taste for harsh rhythm & blues. The flexible Baker found employment with Alexis Korners Blues Incorporated, then alongside bassist Jack Bruce and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith at the Graham Bond Organization, with whose namesake, organist and singer he shared a passion for hard opiates. The band soon broke under aggression between the belligerent drummer and the stubborn bassist.
Ironically, Baker reunited with Jack Bruce in his next band, this time as a trio with the guitar prodigy that came to prominence with the Yardbirds and John Mayall, The band gave themselves the arrogant name Cream (in the sense of a crème de la crème of the music scene). Baker, now playing with two bass drums, laid the foundation for the instrumental excesses of Progressive Rock with his highly complex beats and drum solos. Later, he rightly complained that he received no royalties for his grooves in classics such as "Sunshine Of Your Love" or "Tales Of Brave Ulysses" – unlike Bruce and lyricist Pete Brown.
Extensive drum duels
After two short years, Cream imploded under the tension between Bruce and Baker, who then founded with Clapton, the organist and singer Steve Winwood, and bassist Ric Grech, the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith. Winwood and Grech followed the drummer into his self-centered successor Ginger Baker's Air Force. It was a multi-headed ensemble with brass players and singers that served as vehicle for extended drum duels with old-time jazz musicians such as Elvin Jones, Art Blakey and Baker's teacher Phil Seamen. Critics called the resulting genre mix "jazz-rock" or "fusion". Baker, on the other hand, who saw himself above such categories, next set out for Africa to find the origins of his music.
In 1971 he settled in the Nigerian cityAfrica 70, the band of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, joined them and built the continent's first modern multi-track recording studio. At the same time he discovered his love for the horses and the polo game, which would bring him several times to the brink of bankruptcy.
His odyssey led him to Italy and California, where he tried as a villain in the acting department (in the TV series "Nasty Boys") to South Africa. From a brief stint at John Lydon's Public Image Limited to the Baker Gurvitz Army and Masters of Reality, his work with Bill Frisell, Charlie Haden or Bill Laswell's material to the 2005 Cream Reunion and a revived Air Force, Baker remained a restless although at the end of arthritis and heart problems tormented virtuoso.
Who Jay Bulgers"Beware of Mr. Baker" (2012), knows what a catastrophic father and husband the fourfold married drummer was, but also how little he held public opinion. The movie begins and ends with an angry Baker bleeding the interviewer's nose with his walking stick.
But his apparent intolerability as a human does not change the fact that he dealt earlier, more intensively and credibly than any other musician in his environment with the African roots of his music. In an interview, Ginger Baker recalled "the greatest compliment" that beebop legend Max Roach gave him after a concert at the New York club Iridium in 1997: "Jesus, Ginger plays like a nigger."
On the morning of October 6, 2019, Ginger Baker is in … a hospital, He was … 80 years old.