Peter Edward ‘Ginger’ Baker
Born: August 19th, 1939
Died: October 6th, 2019

Before Ginger Baker, the drummer used to be the quiet one at the back of the stage whose job was to keep time. Baker, who has died aged 80, pioneered the image of the rock drummer as a flamboyant virtuoso, engaged in a dynamic interaction with the musicians around him.

Baker found fame with Cream, the 1960s rock trio also featuring Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, whose two-year career inspired a new wave of blues-based rock bands. Cream is now seen as the first “supergroup”, comprising outstanding musicians each of whom was blazing a trail on his respective instrument. Baker brought a freewheeling energy to his drumming. He was not abnormally fast or flashy, but he was innovative, using twin bass drums and displaying a flair for African-influenced beats. Baker often claimed he never practised, but relied on spontaneous inspiration when playing with other musicians.

In 1962 Baker, then a jobbing drummer in London’s jazz clubs, had been recommended by Charlie Watts, the future Rolling Stones drummer, for a job with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, where he first encountered Bruce. Along with Graham Bond and the saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith, the pair formed the Graham Bond Organisation, playing a form of jazzy rhythm and blues that won them a devoted following. However, they also developed a hostility that eventually led to Baker firing Bruce from the band.

Baker then approached Clapton, the rising star of British blues, with a view to forming a new group. Clapton was enthusiastic, but insisted on bringing in Bruce on bass. Despite misgivings, Baker agreed. The group split up in November 1968, at least partly because of the violent antagonism between Baker and Bruce.

Following Cream’s demise, Baker joined a new “supergroup”, Blind Faith, with Clapton, Steve Winwood (from Traffic) and bassist Ric Grech (from Family). Despite the huge success of Blind Faith’s eponymous 1969 album the band disintegrated that October, after completing a US tour. Baker was bitterly disappointed to find that Clapton was jumping ship (he departed to form Derek and the Dominoes) and decided he would form a band of his own.

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