Remembering Ginger Baker

October 11, 2019 2 min read

Remembering Ginger Baker

Earlier this week, Ginger Baker passed away at the age of 80. To say that music lost a legend is an understatement. 

If you know a thing or two about rock, you’ll know the name. Along with John Bonham and Keith Moon, Baker redefined the role of the drummer in a rock n’ roll band.

Through his playing in Cream – the first rock supergroup – Baker helped to elevate the percussionist beyond the position of mere timekeeper. His style combined the jazz lyricism of Phil Seaman, Art Blakely and Max Roach with the raw power of rock n’ roll. “Toad” his live centerpiece, during the Cream days, is widely credited as the first rock drum solo. The effect, as the New York Times observed in 1970, was like watching a “human combine harvester.”

 

 

But Baker was more than just a great rock drummer. As Rolling Stone notes, the man was a paradox, fusing different styles in a varied career that incorporated jazz, African music, prog and more:

“If you only know him in one context — with barnstorming blues-rock trio Cream, in short-lived supergroup Blind Faith, alongside Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, or in one of his later jazz combos — you’re missing out on a fuller understanding of the contribution this irascible icon made to his art form.” 

Baker himself would likely have agreed with that sentiment. Legendarily cantankerous and volatile, he hated being pigeonholed. “I’ve never played rock,” he told Jazz FM in 2013, while he insisted in 2015 that heavy metal – the a genre his powerhouse drumming undoubtedly influenced – was “an abortion.”

 

 

Ginger, by all accounts, was not an easy man to get on with. Given to fighting with his bandmates, particularly longtime sparring partner Jack Bruce, his caustic streak would, in his later years, define him as much as his drumming. In the critically acclaimed documentary “Beware of Mr. Baker,” released in 2012, audiences witnessed a man prone to whacking the filmmaker with his cane when he didn’t agree with him.

 

 

Health problems would also blight his twilight years. In 2013, he developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease from years of heavy smoking, and chronic back pain from degenerative osteoarthritis. By 2016, “serious heart issues” led to him cancelling all future gigs. Speaking of his many ailments in typical Baker style, he once claimed, “God is punishing me for my past wickedness by keeping me alive and in as much pain as he can.”

 

 

Explosive and self-destructive, Ginger made a fair few enemies in his time. But their numbers pale in comparison to those who were drawn to his phenomenal playing and sheer musicality. As

“His many admirers saw him as a rounded, sophisticated musician — an arranger, composer and student of the craft, absorbing sounds from around the world.”

It’s fair to say that Ginger was a man who left his mark.

Was he difficult? 

Yes.

Was he a nice guy?

Maybe not.

But, the music he left behind – a testament to his incredible talent – will undoubtedly be his greatest legacy. 

What are your memories of Ginger Baker? Did you ever see him live? Share your stories in the comments.

 



Also in Fingerboard Stories

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day On Guitar
Celebrating St. Patrick's Day On Guitar

March 15, 2024 3 min read

For example, let's say you want to play the song "The Irish Rover" on guitar. The song uses a lot of open chords and has a distinctive rhythm that can be difficult to replicate in different keys. But by using a capo, you can easily change the key of the song to fit your voice or the sound you're trying to achieve.
When A Musician Visits Nashville
When A Musician Visits Nashville

January 26, 2024 5 min read

To walk into his store is a sight to behold. The walls are lined with instruments from various eras, from legacy brands like Fender and Gibson to instruments from uncommon makers such as Paoletti and Mervin Davis. The staff are also not shy about letting anyone try anything. Want to play the $20,000 1950s Stratocaster? Go ahead!
If You Have To Ask...
If You Have To Ask...

January 12, 2024 4 min read

Louis Armstrong once famously said, “If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.” Some will say that talking about music is like dancing about architecture. Jazz has undergone several phases over the years, from big band to bebop to fusion to fuzak (though the less said about that one, the better). Many common elements exist in these styles that help define them as jazz.