Peter Edward “Ginger” Baker (August 19, 1939 – October 6, 2019) was an English drummer and a co-founder of the legendary rock band Cream. His work in the 1960s earned him the well-deserved reputation of “rock’s first superstar drummer”, while his individual style melded a jazz background with African rhythms. He is credited as having been a pioneer of drumming in such genres as jazz fusion and world music.
Peter Edward Baker was born in Lewisham, South London and was nicknamed “Ginger” for his shock of flaming red hair.
Baker began playing drums at about 15 years old, as an outlet for his restless energy. In the early 1960s he took lessons from Phil Seamen, one of the leading British jazz drummers of the post-war era.
In the 1960s he joined Blues Incorporated, where he met bassist Jack Bruce. The two clashed often, and sometimes violently, but would be rhythm section partners again in the Graham Bond Organisation and Cream, which Baker co-founded with Eric Clapton in 1966. Cream’s music was a fusion of blues, psychedelic rock and hard rock, they released four albums and achieved worldwide success but only lasted until 1968, partly because of Baker’s and Bruce’s volatile relationship. After briefly working with Clapton, bassist Ric Grech, from Family, and Steve Winwood, from Traffic, on keyboards and vocals, in Blind Faith and leading Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Baker spent several years in the 1970s living and recording in Africa, often with Fela Kuti, in pursuit of his long-time interest in African music.
In November 1971, Ginger Baker decided to set up a recording studio in Lagos, then the capital of Nigeria. He was one of the first rock musicians to realize the potential of African music and decided that it would be an interesting experience to travel to Nigeria overland across the Sahara Desert. He invited documentary filmmaker Tony Palmer to join him and the film Ginger Baker in Africa follows his odyssey as he makes his journey and finally arrives in Nigeria to set up his studio. After many frustrating set-backs and technical hitches, Batakota (ARC) studios eventually opened at the end of January 1973, and operated successfully through the seventies for both local and western musicians. Paul McCartney and Wings recorded for Band on the Run at the studio.
After the recording studio in Lagos failed, Baker spent most of the early 1980s on an olive farm in a small town in Italy. During this period, he played little music but managed to break his addiction to heroin.
In 1980, Ginger Baker joined Hawkwind after initially playing as a session musician on the album Levitation. He left in 1981, after a tour, and live material and studio demos from that period feature on a further two Hawkwind albums, released later in the 80s. In 1985, producer Bill Laswell talked him into doing some session work on John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd. album “Album”.
Ginger Baker moved to Los Angeles in the late 80s intending to become an actor.
In 1992 Baker played with the hard rock group Masters of Reality with bassist Googe and singer/guitarist Chris Goss on the album Sunrise on the Sufferbus. The album received critical acclaim but sold fewer than 10,000 copies.
Baker lived in Parker, Colorado between 1993 and 1999, in part due to his passion for polo. Baker not only participated in polo events at the Salisbury Equestrian Park, but he also sponsored an ongoing series of jam sessions and concerts at the equestrian centre on weekends.
In 1994, he formed The Ginger Baker Trio with bassist Charlie Haden and guitarist Bill Frisell, and also joined BBM, a short-lived power trio with Jack Bruce and Irish blues rock guitarist Gary Moore.
In May 2005, Baker reunited with Clapton and Bruce for a series of Cream concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, London, and Madison Square Garden. The London concerts were recorded and released as Royal Albert Hall London May 2-3-5-6, 2005. In a Rolling Stone article written in 2009, Bruce is quoted as saying, “It’s a knife-edge thing between me and Ginger. Nowadays, we’re happily co-existing in different continents… although I was thinking of asking him to move. He’s still a bit too close”.
Throughout 2013 and 2014, he toured with the Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion, a quartet comprising Baker, saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, bassist Alec Dankworth, and percussionist Abass Dodoo.
In February 2016, Ginger Baker announced he had been diagnosed with “serious heart issues” and cancelled all future gigs until further notice. Writing on his blog, he said, “Just seen doctor… big shock… no more gigs for this old drummer… everything is off… of all things I never thought it would be my heart…” In late March 2016, it was revealed that Baker was set for pioneering treatment. “There are two options for surgery and, depending on how strong my old lungs are, they may do both.” He added, “Cardiologist is brilliant. Yesterday he inserted a tube into the artery at my right wrist and fed it all the way to my heart – quite an experience. He was taking pictures of my heart from inside – amazing technology… He says he’s going to get me playing again! Thanks all for your support.”
On 25 September 2019, Baker’s family reported that he was critically ill in hospital, and asked fans to keep him in their prayers, and on October 6, 2019 Ginger Baker died at the age of 80.
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