Ginger Baker, the volatile musician widely acknowledged as one of the greatest drummers in rock ‘n roll history, died today at age 80. His death was confirmed by his family via Twitter.
“We are very sad to say that Ginger has passed away peacefully in hospital this morning,” said the tweet. Daughter Nettie confirmed that Baker died in Britain but gave no further details. The family had said late last month that he was critically ill in the hospital.
Baker was an integral part of the power trio Cream, joining with guitarist Eric Clapton and bassist Jack Bruce to forge a propulsive sound that became a standard for blues rock. Baker was a key component, wielding his jazz background into the mix to drive an intricate style.
As powerful as his drumming was, the red-haired and edgy Baker also forged a fearsome reputation off-stage, involved in numerous scraps with musicians and media. His essence was captured in a 2012 documentary, Beware of Mr. Baker, which saw the star smash filmmaker Jay Bulger with a walking stick.
As part of Cream, Baker helped forged the first supergroup, a power trio uniting three of London’s blues scene stars. They were a worldwide sensation for their instrumental prowress on such songs as “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Crossroads,” “Spoonful,” ”I Feel Free” and “White Room.” They sold 10 million albums before parting in 1968 at their height.
Baker went on to form the supergroup Blind Faith with Clapton, joining singer-keyboardist Stevie Winwood and bassist Ric Grech. The group’s heavy reputation saw them burn brightly but quickly, and they split after just one album.
The roadmap after that saw Baker explore music in Africa and generally live a life as a wealthy rock star. He drove a Land Rover across the Sahara, played polo, and married four times. His musical resume includes time with African music legend Fela Kuti and forming Ginger Baker’s Air Force, which released two albums. He also played with Public Image Ltd., uniting with John Lydon in a marriage of two of rock’s most volatile characters.
Baker was inducted with Crream into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. Baker continued to perform regularly, although his health was fragile, owing to his rock lifestyle. He called his memoir Hellraiser: The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Drummer, a title that reflected his actions and beliefs.
Baker was born in 1939 as Peter Edward Baker, the son of a bricklayer killed during World War II when he was 4-years old. He became a drummer that started playing in local groups as a teen. His first group was Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, where he met Scottish-born bassist Jack Bruce. They soon teamed with Eric Clapton, whose skill and idolatry spawned grafitti claiming “Clapton is God.”
Baker told the blog JazzWax in 2013, “Cream was two jazz players and a blues guitarist playing improvised music. We never played the same thing two nights running. Jack and I had been in jazz bands for years. All that stuff I did on the drums in Cream didn’t come from drugs, either. It was from me. It was jazz.”
Baker’s son, Kofi Baker, issued a statement on his father’s passing. He drums in a cover band called Music of Cream with Jack Bruce’s son, Malcolm Bruce, and Eric Clapton’s nephew, Will Johns.