The late Ginger Baker was more than just a drummer. He was the driving force behind Cream and compulsively aggressive percussionist who always made sure to do things on his terms and his terms only. He may not have ever openly admitted to any drummers influencing his style, very comfortable that he had his “own thing”, but it’s clear that he’s gone on to influence countless drummers and judging by this absolute clinic that Baker puts on it should arrive as no surprise.
Baker passed away in 2019 with bonafide legend status that means his legacy remembers him as one of the finest percussionists that have ever graced the planet. His wild on-stage persona was only matched by his off-stage antics which was as crazy as you could imagine and some. He will remain a member of the pantheon of rock forevermore. Baker had a jazz background which provided him with the platform to become one of the most coveted rock drummers of all time thanks to his impeccable timing which was the stuff of legend.
Cream may have only been together for just over two years from 1966 until 1968 but what Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce conquered in that short time will live on forever. The initial hype from the moment of their incarnation was unprecedented as the trio was immediately dubbed as the first ‘supergroup’.
Their decision to form a new group had come after collectively, each member became fed up with performing what they were told to play and, instead, wanted to start their own band which was completely their own. Clapton later recalled how one car journey led to their formation: “I had always liked Ginger,” he explained. “Ginger had come to see me play with the Bluesbreakers. After the gig, he drove me back to London in his Rover. I was very impressed with his car and driving. He was telling me that he wanted to start a band, and I had been thinking about it too.
“When Ginger invited me to join, I asked him who else was in the band,” Clapton later told Uncut. “He said, ‘I don’t know yet.’ So, I suggested Jack. He said, ‘No, what did you have to go and mention him for?’ I said, ‘Because I just played with him and he’s a great bass player and you guys played together with Graham Bond and Alexis, so I thought you’d be pleased.’ And he said, ‘No, we don’t get on very well at all.’ So, I withdrew at that point. Then I said I would only go in with Ginger if he would go in with Jack. So he had to say OK.”
In 2012, Clapton revealed why the band had no option but to split up so early on into their career: “The workload was pretty severe. We were playing six nights a week and I lost weight until I was about nine stone and I looked like death,” he commented. “I was in bad shape. It wasn’t so much self-abuse as self-neglect. I think that all added to the psychology of the situation, which was pretty tricky at the best of times. Ginger and Jack were dynamic characters and pretty overwhelming.”
Adding: “It felt like I was in a confrontational situation 24 hours a day. Half my time was spent trying to keep the peace. And on top of that, you’re trying to be creative and make music. I was calling home to Robert Stigwood, our manager, and saying, “Get me out of here – these guys are crazy. I don’t know what’s going on and I’ve had enough.”
The one place where there was no confrontation between Ginger and Jack was on stage when they were both at home and there was this electricity that happened when they played live despite their toxic relationship off-stage. A drummer as supreme as Baker is always going to come with some baggage but this video from 1968 just before the band split captures him in a place of calm as he gets to do what he does best, drum.
He discusses all the components of his set-up and gives a priceless insight into the art of drumming. Although it looked like Baker was a completely unhinged character who was just an insane drummer, this video shows that there was a method to his madness and drumming was precious to him. It’s also a revealing video as Baker admits somewhat ashamedly that he doesn’t practice anymore but reminisces fondly about the days he spent as a child sitting behind the drumkit all-day long.
It’s truly a must-watch for any aspiring drummer, check it out below.