From Art Blakely to Max Roach: Ginger Baker’s favourite drummers of all time
“No one ever influenced my playing – I played my way.”—Ginger Baker
In fact, the mercurial jazz drummer, the driving force behind Cream and compulsively aggressive percussionist, Ginger Baker, did pretty much everything his way. He may not have ever openly admitted to any drummers influencing his style, very comfortable that he had his “own thing”, but there were some he called his favourites and one he simply called God.
Ginger writes in his memoir of how he started out life as a percussionist: “After sitting in with a band at a party, I’d never sat on a kit before (the kids virtually forced me to play), I discovered that I could play the drums just like that… I heard two of the horn players remark “christ! we’ve got a drummer!” that was it… a light went on… I was a drummer.”
Baker passed away last year with a legend greater than most percussionists can ever hope for, though we can imagine some areas of Baker’s lifestyle they’d like to cut out. He died as one of the legends of drumming, one of the final few who professed to be at the burning beginning of rock and roll, making sure the rhythm of the flame was just right. He will remain a member of the pantheon of rock forevermore.
There are many drummers who won’t be afforded that grace, which Baker would likely say performed better than him behind the kit. Like most rock drummers during the mid-sixties, Baker had cut his teeth as a jazz drummer and his impeccable timing was the stuff of legend. What Baker brought was a ferocity that nobody had ever seen before and alongside Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton in Cream created one of the scene’s pioneering acts.
Baker’s heart, however, would always belong to jazz. After trawling through countless interviews and memoirs of the infamous drummer we’ve managed to find what we’d consider a definitive list of Baker’s favourite drummers of all time.
He writes, “I started listening to music when I was very young 11/12 y.o. Listening to the big bands of the time, Ted Heath, Jack Parnell, always concentrating on the drummer. I got into the school gang, we were nicking records— that’s when I heard the Quintet of the Year – Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charlie Mingus and the great Max Roach, which totally blew me away, so I was listening to all the jazz I could.” Naturally, his selections are rooted in jazz.
There is a ream of drummers whom Baker considered some of the finest percussionists in the world. After being posed the hypothesis that he was the best drummer ever by Forbes, Baker casually replied: “I wouldn’t quite say that. I think I’m one of them, for sure. I had my own thing, which Phil Seamen had, which Art Blakey had. When you hear them playing, you know who it is.”
Adding: “Max Roach, ‘Philly’ Joe Jones, Elvin Jones. It goes back to ‘Papa’ Jo Jones and [Warren] Baby Dodds. All of these guys had a huge influence on me, but I didn’t copy them. Probably the biggest influence was Phil Seamen. He was God.”
Ginger met the legendary Phil Seamen in 1959: “I moved on to professional bands and into modern jazz, playing regularly at Ronnie Scott’s club and the Flamingo in London. Phil heard me play and gave me an enormous compliment—that night he played me his collection of African drum records and this was like a great big door opening, a big light went on.” After that Baker would travel to Nigeria and embedded himself in the spirituality of drumming and making pure music.
Seamen had an even bigger compliment to pay Baker, “Phil told me that I was the only drummer who’d ‘got it’.” It was something Baker remembered until his dying day, often citing it as a proud moment in interviews.
When the image of a rock star is so permanently ingrained on the public pscyhe, as Baker’s cantankerous nature is, then it’s a real joy to not only see the affection he held for some drummers but the small concessions he will allow them.
Find the list of Baker’s favourites below.
Ginger Baker’s favourite drummers of all time:
“Philly” Joe Jones
“Papa” Jo Jones
We’ve pulled together a small playlist of some of their incredible work but we heartily implore you to take a look into the extensive back catalogues of all the seven artists mentioned. Enjoy.