Ginger Baker: Superstar Drummer Dies At 80

Ginger Baker, the world’s first superstar drummer and founding member of the legendary power-trio Cream, passed away peacefully earlier today, October 6. He was 80. His family announced the news on the drummer’s Facebook page. Their statement said, “We are very sad to say that Ginger has passed away peacefully this morning. Thank you to everyone for your kind words to us all over the past weeks.” The family had said on September 25th that he was critically ill in hospital.

Peter Edward “Ginger” Baker was born in Lewisham, South London on 19 August 1939. Raised by his mother and aunt, he trained and competed as a racing cyclist as a teen, with hopes of turning professional. His first instrument was the trumpet but he would make his mark on the world as a drummer.

At age 16, he left home to tour with the Storyville Jazzmen. His reputation as a jazz drummer grew and he played with a progression of bands including Acker Bilk, Terry Lightfoot, Alexis Korner’s Blues Inc. (where he replaced Charlie Watts on drums) and Graham Bond Organization (with Jack Bruce). While both men were in the Graham Bond Organization, they recorded one album, The Sound of ‘65.

Ginger Baker shot to fame with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce with Cream in 1966. The first supergroup and power trio, the musicians broke new musical ground with their albums Fresh Cream, Disraeli Gears, Wheels of Fire and Goodbye in the band’s short two-year lifespan. Incorporating jazz and blues into their work, they revolutionized rock and influenced every hard rock and heavy metal band that followed.

Cream’s live performances were renowned for their extended improvisatory solos on their respective instruments at high volume. Songs like “Sunshine of Your Love,” “White Room,” and “Badge” were pop hits when released and remain staples on rock radio stations around the world. T Baker-composed “Toad” was one of rock music’s first extended drum solos.

After Cream disbanded in late 1968, Ginger formed Blind Faith with Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and Rick Grech. Blind Faith folded after one album and a US Tour in 1969.

He then formed Ginger Baker’s Air Force and released two albums. The Air Force featured as many three permanent drummers at a time.

Ginger moved to Nigeria in 1971 and built West Africa’s first 16-track recording studio. In 1974, he formed Baker-Gurvitz Army, which played jazz-fueled rock. They disbanded in 1977.

In the 1980s, he moved to Italy’s Tuscany region where he set up a drum school and established a successful olive farming business. Ginger would continue to release recordings including Horses and Trees (1986), Middle Passage (1990), Going Back Home (1994) and Coward of the County (1999). He released a few jazz-influenced solo albums and joined up with the Masters of Reality in 1991 for their album Sunrise Of The Sufferbus.

In 1993, Ginger Baker reunited with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce when Cream was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. They performed a few songs at the induction ceremony in Los Angeles.

At Jack Bruce’s 50th Birthday Party in 1993, Ginger jammed with Bruce and Gary Moore (of Thin Lizzy). This led to the formation of the group Baker-Bruce-Moore (BBM). They released one album, Around The Next Dream, in 1994. In the last half of the 90s, he toured and recorded with his jazz band, the Ginger Baker Trio.

In May 2005, Cream reunited for four shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Three additional concerts took place at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in October 2005. The London concerts were released on DVD, Blu-ray, CD and vinyl and sold in the millions.

In 2009, Ginger’s autobiography – “Hellraiser” – was published. His no-holds bar account of his personal and professional life was also a best-seller. Three years later, in 2012, he was the subject of the critically acclaimed documentary “Beware of Mr. Baker,” directed by Jay Bulger and based on a 2009 feature story he wrote for “Rolling Stone.”

In 2016, he canceled his tour with his band Air Force due to ill health. In his final years, Ginger suffered from degenerative osteoarthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 

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