In Memoriam–Ginger Baker [1939 – 2019]

The world of rock ‘n’ roll lost a titan of undeniable force on October 6, as legendary drummer Ginger Baker died at the age of 80. Baker—best known for his work as a member of Cream and Blind Faith—passed away as a result of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Born Peter Edward Baker in Lewisham, a suburb of southeast London in 1939, Baker and Cream first rose to stardom in 1966 with the release of their first LP, Fresh Cream. The following year, they would release Disraeli Gears, featuring the sublime single, “Sunshine of Your Love,” the band’s signature song. Often referred to as “The Cream” in their early days, the group would blaze a trail for psychedelic blues exploration in the arena of rock ‘n’ roll, as Baker’s powerful, jazz-influenced percussion, paired alongside Eric Clapton’s wildly extravagant guitar playing and bassist Jack Bruce’s thunderous bottom end, would raise the bar for improvisational rock and set the standard for hard rock power trios to come for decades after. 

Their reign, however, would be short lived, as Baker’s wildly gregarious lifestyle and volatile behavior would cause disruption within the group’s dynamic. By 1968, both Baker and Bruce were clashing regularly with each other, and in May of that year, it was announced that Cream were splitting up, just two years after the release of Fresh Cream. The band would embark on a “farewell” tour and played their last shows—two dates at the Royal Albert Hall in London—on November 25 and 26 in 1968.

After Cream, Baker would join Clapton, along with vocalist Steve Winwood and bassist Rick Grech, in what was arguably rock ‘n’ roll’s first supergroup—Blind Faith. The band would record only one LP—their seminal self-titled debut, released in August of 1969—but it would produce the hits “Can’t Find My Way Home” and the FM-rock radio staple, “Presence of the Lord.” Baker would then go on to lead the jazz-rock fusion group, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, between 1969 and 1971, producing several live LPs and one studio recording. Baker then relocated to Africa, where he often wrote and recorded with Afrobeat pioneer, Fela Kuti. The pair released a live album together in 1971.

Throughout his life, Baker would struggle with heroin addiction, and in 2013, was diagnosed with COPD from years of heavy smoking. In 2012, he was the subject of Beware of Mr. Baker, a documentary film of his life that combined archival footage with present-day interviews with both Baker and his peers. The film is notorious for its memorable capturing of an enraged Baker breaking director Jay Bulger’s nose upon finding out the director intended to interview many of Baker’s contemporaries for inclusion in the documentary. Baker was also prone to making outlandish comments through the years about other artists, once calling Mick Jagger a “musical moron” and also claiming that Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham “couldn’t swing a sack of shit” let alone swing behind the drum kit. It was these outbursts and more that would ultimately leave Baker on the outside looking in with fellow artists of his generation.

After living a sizable portion of his later life in South Africa, Baker was being cared for in Canterbury, England at the time of his death. He is survived by his wife, Kudzai Machokoto, and his three children.