Ginger Baker

Last updated 10:22 17/08/2010

I read Hellraiser, the recently released autobiography of Ginger Baker. It will not win awards for the way its sentences have been created. It will not be turned into a film - as is the way with so many rock biographies - it is not even, particularly, a book that fans of Baker's need to read.

HellraiserBut I enjoyed it.

I enjoyed it - because it did what a book about music should do...it sent me back to the music.

It had been years since I had listened to Cream - not that I avoid the band's music; I simply mean that it had been a long time since I had chosen to play an album or compilation. But off I went to Fresh Cream and Disraeli Gears; to Goodbye and on to Blind Faith. From there to some of the jazz recordings Ginger made, to some of the world and Afrobeat excursions. And back to Blind Faith and to some of the Cream compilations.

My introduction to Cream was The Cream of Eric Clapton, bought for my father on vinyl. The whole family liked Eric Clapton - but it was this compilation that explained the history. Cream soon became my favourite band. And sure there was Jack Bruce's voice and bass playing. There was certainly Clapton's guitar playing (he was - at that point - most definitely still an innovator, rather than just coasting). And there are the surreal poems-turned-into-lyrics of Pete Brown. But, for me, all of that took a backseat to the backseat-driver: Ginger Baker steering the songs rhythmically, playing tantamount to melodic lines on the drums. The fills bursting out in Technicolor - dominating snatches of a song.

I cannot say with any certainty that Ginger Baker was my first drum hero. I'm pretty sure that was Buddy Rich. (And I wrote about that here.) And I was probably pretty into Ringo Starr by this point too - but Ginger Baker became my favourite pretty quickly. He was it. It wasn't so much that I wanted to play like him. I just wanted to listen to his drumming.

Cream songs - along with music by Jimi Hendrix and Santana - would dominate my listening for the next five years or so. I was about 13 years old at the time. And it was a sound I loved; later I would play along to Sunshine of your Love and White Room and Swlabr and Politician.

The Blind Faith record is something I still play a lot - more often than I listen to Cream. There's more in it - I find something new in the songs most times. I guess that's what you get with a Supergroup: you shift your focus each time - if the players are all doing their job/s correctly. For me though, Ginger Baker is absolutely the star of the record. His playing on album opener, Had To Cry Today, likeGinger Baker: Then so much of the Cream playing, is informed by jazz, but is really the work of a rock player. It is in fact really the work of two players, in that Ginger seems to occupy a dual role as drummer and percussionist, his work a combination of the separate sensibilities required for those tasks.

And I really like the work of The Ginger Baker Trio - particularly the Going Back Home album from 1994. (I've collected Baker's work through the 1970s and 80s as well; his film document of work with Fela Kuti and the live album, his Airforce and solo world excursions - I even like moments from the BBM album.)

The funny thing about going back to all of this music - particularly the Cream material - after reading the book is that I found far more of Baker's personality in the playing.

The autobiography has some of the requisite "crazy stories" of drug-use and sexcapades. Baker apparently enjoyed heroin and threesomes - often.

Later he would focus on African music - and Polo.

You get little from him in the pages of his book - apart from the fact that he hates Jack Bruce and has decided it's easier to not have much of an opinion on Clapton. He speaks for him enough to suggest that the real issue with Cream - and later with the 2005 Cream reunion - was definitely Jack Bruce.

But you don't need to read the book to get the character of this man. It's all over the records.

Ginger Baker: NowDrummers are often known for investing their personality in their playing - sure. Most (decent) musicians are, for that matter. But you really hear it in Ginger's work. There's the relentless drive, certainly, but he is a player with great taste. His approach to jazz has some of rock's energy and power but he has the chops - and importantly the dynamics - to make the records sincere; more than just a rock drummer having a go at jazz.

Funny that a book I could never recommend as being a great read has reconnected me with the work of one of my favourite musicians.

That ever happen to you?

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34 comments
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Danny   #1   11:10 am Aug 17 2010

I love Cream, and love Ginger Baker's playing. And funnily enough, I really didn't like the Clapton autobiography at all. It was rubbish, had nothing new in it, no interesting revelations etc, but it did make me go back and listen to Cream again, in the same way the Ginger book did with you. And yes, Clapton was incredible with Cream. I also didn't enjoy the Jools Holland autobiography...maybe because he has done so much in his life, that it felt like he was skimming over it all too fast? But it did make me go and listen to Squeeze again. Even the albums they made without him.

Michael   #2   11:27 am Aug 17 2010

Welldone Sweetman, you completely changed my opinion of you with this post. I loved it. Lets hope you continue with this form tomorrow.

Dr Zoidberg   #3   11:35 am Aug 17 2010

Sorry, don't know who he is. Or care.

Rich   #4   11:49 am Aug 17 2010

Dr Zoidberg - do your homework...you should know and you should care! if you call yourself a music fan...

Darryl   #5   12:19 pm Aug 17 2010

Sorry Simon

I think he is one of the most over rated drummers ever to walk the earth.

To see a really hot drummer walking all over Baker: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gv3cKLWQimE

bryan   #6   12:25 pm Aug 17 2010

Great article Simon - a good read. However I'm going to disagree with your comments on Ginger Baker in Cream. Yes Ginger is a brillant drummer - no doubt about it - but the driving force in Cream was Jack Bruce. Probably up there with Stanley Clark/Jaco Pastorius as one of the greatest bassists ever. The songs were mainly his, the vocals were mainly his, and the drive of the group was his as well. And take a listen to Songs for a Taylor, Jack's first solo Album. There is enough evidence in the songs on that album to indicate that a lot of the jazz phrasing came into Cream from Jack. But Ginger was sure great - love his rendition of Toad in the 2005 concerts - brilliant!.

Wayne   #7   12:29 pm Aug 17 2010

Dr Zoidberg, if your ignorant and ill-informed why comment?

kent   #8   12:36 pm Aug 17 2010

Great drummer always liked him. Haven't listened to Cream for yonks so will check them out again. Had the Blind Faith album on tape years ago and remember loving it.

Chris1   #9   12:39 pm Aug 17 2010

Great drummer and a great career...I look forward to reading it soon. As for Cream, well they helped shape rock and roll as we know it today. Even the Crooked Vultures album (excuse the pun) had Cream all over it. Each of the three were virtuosos and for all those Haterz who bag Clapton then just listen to that live version of Crossroads and bow down because you are in the presence of greatness!

I am yet to check out the reunion DVD...is it worth it? I have seen their Hall of Fame induction and it was average but is the reunion any good?

Pete   #10   01:01 pm Aug 17 2010

just finished this book recently myself - I picked it up after reading exceprts from it in either Uncut or Mojo - loved his forthright opinions, especially about Gary Moore. also liked reading about his African adventures and his polo exploits - not your typical rock star although plenty of sex & drugs tales as well if that's your bag...


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