THE music world paid tribute yesterday after news of the death of legendary drummer Ginger Baker. He was known for his incendiary temper as well as his innovative drumming which influenced generations of musicians and helped the band Cream become one of the first “supergroups”. His style, described as combining the crude power of rock with jazz’s lyricism, expanded rock’s vocabulary and Cream’s live shows were extraordinary because of the three musicians’ extended improvisations.

“It was as if something else had taken over,” Baker said. “You’re not conscious of playing. You’re listening to this fantastic sound that you’re a part of. And your part is just ... happening.. It was a gift, and we three had it in abundance.”

Yet, perhaps surprisingly for such a talent, Baker fell into drumming almost by accident.


BORN in London in 1939, Peter Edward Baker’s father was killed during World War Two and he was brought up in near poverty by his mother, aunt and step-father. His teenage years were troubled and he began stealing after joining a gang. He was then subjected to a razor attack from the other members when he left to go straight. To use up excess energy he took up cycling, with the ambition of taking part in the Tour de France but quit after being hit by a taxi. Looking for something else to do, he took up drumming.

“I was always banging on the desks at school,” he said. “So all the kids kept saying ‘Go on, go and play the drums’ and I just sat down and I could play.

“It’s a gift from God. You’ve either got it or you haven’t. And I’ve got it: time. Natural time.”


HE began playing with jazz acts like Acker Bilk, then took up the blues and started being noticed as a member of the Graham Bond Organisation. There he met Jack Bruce, from Lanarkshire, and, along with Eric Clapton, the three formed Cream who quickly gained fame with their fusion of psychedelia and blues.

Despite selling 35 million albums and becoming the first band to be awarded a platinum disc – for their album Wheels Of Fire – the band imploded as quickly as they rose to fame, however.Explosive on stage, Bruce and Baker’s relationship was extremely volatile. Arguments were frequent and often violent, with Bruce once smashing up Baker’s kit with his guitar after Baker tried to end one of Bruce’s solos by bouncing a drumstick off his drum on to Bruce’s head.


TWO years, but they left “an indelible mark on rock music”, according to the Encyclopaedia of Popular Music. Baker then formed Blind Faith with Steve Winwood and Clapton, followed by the 10-piece Air Force which fused blues, jazz and African music but never became popular. After his friend Jimi Hendrix died of a drug overdose, Baker left London to try to quit his own habit and settled in Nigeria where he built a recording studio and helped Paul McCartney record Band On The Run, the classic Wings album. Their relationship ended over Baker’s claims he was never paid and as well as his ongoing financial problems saw him lose control of the studio.

He continued to form bands like Middle Passage and played with John Lydon’s Public Image in the 1980s. His playing reputation remained high although he did not enjoy much commercial success.


HE took up polo and rally driving and in 2005 teamed up with Clapton and Bruce again for a series of concerts, which almost invariably ended up with Baker and Bruce fighting on stage. Baker afterwards used the reunion cash to go to South Africa where he funded a veterinary hospital and bought more polo ponies.

Ill health dogged his later years and he suffered from emphysema and a degenerative spine condition. “God is punishing me for my past wickedness by keeping me alive and in as much pain as He can,” he said.

In 2014 he still managed to record his last album Why? but announced his retirement two years later after open heart surgery. Married four times, he died yesterday morning, aged 80, and is survived by three children, Kofi, Leda and Ginette.