Ginger Baker, Cream founder, dead at 80

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VARESE, 6 ottobre 2019-Ginger Baker the wildly influential and innovative drummer who laid the groundwork for heavy metal and world music and played with everyone from Fela Kuti to John Lydon to Max Roach, died Sunday after a lengthy hospital stay. He was 80.

“We are very sad to say that Ginger has passed away peacefully in hospital this morning. Thank you to everyone for your kind words over the past weeks,” the drummer’s Facebook confirmed Sunday, nearly two weeks after Baker’s family said he was “critically ill” in the hospital.

In 2016, Rolling Stone placed the Cream co-founder third on its list of the “100 Greatest Drummers of All Time,” writing, “Gifted with immense talent, and cursed with a temper to match, Ginger Baker combined jazz training with a powerful polyrhythmic style in the world’s first, and best, power trio …The London-born drummer introduced showmanship to the rock world with double-kick virtuosity and extended solos.”

One of the most cantankerous and volatile figures in rock history, Baker rarely lasted more than a couple of years with any single band. Cream, his most famous group, dissolved after barely two years. But they packed a lot into that brief period, recording classic songs like “Sunshine of Your Love,” “White Room,” and “Badge” that set the stage for nearly every hard-rock and heavy metal band that followed them into the 1970s.

“I’ve seen where Cream is sort of held responsible for the birth of heavy metal,” Baker said in a typically caustic 2015 interview. “Well, I would definitely go for aborting. I loathe and detest heavy metal. I think it is an abortion. A lot of these guys come up and say, ‘Man, you were my influence; the way you thrashed the drums.’ They don’t seem to understand I was thrashing in order to hear what I was playing. It was anger, not enjoyment — and painful. I suffered onstage because of that [high amplifier] volume crap. I didn’t like it then, and like it even less now.”

Regardless of how Baker felt about his influence, countless hard-rock drummers consider him one of the greatest players in history. “His playing was revolutionary — extrovert, primal, and inventive,” Rush drummer Neil Peart told Rolling Stone in 2009. “He set the bar for what rock drumming could be. I certainly emulated Ginger’s approaches to rhythm — his hard, flat, percussive sound was very innovative. Everyone who came after built on that foundation. Every rock drummer since has been influenced in some way by Ginger — even if they don’t know it.”

Peter Edward Baker was born on August 19th, 1939, in London. As a child, he dreamed of making his name as a champion cyclist. But after an accident with a taxi left his bike crushed to pieces in 1956, he turned his attention to drums, where he quickly found he had incredible natural talent. Before he was 18, Baker was a mainstay on the Soho jazz scene, playing in British Dixieland-revival groups and absorbing the influence of American bebop masters like Roach, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. By 1962, American R&B was sweeping England, and he got a job in Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated with keyboardist Graham Bond and bassist Jack Bruce.

When it became clear the group was going nowhere, Baker, Bond, and Bruce left to form the spinoff band the Graham Bond Organization. The group earned a fiercely devoted following all over England, but internal tensions were tearing it apart. Bond was fighting a heroin addiction, and Baker and Bruce were often fighting each other, with their physical spats sometime breaking out midway through sets. Baker eventually fired Bruce, though fate and their undeniable chemistry would continue to bring them together time and time again.

In 1966, Eric Clapton, fresh out of the Yardbirds, teamed up with Baker and suggested they form a blues-rock trio and bring in Bruce, much to Baker’s chagrin. Considering themselves three of the best players in the British rock scene, they called the group Cream. They were rock’s first supergroup, giving them a huge audience from the get-go. Singles like “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room” were all over pop radio, but as the drummer, Baker didn’t receive songwriting credit.

“Cream was doomed three months after it started,” Baker said in 2009. “It was my band, and Jack tried to fire me! I didn’t get any of the writing credits. It will piss me off for the rest of my life.”

Despite his rock bona fides, Baker always insisted that Cream were a jazz band. “Oh, for God’s sake, I’ve never played rock,” he told jazz.fm in 2013. “Cream was two jazz players and a blues guitarist playing improvised music. We never played the same thing two nights running … It was jazz.”

The band called it quits after a pair of farewell shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1968; Clapton formed Blind Faith with Steve Winwood the following year. Clapton had little interest in working with Baker again, but the drummer showed up anyway at their first rehearsals. “Somehow he got wind of what we were doing and had tracked us,” Clapton wrote in his memoir. “Steve’s face lit up when he saw Ginger, while my heart sank.”

Baker’s drumming powered Blind Faith’s incendiary 1969 self-titled debut LP, though the band folded after a quick tour, partially due to Baker’s growing drug problems that were beginning to rub off on Clapton. “I took one look at his eyes and was sure he was back on it,” Clapton wrote. “I felt that I was stepping back into the nightmare that had been part of Cream.”(www.rollingstone.com)

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