Cream drummer Ginger Baker (1939-2019) remembered
The influential drummer Ginger Baker died at the age of 80 on October 6th, 2019, at a hospital in Canterbury. The man, whose life was celebrated in the award winning 2012 documentary film “Beware of Mr. Baker”, had struggled with heroin addiction throughout his life and was diagnoed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 2013, after years of heavy smoking. He also had chronic back pain from degenerative osteoarthritis. Baker was diagnosed with serious heart issues in 2016 and was reported to be recovering from open heart surgery in June of the same year. Baker’s family reported that he was critically ill again on September 25th, 2019. Days later he was dead.
“Horses don’t let you down, nor do dogs”, said Baker, who’d admit that he wasn’t “an easy person to get on with”. Throughout his life, he kept moving away from the women that he’d married and he became estranged from his daughters and his son, the drummer Kofi Baker, whom Ginger introduced to cocaine as a 15 year old. Ginger Baker eventually moved to South Africa and in 2010 he married his fourth wife, Kudzai, 42 years his junior. He was often plagued by financial difficulties, partly due to an expensive hobby of buying horses to play polo. While he may not have been the most noble human being to walk the face of the earth, he sure could play! Now, let’s talk music!
Nicknamed “Ginger” for his flaming red hair, Peter Edward Baker was born in Lewisham, South London, on August 19th, 1939. As a co-founder of psychedelic blues rock supergroup Cream and his other work in the 1960s and ’70s, he earned a reputation as “rock’s first superstar drummer”. Playing a style that melded jazz and African rhythms he went on to pioneer jazz fusion and world music. Working with everyone from Steve Winwood and members of The Beatles to Hawkwind, Gary Moore and Masters of Reality, he collaborated with John Lydon and experimentalist Bill Laswell and went on to form a trio with jazz giants Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell.
Baker was one of the early pioneers of double bass drumming in rock, adopting his setup in 1966 after he and The Who’s Keith Moon had watched drummer Sam Woodyard at a Duke Ellington concert. Influenced by jazz giants like Art Blakey, Max Roach and Elvin Jones (all of whom became friends of his, even playing together), Baker himself would go on to be a great influence on hard rock legends such as John Bonham, Ian Paice and Dave Lombardo. Arguably, virtually every drummer of every metal band that has followed, even though Baker himself expressed repugnance for the genre. “People say Cream gave birth to heavy metal”, Baker said, “If that’s so, we should have had an abortion.”
Neil Peart of Rush said “His playing was revolutionary – extrovert, primal and inventive. 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.”
Baker began playing drums at age 15, later taking lessons from the English jazz drummer Phil Seamen. Baker’s earliest entry on Discogs is a 1957 Christmas single (“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” / “Winter Wonderland”) by Terry Lightfoot’s Jazzmen. Baker can be heard on the 1958 album “Tradition In Colour” by Terry Lightfoot and His Band but he also recorded in the late ’50’s with Bob Wallis and The Storyville Jazzmen. First issued as Bob Wallis “Storyville Revisited” in 1958, as a 10″ 33 rpm record limited to 100 copies, Ginger Baker appeared on “Winter Wonderland” and “Collegian” with The Storyville Jazzmen, recorded in May 1957 at London’s Metro Club. The remaining tracks on the album were performed by The Hugh Rainey All Stars, also featuring Ginger Baker. The CD “Bob Wallis and His Storyville Jazzmen 1957” represents the entire session featuring Bob Wallis (trumpet and vocals), Les Wood (clarinet), John Mortimer (trombone), Pete Gresham (piano), Hugh Rainey (banjo), Stu Wimsey (bass) and Baker on drums.
Baker first met up with future Cream bassist Jack Bruce when he joined Blues Incorporated, the band that Alexis Korner had formed in 1961 and that sometimes featured future stars like Terry Cox, Davy Graham, Brian Jones, Long John Baldry and Danny Thompson. Korner established a regular “Rhythm and Blues Night” at the Ealing Jazz Club in 1962, bringing in people like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, John Mayall, Eric Burdon and Jimmy Page, some of whom would occasionally sit in with the band. It was around this time that Charlie Watts left Blues Incorporated to join the Rolling Stones, suggesting Ginger Baker as his replacement.
Baker didn’t stay around long enough to result in any release with the band, however. The 1962 album “R&B from the Marquee” was recorded in the studio with sessions musicians rather than the band’s actual rhythm section, after which Cyril Davies left the band and was replaced by Graham Bond. Recorded in 1963, the track “Rockin” on the 1972 Alexis Korner compilation “Bootleg Him!” features Ginger Baker along with Bruce, Korner, Heckstall-Smith, Bond and pianist Johnny Parker.
Shortly afterwards, Baker, Bruce and Bond left to form the Graham Bond Quartet with guitarist John McLaughlin, this being in 1963 and some years before he would play with Miles Davis and found the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Two albums were eventually released as the Graham Bond Organisation in 1965, “The Sound of ’65” and “There’s a Bond Between Us”, the latter of which featured the Baker composition “Camels And Elephants”. Saxophone player Dick Heckstall-Smith was on board for these albums but McLaughlin was no longer around. A live recording from 1964, at Klook’s Kleek Club in London, was first released in 1972 as “Faces And Places Vol. 4”.
Baker and the rest of the Graham Bond Organisation also featured in “Gonks Go Beat”, a 1965 British sci-fi musical fantasy movie loosely based on the Romeo and Juliet storyline.
Robert Stigwood, the band’s manager at the time, at one point asked Baker if he could utilise a track written by Baker but left unused for the “There’s a Bond Between Us” album. While credited to “The Who Orchestra”, the instrumental “Walz for a Pig” was actually played by members of the Graham Bond Organization even as it was released as the B-side of The Who’s single “Substitute”, earning Ginger (credited as “Harry Butcher”) £1,350, a fortune to him at that time.
Baker was infamous for his violent temper and for confrontations with fans and musicians, not least Jack Bruce. Their volatile relationship included on-stage fights and the sabotage of each other’s instruments. After Baker fired him from the Organisation, Bruce continued to arrive for gigs which led to Baker threatening him at knifepoint. Bruce was driven away in August of 1965, going on to briefly join John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers (then featuring future Cream band mate Eric Clapton) and Manfred Mann. Bruce didn’t feature on any Mayall release at the time but recordings of Bruce together with Clapton (who joined Bluesbreakers after his stint in The Yardbirds, 1963-65) do feature as bonus tracks on the “40th anniversary Deluxe Edition” of “The Beano Album”, having previously been included on the compilation albums “Looking Back” (1969) and “Primal Solos” (1977).
Baker himself eventually left the ORGANization in 1966, to form Cream with Bruce and Clapton. Baker’s replacement was drummer Jon Hiseman, with whom Heckstall-Smith would also play with on “Bare Wires” by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (then featuring future Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor) before forming Colosseum together with Dave Greenslade and Tony Reeves. Released in 1970, the double album “Solid Bond” compiled three live tracks recorded in 1963 by the Graham Bond Quartet (Bond, McLaughlin, Bruce and Baker) and a 1966 studio session by the final Baker-less trio version (Bond, Heckstall-Smith and Hiseman) of the ‘Organisation.
Baker was intended to play drums in Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse, a studio project that recorded three songs released in 1966 on “What’s Shakin'”, the Elektra Records sampler also featuring the earliest studio recordings by the Lovin’ Spoonful and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Baker wasn’t available, though, so Clapton and Jack Bruce got Pete York in instead, the drummer of the Spencer Davis Group whose Steve Winwood (who would form Traffic the following year) sang on the recordings also featuring Paul Jones of Manfred Mann on harmonica and Ben Palmer on piano. Baker would, however, later join up with Winwood in Blind Faith and Air Force.
Yes, the legendary power trio eventually came together in June of 1966, one month after the Powerhouse session. Clapton became the main rival of Jimi Hendrix for the title of Guitar God while Bruce sang and wrote much of the band’s original material, often with lyricist Pete Brown. Baker and Bruce still couldn’t get along, though, which led to the band coming to an end in 1968. Despite their short time as a unit, they managed to release four albums and change the world of music forever through their brilliant mix of blues, psychedelia, pop hooks, jazz improvisations and hard rock!
“Fresh Cream”, the band’s debut album, was recorded and released in 1966 and contained an even split between self-penned originals and blues covers like “Spoonful”, “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” and “I’m So Glad”. Baker expanded upon “Camels and Elephants” in the instrumental closer “Toad”, containing one of the earliest examples of a drum solo in rock music. Baker also wrote “Sweet Wine” with Janet Godfrey, the wife of Jack Bruce. She also co-wrote “Sleepy Time Time” with her husband.
Produced by Felix Pappalardi (who would later co-found Mountain with Leslie West in 1969), the follow-up album “Disraeli Gears” was recorded in New York and released in a colourful psychedelic album artwork. Containing classics like “Strange Brew”, “Tales of Brave Ulysses” (co-written by Clapton with Martin Sharp, the artist who created the artwork for this and the following album), “SWLABR” and “Sunshine of Your Love”, the 1967 album became a massive seller. Baker performed lead vocals on his composition “Blue Condition” while all three band members can be heard singing together on the album closer “Mother’s Lament.”
Pappalardi co-wrote “World of Pain” with his wife, Gail Collins. The two also co-wrote “Strange Brew” with Clapton. Years later, in 1983, Felix Pappalardi would be shot dead in their East Side Manhattan apartment. Gail was charged with second degree murder but claimed that the killing was an accident, thus only being found guilty of criminally negligent homicide.
Cream’s third album, “Wheels of Fire”, topped the American charts when it was released in 1968. It was a double album where the first LP contained new studio recordings that showcased them moving towards a semi-progressive rock style with odd time signatures and orchestral instruments. Baker wrote lyrics for three tracks with music by jazz pianist Mike Taylor: “Passing the Time”, “Pressed Rat and Warthog” (with Baker speaking) and “Those Were the Days”. Bruce teamed up with lyricist Pete Brown again and delivered the goods with “Politician”, “Deserted Cities of the Heart” and the excellent opener “White Room”. Brown had previously formed The First Real Poetry Band with John McLaughlin, who on his 1969 solo debut “Extrapolation” would name “Pete the Poet” after him. Clapton did not contribute any original material to these recordings, preferring to include covers of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Sitting on Top of the World” and Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign”.
The second LP featured four songs recorded live: the Bruce composition “Traintime”, Clapton’s arrangement of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” and two extended 16 minute jams around Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful” and Baker’s “Toad”. Live recordings from 1968 that weren’t used for “Wheels of Fire” were later released as “Live Cream” and “Live Cream Volume II” in 1970 and 1972 respectively.
The band members wanted to go their separate ways after completing “Wheels of Fire” but they were eventually persuaded to go on a final tour (with Deep Purple, Yes and Taste as opening acts) and release one final album. The appropriately titled “Goodbye” was released after the break up in early 1969. Just before the start of their farewell tour in October 1968, Cream had recorded three songs: Baker’s “What A Bringdown”, “Doing That Scrapyard Thing” (Bruce/Brown) and most notably “Badge”, written by Clapton and George Harrison. The Beatle himself even played rhythm guitar on the recording, using the alias L’Angelo Misterioso. The rest of the album was padded out with live recordings of “I’m So Glad”, “Politician” and “Sitting on Top of the World”.
Before the official disbandment of Cream, Jack Bruce met up to record with John McLaughlin, Dick Heckstall-Smith and Jon Hiseman, all of whom had previously played with Graham Bond. These instrumental jazz-fusion recordings from August 1968 were eventually released in 1970 as the Jack Bruce solo album “Things We Like”. At that point Bruce was again playing with McLaughlin, with Larry Young on organ in The Tony Williams Lifetime. Bruce joined to provide bass and vocals on their second album, “(Turn it Over)”. McLaughlin and Young also both played on the Miles Davis 1970 classic “Bitches Brew” while Tony Williams had started playing drums for Davis in 1963, when he was only 17 years old. Williams’ final album with Miles was the 1969 masterpiece “In a Silent Way”, for which Davis also brought in McLaughlin from Lifetime to play alongside the otherworldly line-up of Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul and Dave Holland. Damn!
But I digress, while Bruce went solo, engaged in session work (Lou Reed, Zappa, etc.) and formed the Mountain-offshoot West, Bruce and Laing, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton stuck together for one more album. Clapton had tried to recruit Traffic’s Steve Winwood (who had sung with Eric Clapton’s Powerhouse in 1966) into Cream in the hope that he would help act as a buffer between Bruce and Baker. This didn’t come to pass but Winwood, Clapton and Baker eventually got together in 1969 with Ric Grech (the bass player of Family since 1965, having appeared on their first two albums) to form Blind Faith, resulting in a self titled album. It’s a great album (despite it’s controversial cover with a photo of a topless pubescent girl) with songs like “Had to Cry Today”, “Can’t Find My Way Home” (both by Winwood) and Clapton’s “Presence of the Lord”. The second side of the album is dominated by Ginger Baker’s “Do What You Like”, a 15 minute track with a long drum solo.
Clapton wasn’t satisfied in Blind Faith, however, and after less than seven months he joined Delaney & Bonnie and Friends (who had acted as opening act for Blind Faith) before going on to form Derek and the Dominos, releasing the double album “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” (feat. Duane Allman – the album’s producer, Tom Dowd, was at the time also working on “Idlewild South” by the Allman Brothers) in 1970, a couple of months after his debut solo album had also been released. Clapton also worked with much of Delaney and Bonnie’s band during the recording of George Harrison’s amazing debut album, “All Things Must Pass”, in the spring of 1970. Ginger Baker himself also appeared on that album, but only on the track “I Remember Jeep” on the third “Apple Jam” LP.
Speaking of Apple, The Beatles own record label also put out “That’s The Way God Planned It”, the 1969 album by Billy Preston. Preston had of course played electric piano with The Beatles during their infamous rooftop concert, and during the “Get Back” sessions that resulted in the “Let It Be” album. He also played Hammond organ on “Something” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” off “Abbey Road”. Produced by Harrison, “That’s the Way God Planned It” featured Baker on drums , Clapton on electric guitar and Keith Richards on bass guitar!
Grech and Winwood stayed on with Baker after the demise of Blind Faith and performed with Ginger Baker’s Air Force, a fusion supergroup that replaced Clapton with ex-Moody Blues (1964-66) guitarist Denny Laine (soon to join Paul McCartney in Wings, 1971-81) and featured Chris Wood (ex-Traffic) on saxophone and flute. Among the other musicians were Afro-rock avant-garde percussionist Remi Kabaka (who’d also work with Rolling Stones, Traffic and McCartney) and drummer Alan White, who would next join Yes when Bill Bruford left them for King Crimson in 1972.
Alan White’s first release with Yes was the live album “Yessongs” and he has remained with the band for every release to this date. Alan White had played in the Alan Price Set with the former The Animals (1963-65) organist when John Lennon had invited him to join the Plastic Ono Band with Eric Clapton. Alan White would go on to play on Lennon’s “Imagine” and Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass”. White was also briefly with Denny Laine in Balls, the Birmingham supergroup led by Trevor Burton, the former The Move founder who had almost joined as bass player in Blind Faith. Their only release came out after the band had folded, the single “Fight For My Country” from 1971 had “Janie Slow Down” as its B-side, a song co-composed by Alan White and Denny Laine.
The self-titled 1970 double album was a recording of a sold-out Ginger Baker’s Air Force concert at the Royal Albert Hall with the original 10-piece line up. Baker shared lead vocals with Laine on Baker’s arrangement of the trad. composition “Early in the Morning”. “Don’t Care” was composed by Baker/Winwood while a 13 minute version of Cream classic “Toad” featured drum solos by Baker, Remi Kabaka and Phil Seamen. Side four of the album featured the Blind Faith song “Do What You Like” (Baker) and the Baker/Grech composition “Doin’ It”. Sung by Graham Bond, “Aiko Biaye” was composed by Remi Kabaka and Teddy Osei, the founder of Afro-pop band Osibisa. Osei had traveled to London in 1962 on a grant from the Ghanaian government to study at a private music and drama school for three years. He founded Osibisa in 1969 and they would go on to release their first two albums in 1971, both featuring a logo and artwork of flying elephants by a pre-fame Roger Dean.
Traffic had split up after two albums (followed by “Last Exit”, with rarities and live tracks) but Winwood soon set out to make an intended solo album (to be titled “Mad Shadows”, a title that Mott the Hoople went on to use), eventually recruiting original Traffic members Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi (but not guitarist Dave Mason) to record what would eventually be released as Traffic’s 1970 masterpiece “John Barleycorn Must Die”. Ric Grech (who had played with Winwood and Wood in Ginger Baker’s Air Force) was asked to join Traffic for the following tour, for which Mason (who had produced “Music in a Doll’s House”, Family’s 1968 debut with Ric Grech) also briefly returned.
The studio recording “Ginger Baker’s Air Force 2” was also released in 1970, but recorded with a line-up that only retained Baker and Graham Bond from the debut, with Denny Laine and Rick Grech as additional personnel. In addition to Cream’s “Sweet Wine”, Baker was listed as composer of three further tracks: “Do U No Hu Yor Phrenz R?”, “We Free Kings” and “Toady”.
2015 saw the release of “Do What You Like”, a compilation of three studio outtakes from 1970 and two live tracks with Ginger Baker’s Air Force. These include a 33 minute live version of the title track with a drum battle between Baker and Elvin Jones from 1971.
Having played as a sideman for Miles Davis and Charles Mingus in the 1950s, Elvin Jones joined the John Coltrane quartet in 1960, making his first appearance on the track “Village Blues” off “Coltrane Jazz”. Following the success of the 1959 masterpiece “Kind of Blue”, Miles Davis had persuaded John Coltrane to play with the group on one final European tour in the spring of 1960. Once he led his own band, Elvin Jones would remain with Coltrane through classic albums such as “My Favorite Things” (1961) and “A Love Supreme” (1965) before leaving to form his own band after the 1966 album “Meditations”. The pianist McCoy Tyner also left at that point, next recording the 1967 solo album “The Real McCoy” with Elvin Jones. While playing with Coltrane, Elvin Jones also recorded three classic albums (“Night Dreamer”, “JuJu” and “Speak No Evil”) in 1964-65 with future Weather Report founder Wayne Shorter, at the time a member of Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet with Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and drummer Tony Williams.
Baker had intended to tour again in 2016 under the name Ginger Baker’s Air Force 3, showcasing new talent and collaborating with old friends, but this was cancelled due to Baker’s health issues.
Baker’s interest in African rhythms deepened during the early 1970s and for several years he lived and recorded in Africa, often with Fela Kuti. In addition to the 1971 album “Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa ’70 with Ginger Baker Live!”, Baker also appeared on the same year’s “Why Black Man Dey Suffer” and “Fela’s London Scene”. On the latter, Baker plays uncredited on the track “Egbe Mio”.
Fela Kuti (1938-1997) was born into an upper-middle-class family in Abeokuta, then a city in the British Colony of Nigeria. His family sent him to England to study medicine in 1958 (two years before Nigeria achieved independence from the U.K.) but Fela instead went on to study at London’s Trinity College School of Music. After finishing school, Fela returned to Nigeria and in 1964 he invited the Nigerian drummer Tony Allen to audition for Koola Lobitios, a jazz-highlife band he was forming. In 1967, Fela went to Ghana and started calling his music “Afrobeat”, a combination of funk, jazz, salsa, Calypso and traditional Nigerian Yoruba music. In 1969, Fela and the band spent 10 months in Los Angeles, recording a session that would later be released as “The ’69 Los Angeles Sessions”. After Fela and his band returned to Nigeria, the group was named The Africa ’70 – not to be confused with the “Afro 70 Band”, an outfit from Tanzania that would make an album with the excellent Swedish band Archimedes Badkar in 1978. As musical director of Africa ’70 from 1968 to 1979, Tony Allen would be one of the primary co-creators of Afrobeat and a major influence on Baker. EMI brought Fela and his band back to London and Abbey Road to record their first album release, “London Scene”. It was while recording this album in 1971 that Baker began his friendship with Fela Kuti.
Fela Kuti also appeared on “Stratavarious” (1972), Baker’s first solo album. Also featured on that album was Bobby Tench, formerly of Gass and the second Jeff Beck Group (Tench sang on the albums “Rough and Ready” and “Jeff Beck Group”) with drummer Cozy Powell, later to join Rainbow, Whitesnake and Black Sabbath. Baker was credited av composer of “Coda” and co-credited for “Blood Brothers 69” (with Guy Warren) and “Something Nice” (with Bobby Tench). Kuti composed “Tiwa (It’s Our Own)” while the 11 minute opening track, “Ariwo”, was a traditional composition arranged by Fela Ransome-Kuti and Ginger Baker. “Stratavarious” and both Air Force albums were later included on the double CD “Do What You Like”.
Released in 2010 as part of The Official Ginger Baker Bootleg Series, “Live In Munich Germany 1972” features jazz giant Art Blakey as a guest with Ginger Baker and Salt, a band of mostly African musicians.
Ginger first went to Ghana in 1970 to visit his close friend, drummer Guy Warren. Whilst there he became fascinated by the music that he heard on a Nigerian Radio Station and decided to go there and check out the scene, undeterred by the fact that there was a war on at the time! Having travelled to the capital of Nigeria across the Sahara Desert with documentary filmmaker Tony Palmer – resulting in the movie “Ginger Baker in Africa” – Baker set up a recording studio in Lagos. This took place only the year after the 30-month civil war on Biafra had ended. Batakota (ARC) studios opened in January 1973 and operated through the seventies as a facility for both local and western musicians.
Following the demise of Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Denny Laine had joined forces with Paul and Linda McCartney (who had then just released their excellent “Ram” album) to form Wings. After two albums the group was reduced to that core trio, who then decided to record McCartney’s fifth post-Beatles album in Nigeria during the fall of 1973. Baker invited Wings to record the entire album at his studio but McCartney only agreed to go there for one day. Eventually included on what turned out to be Wings’ most successful album, “Band on the Run”, the song “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)” was recorded there, with Baker contributing a percussive tin of gravel. Paul McCartney had earlier been on vacation in Jamaica and been “snuck” onto the set of the movie “Papillon”. Dustin Hoffman did not believe that McCartney could write a song “about anything”, so Hoffman pulled out a magazine about death of Pablo Picasso and his famous last words, “Drink to me, drink to my health. You know I can’t drink anymore.” McCartney created a demo on the spot.
Baker formed a new trio in 1974 by joining the brothers Paul and Adrian Gurvitz, recording three albums together as the Baker Gurvitz Army: “Baker Gurvitz Army”, “Elysian Encounter” and “Hearts on Fire”. Live recordings eventually followed on CD.
The brothers (sons of a tour manager for The Kinks and Cliff Richard) had first had a hit in 1968 with “Race with the Devil” (later covered by Judas Priest and Girlschool), the debut single by their band The Gun. Their debut album had the first cover artwork by Roger Dean, later to find fame working with Yes (whose Jon Anderson was briefly in The Gun) and Asia. After their second album, “Gunsight” (1969), the Gurvitz brothers worked seperately for a while before forming Three Man Army, recording three albums together before joining up with Baker. Initially intended as an Adrian Gurvitz solo album, “A Third of a Lifetime” (Three Man Army’s 1971 debut) included two tracks with drummer Buddy Miles from the Band of Gypsys, the band that Jimi Hendrix had formed with bassist Billy Cox after the dissolution of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Miles had also contributed to their swan song, “Electric Ladyland”. Shortly after the death of Jimi Hendrix in 1970, Miles invited Adrian Gurvitz to join The Buddy Miles Express on a two year tour. It was during that tour that Gurvitz first met Ginger Baker. The Buddy Miles Express was formed after Mike Bloomfield’s short-lived band Electric Flag broke up in 1968. Gurvitz joined after their guitarist Jim McCarty (previously in the Detroit Wheels, 1964-67) had gone off and formed Cactus with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge. Having failed to recruit Jeff Beck (this would be realised with Beck, Bogert & Appice in 1972), they had settled on McCarty and Amboy Dukes singer Rusty Day for the first three and most excellent Cactus albums. Gurvitz himself played with The Buddy Miles Band on the 1973 album “Chapter VII”. “Buddy” (nicknamed after jazz drummer Buddy Rich) also played drums on “Devotion”, the 1970 album by Baker’s former band mate John McLaughlin.
But I digress, again! Four of the tracks on the self-titled 1974 debut were co-credited to Baker: “Memory Lane”, “I Wanna Live Again” “4 Phil” and the lenghty “Mad Jack”. “People”, “The Key”, “Remember” and “The Hustler” were co-credited to Baker on “Elysian Encounter” (1975) while the funky opening title track was Baker’s sole composition on “Hearts on Fire” (1976).
The Gurvitz brothers also recorded two albums with Moody Blues drummer Graeme Edge during the same period as they played in the Baker Gurvitz Army. “Kick Off Your Muddy Boots” (1975) by The Graeme Edge Band also featured Baker co-drumming with Edge on “Gew Janna Woman”.
After disbandning the Baker Gurvitz Army, Ginger Baker & Friends made 1977’s uneven “Eleven Sides Of Baker”. Those friends included Fela Kuti, guitarist Chris Spedding and vocalist Mr. Snips, the singer on the two final albums by Baker Gurvitz Army. Steve “Mr. Snips” Parsons had earlier been in the band Sharks with Spedding and bassist Andy Fraser (ex-Free) for 1973’s “First Water”.
Active as a touring act in 1979-1980, Ginger Baker’s Energy did not release any material during their existence, but the double album “Live In Milan Italy 1980” was eventually released in 2010. A concert recorded in Hamburg in 1980 also exist on a CD titled “Ginger Baker’s Energy”.
Baker was asked to play as a session musician on Hawkwind’s tenth studio album, 1980’s “Levitation”, their first with ex-Gong keyboardist Tim Blake. Baker had declared that he intended to join the newly reformed Atomic Rooster but he “found the atmosphere during the sessions so fantastic” that he “immediately decided to stay.” He left in 1981, after the following tour.
Further material recorded during Baker’s time in Hawkwind were eventually released on the compilation albums “Zones” (1983 – the first 5 tracks) and “This Is Hawkwind, Do Not Panic” (1984). The latter LP was recorded live at Lewisham Odeon on December 18th, 1980, during the same concert as the “Zones” tracks “The Island” and “Motorway City”. Two further tracks from this concert (“Master Of The Universe” and “World Of Tiers”) were eventually included on the 1985 compilation album “Anthology Volume I”. The whole concert – including the mentioned tracks – was eventually released on a triple-CD re-issue of “Levitation” in 2009. Despite the title, “Utopia 1984” is another compilation of odd tracks from the early ’80s. Baker was co-credited as composer of the “Zones” track “Running Through The Back Brain” (recorded in 1981 at Battle Studio) along with Michael Moorcock and the other band members at the time: Dave Brock, Harvey Bainbridge, Huw Lloyd-Langton and Keith Hale.
As mentioned, Baker had intended to join Atomic Rooster. John Du Cann (ex-Andromeda) had left them in 1971 during the recording of their third album, “In Hearing of Atomic Rooster”. He’d recorded two album with Hard Stuff (with John Gustafson, ex-Quatermass and later in Roxy Music and Ian Gillan Band) and a solo album in 1977 (eventually released as “The World’s Not Big Enough” in 1992), all with drummer Paul Hammond who had left ‘Rooster at the same time. Before the Hard Stuff recordings, the two released a single as Bullet, with full albums of archival recordings by Bullet and it’s predecessor Daemon unearthed much later. In 1979, Cann eventually agreed to re-join band leader Vincent Crane (who had again collaborated with Arthur Brown after disbanding Atomic Rooster in 1975), recording a self-titled Atomic Rooster album with drummer Preston Heyman in 1980. Heyman soon left the band to re-join Kate Bush, however, and Ginger Baker did then fill in for three weeks of touring before Paul Hammond eventually also returned to Atomic Rooster.
John Du Cann would however also leave the band before the recording of their next and final album. David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and Bernie Torme (Gillan, 1976-81, and temporary replacement in Ozzy Osbourne’s band after the death of Randy Rhoads) played guitar on 1983’s “Headline News”, but so did John Mizarolli who had been one of the members of Ginger Baker’s Energy. Baker had gone on to play drums on Mizarolli’s 1982 solo album debut, “Message From The 5th Stone”. Baker composed the track “Lost Your Love My Love” and also played drums on “No Magic Love”, “Menopause” and the Hendrix sounding “Ain’t Nobody Gonna Bring Me Down”.
During the years 1980-82, Baker performed with Ginger Baker’s Nutters, a band that featured Ian Trimmer, Billy Jenkins, Rikki Legair and former Hawkwind band mate Keith Hale. Hale had previously played keyboards on Comus’ sophomore 1974 release “To Keep From Crying” and collaborated with Toyah Willcox, the future wife of King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. The Nutters didn’t release any material at the time but live recordings eventually surfaced on “In Concert” (1987), “Live with the Ginger Baker’s Nutters” and “Live In Milan Italy 1981” (2010).
Playing alongside bassist Karl Hill and guitarist/vocalist Doug Brockie, Bakerandband released “From Humble Oranges” in 1982, later re-issued on CD as “Under The Sun”. Baker was credited for “The Eleventh Hour”, “It”, “On The Road To Grandma’s House” (with him on vocals), “Sore Head In The Morning Blues”, “Wasting Time” and (with Tolkien!) “The Land Of Mordor”.
Baker was less musically active during parts of the 1980s, preferring to spend his time on an Italian olive farm. “Horses & Trees” was eventually released in 1986, an entirely instrumental dance-oriented “world music” solo album produced by bassist Bill Laswell of Material, the band that had also (as “New York Gong”) backed Daevid Allen on 1980’s “About Time”. Baker was co-credited as composer of “Uncut” and “Mountain Time” with percussionist Aïyb Dieng and Kora player Foday Musa Suso among other contributors like keyboardist Bernie Worrell (of Parliament-Funkadelic fame) and violinist Lakshminarayana Shankar, formerly of John McLaughlin’s band Shakti and sessions for Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, amongst others .
The longtime Laswell collaborator Nicky Skopelitis would also (in addition to playing guitar on “Horses & Trees”) join Baker for three improvised concerts in 1987. Released as “No Material” (Skopelitis had also recorded with Laswell’s band Material) in 1989, a gig recorded on March 28th, 1987 also featured Sonny Sharrock (guitar) and Peter Brötzmann (saxophone) of Bill Laswell’s free jazz supergroup Last Exit. Baker was credited as composer of “Dishy Billy” and a recent CD re-issue adds the tracks first released in 2010 as “Ginger Baker’s No Material Live In Munich Germany 1987”.
Laswell and Skopelitis had previously collaborated with jazz legend Herbie Hancock on a series of albums, a favour that Hancock had returned by performing with Last Exit on their 1986 release “The Noise of Trouble: Live in Tokyo”. Baker himself would later also appear alongside Laswell on the Nicky Skopelitis’ 1989 solo debut, “Next To Nothing”, an album also featuring violinist Fred Frith of Henry Cow/Art Bears fame. Frith and Laswell were previously in the experimental rock trio Massacre together with Material drummer Fred Maher, having released the album “Killing Time” in 1981.
The “No Material” bassist, Jan Kazda, also played on Baker’s “African Force” along with German musicans Wolfgang Schmidtke (tenor saxophone) and Ludwig Götz (trombone). While also recorded in 1987, “Palanquin’s Pole” by Ginger Baker’s African Force did not feature Kazda or brass players, however, but both of these albums did feature percussionists Ampofo Acquah, Ansoumana Bangoura and Francis Kwaku A. Mensah. The CD “The African Force” collects all tracks off both albums, except “Ansumania” and “The Palanquin’s Pole” off the latter.
In 1985, Laswell had brought Baker in to do some session work on “Album” (appearing on the tracks “Fishing”, “Round”, “Bags” and “Ease”), the fifth album by former Sex Pistols vocalist John Lydon’s experimental post-punk band Public Image Ltd (PiL). Baker appeared alongside Tony Williams and Steve Vai, who had then replaced Yngwie Malmsteen in Alcatrazz and released his solo debut the previous year. This was also the year when Vai went from playing with Frank Zappa to performing with David Lee Roth. There was the consideration of putting a band together, claimed Steve Vai, “him, myself, Bill Laswell on bass and Ginger Baker on drums. Would have been quite a band.” Lydon remarked that “Album” was “almost like a solo album” since he was working on his own with several musicians. Miles Davis came into the studio at one point and commented that Lydon sang like he himself played the trumpet. Lydon said it was “still the best thing anyone’s ever said to me.” While this may seem far distant from Lydon’s populist “Johnny Rotten” image, one should not forget that Lydon had upset Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren by revealing on radio that his influences included progressive experimentalists like Magma, Can, Captain Beefheart and Van der Graaf Generator. Released in 1986, “Album” (also known as “Compact Disc” or “Cassette” depending on the format) also featured the Swedish jazz bassist Jonas Hellborg on “Round”.
Hellborg was spotted in 1979 by percussionist Reebop Kwaku Baah (who had played with Traffic in 1971-74 and with German kraut rock legends Can from 1977-79) and soon moved to London to work with “Rebop” (a nickname given to him by Dizzy Gillespie) on different projects. Baah should not be confused with Hassan Bah (another Guinean-Swedish percussionist born in 1944), a member of the brilliant progressive folk rock band Kebnekajse. Hellborg played the Montreux Jazz festival in 1981 and there he met Michael Brecker who would introduced him to John McLaughlin. Hellborg was asked to join McLaughlin’s reformed Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1983, staying with McLaughlin until 1988. In 1986-87 Hellborg found time to tour with a project featuring Ginger Baker on drums and Bernie Worrell on keyboards. Baker appeared on four tracks (“No Place To Go”, “Choui”, “Moon” and “Zakir”) on Jonas Hellborg’s 1988 album “Bass”. They continued to perform together in 1989.
Hellborg also appeared on the 1990 Ginger Baker album “Middle Passage”, another excellent instrumental album (like “Horses & Trees”) recorded with musicians associated with the band Material. Another musician on “Middle Passage” was Jah Wobble, the original bass player in Public Image Ltd. Baker was credited for “Basil” while the remaing tracks were co-composed with Bill Laswell and Nicky Skopelitis, together with Jah Wobble for “Mektoub” and “Alamout”.
“The Map Is Not The Territory” by Autonomous Zone is a 1991 album featuring Bill Laswell. Ginger Baker plays drums on “Invoke” and “Black Light”. The double CD “Imabari Meeting 1991” contains three tracks by Ginger Baker Band (“One Thousand Hand’s God”, “Thank You Imabari”, “Typhoon Island”) featuring Laswell, Anton Fier (keyboards) and Foday Musa Suso on kora and vocals. Recorded in 1992, the Material album “Live in Japan” also features Ginger Baker alongside Bill Laswell, Bernie Worrell, Nicky Skopelitis, Aïyb Dieng and Foday Musa Suso. Baker got co-credited with Dieng for the track “Obsessed”. Also recorded in Japan and released in 1993 was the album “Shadow Run” by Hideo Yamaki, a Japanese jazz drummer and percussionist. Baker was co-credited with him for “Hoisasa” and he also plays on the album along with the usual crew of Laswell, Suso, Worrell and Dieng. Baker also got a co-writing credit for the track “Flash of Panic” off “Lost in the Translation”, a 1994 album by Bill Laswell issued under the moniker Axiom Ambient.
1992 saw the release of the album “Unseen Rain” by Ginger Baker with Jens Johansson and Jonas Hellborg. The pianist Jens Johansson (brother of heavy metal drummer Anders Johansson, both sons of legendary jazz pianist Jan Johansson) had at that point played with Silver Mountain (1982), Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force (1983-89) and Dio (1989-90). Jens Johansson is currently a member of Stratovarius and Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. Three years after “Unseen Rain”, Hellborg released “Abstract Logic”, an album recorded with Ginger’s son, Kofi Baker.
Also in 1992, Ginger Baker met up with singer/guitarist Chris Goss and bassist Googe to record “Sunrise on the Sufferbus”, the second album by stoner rock band Masters of Reality. The album that spawned a Top 10 Rock Chart hit with “She Got Me (When She Got Her Dress On)” also featured “T.U.S.A.,” a rap where Baker described the inability of Americans to make a proper cup of tea. Baker was also co-credited with Goss for “J.B. Witchdance”, “Ants in the Kitchen” and “Gimme Water”. Baker left the band after about a year, having refused to go on tour.
Released in 2004, the Masters Of Reality/Chris Goss album “Give Us Barabbas” contains one further track recorded during Baker’s time in the band, “The Desert Song”, credited (like “T.U.S.A”) to Chris Goss, Ginger Baker, Googe and Daniel Rey, the latter best known for his work with The Ramones.
Also known for producing albums by Kyuss, Slo Burn and Queens of the Stone Age, Chris Goss admitted that his “biggest regret” was “not touring enough for the album that Ginger Baker played on”. “The single was on the top five in the States, we were right for success and that’s when he told ‘I’m not opening for Alice in Chains, or going out on tour anymore’, on the fucking tour bus.”, “Ginger Baker touring America with that kind of atmosphere around him…no, no I wouldn’t do it either. He’s royalty, and we weren’t. The band itself was up and coming, and we weren’t rich, and we were struggling. He had already done struggling”, “So I was like “Yeah, you’re right, fuck them”, and that was my biggest mistake ever. That’s why Masters Of Reality never really made it…”
When asked if Ginger Baker was a difficult person to work with, Goss answered: “No, not difficult to work with…difficult to deal with! Work was no problem, making music with him was an incredible joy. He is a brilliant, god-gifted musician, so yeah that’s no sweat. We can make grooves forever, sit in a room and write songs forever. It was the day to day stuff. When he joined my band he was fifty-three years old and at the time I think I was thirty! He didn’t want to do meet and greets on a radio station before opening for Alice in Chains or Soundgarden. It was insulting to him to have a kid in the front row with a Megadeth t-shirt throwing a bottle at him, waiting for Alice in Chains to come on stage.” “It not difficult to understand him really, he gets frustrated with stupidity and so do I.”
In the late 1980s Baker had moved to Los Angeles with the intention of becoming an actor. This didn’t result in much but he did meet a new parter there, a girl who went on to pose in stars and stripes while holding a shirtless Baker on the cover of “The Album”, a 1991 collection of previously unreleased live tracks. The songs were “Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream (1968), “Drum Battle” with Art Blakey (1972), “Black Audience” by Ginger Baker Band (1982, w/ John Mizzarolli), “Brain Damage” by African Force (1986) and “Nice – Jam”, recorded at the 1986 Nice Jazzfestival in France with guitarist Bireli Lagrene, Courtney Pine (tenor saxophone) and Jack Bruce on bass.
Baker played drums on two tracks on “A Question of Time” (1989), the ninth Jack Bruce solo studio album. This was their first studio collaboration since Cream. Baker played on “Hey Now Princess”, a song first recorded as a demo by Cream in 1967. The original version was eventually released on the 2004 deluxe edition of “Disraeli Gears”. Baker also played on “Obsession” with guitarists Vivian Campbell (ex-Dio and Whitesnake, later in Def Leppard) and Allan Holdsworth, formerly of Nucleus, Tempest, Soft Machine, The New Tony Williams Lifetime, Pierre Moerlen’s Gong, Bruford and U.K.
Jack Bruce had previously sung on two tracks off the 1983 Holdsworth EP “Road Games”, produced by Van Halen producer Ted Templeman. Using the name “A Gathering of Minds”, Holdsworth and Bruce had also played at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982 with drummer Billy Cobham, violinist Didier Lockwood (who played with Magma on their infamous 1975 concert recording “Live/Hhaï” and on “Downwind” by Pierre Moerlen’s Gong) and David Sancious. Sancious played keyboards on Bruce Springsteen’s first two albums but left the E Street Band (named so after the street where Sancious’ mother lived) after recording the title track for “Born To Run”. Sancious next formed the band Tone, with a first album produced by Billy Cobham. He toured and recorded with Stanley Clarke (the bass player of Chick Corea’s fusion group Return to Forever), playing guitar and keyboards in a band that included John McLaughlin and Billy Cobham of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. During the early 1980s he linked up again with Billy Cobham as a member of Jack Bruce & Friends.
Baker went on tour with Jack Bruce and together they later formed another short-lived power trio with guitarist Gary Moore, releasing the album “Around The Next Dream” as BBM in 1994. Ginger Baker was featured alone on the album cover of “Around The Next Dream” but he was only co-credited (with Moore and Bruce) as composer of one track, “Why Does Love (Have to Go Wrong?)”.
In addition to his solo carreer and short stints in Thin Lizzy (1973-74, 1977-79), Gary Moore (1952-2011) had also recorded two albums with the Irish band Skid Row (1968-71), fronted The Gary Moore Band (releasing “Grinding Stone” in 1973) and been a member of Colosseum II (1975-78) with drummer Jon Hiseman, who back in 1966 had been Ginger Baker’s successor in the Graham Bond Organisation. Jack Bruce had sung with Gary Moore on “End of the World ” off 1982’s “Corridors of Power” and BBM (Bruce Baker Moore) got together between the Gary Moore solo albums “After Hours” (the follow-up to his most successful release, “Still Got the Blues”) and “Blues for Greeny”, Gary Moore’s tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s original guitarist Peter Green.
Gary Moore’s compilation album “Ballads & Blues 1982–1994” contains three previously unreleased tracks. Ginger Baker plays on one of these, “One Day”.
Gary Moore and Ginger Baker both performed with Jack Bruce in 1993 when he celebrated his 50th birthday with two concerts in Cologne, Germany. Selections from the concerts were released as the double CD “Cities of the Heart” (and later on DVD as “Rockpalast: The 50th Birthday Concerts”) and featured Baker on the tracks “Over the Cliff”, “Statues” (both with Dick Heckstall-Smith), “First Time I Met the Blues” (also featuring guitarist Clem Clempson of Colosseum and Humble Pie), “N.S.U.”, “Sitting on Top of the World”, “Spoonful”, “Politician” (all with Gary Moore, the latter also featuring lyricist Pete Brown on vocals) and “Sunshine of Your Love”. The last track featured all performers together, including Bernie Worrell on Hammond organ and Toto drummer Simon Phillips, also known for playing with MSG, 801, Asia, Gary Moore and on Judas Priest’s “Sin After Sin”.
In 1994, The Ginger Baker Trio was formed with bassist Charlie Haden and guitarist Bill Frisell, resulting in the albums “Going Back Home” (1994) and “Falling Off the Roof” (1996). Baker is credited as composer of “I Lu Kron”, “Ain Temouchant”, “East Timor”, “Falling Off The Roof”, “C.B.C. Mimps” and “Vino Vecchio”. “The Day The Sun Come Out” was co-written by Frisell and Baker.
Charlie Haden (1937-2014) had been an original member of the ground-breaking Ornette Coleman Quartet. He’d made his debut as a singer on the Haden Family’s radio show as a two year old but moved on to bass after contracting polio at 15. In 1957 he moved to L.A., performing with Art Pepper and first recording with Paul Bley. His first album with Coleman was the seminal “The Shape of Jazz to Come”, recorded in 1959. Inspired, the Swedish hardcore band Refused would later name their third album “The Shape of Punk to Come”. Haden went on to work with Archie Shepp, Keith Jarrett, Don Cherry (father of Swedish pop singer Eagle-Eye Cherry) and Pat Metheny. Haden formed the Liberation Music Orchestra in 1969 and established the Jazz Studies Program at California Institute of the Arts in 1982. Haden’s students included tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, the son of Alice and John Coltrane. Recorded live in 1970, the track “Isis and Osiris” off the masterpiece “Journey in Satchidananda” by harpist Alice Coltrane featured Haden playing with saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, drummer Rashied Ali and Vishnu Wood on oud. Charlie Haden’s 1976 album “Closeness” features duets with Coleman, Jarrett, Alice Coltrane and drummer Paul Motian.
Bill Frisell (born in 1951) made his album debut in 1978 and got his big break when Pat Metheny was unable to make a recording session, instead recommending Frisell to Paul Motian for the 1982 album “Psalm”. The trio of Motian, Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano was occasionally joined by Charlie Haden on bass. Frisell became the in-house guitar player for ECM Records and recorded with Norwegian jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek. Frisell also collaborated frequently with John Zorn, joining his band Naked City (1988-93) that also featured Fred Frith (ex-Henry Cow and Bill Laswell’s Massacre) on bass. Naked City was a “compositional workshop” to test the limitations of a rock band format, incorporating Zorn’s appreciation of hardcore bands like Agnostic Front and grindcore bands like Napalm Death. Mike Patton of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle guested with both Naked City and Painkiller, the band that Zorn (saxophone) and Laswell (bass) formed in 1991 with Mick Harris, the former drummer of Napalm Death and coiner of the terms “blast beat” and “grindcore”, styles that Painkiller combined with avant-garde jazz and elements of ambient and dub. But I digress. Frisell also recorded solo albums, making a “marvellous examination of Americana” with his 1992 album “Have a Little Faith”. Prior to working with Baker, Frisell and Haden had also played together on the 1992 Blue Note album “Grace Under Pressure” by jazz-rock guitarist John Scofield.
Recorded in California in February and March of 1995, Ginger Baker plays drums on all tracks except one (“Monk Hangs Ten” featuring Greg Bisonette from David Lee Roth’s solo band) on “Synaesthesia”, the sixth solo album by the former The Police guitarist Andy Summers.
Back in 1977, Gong bassist/vocalist (1973-76) Mike Howlett had invited Sting to join him and Andy Summers in Strontium 90. Henry Cow’s drummer Chris Cutler was unavailable so Sting brought along Stewart Copeland who’d been road manager and drummer for the progressive rock band Curved Air during 1975-76. A decade older than Sting and Copeland, Andy Summers had by then already played with acid rock group Dantalian’s Chariot, Soft Machine and Eric Burdon’s Animals. The Police first performed as a power trio (Copeland, Sting, Summers) in August of 1977. After enjoying massive success through five albums – not least with the 1983 swan song, “Synchronicity” – the band disbanded in 1986. After collaborating with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp and making several instrumental solo albums, “Synaesthesia” was a brief return to a more rock-oriented sound before Summers went on to make a string of jazz records.
Carlos Castaneda (1925-1998) was a student of psychology and anthropology, most famous for his books about shamanism and psychedelic plants. Recorded in 1997, “Every Mind Has Its Moment” is the only CD release in his name, featuring Ginger Baker on drums for the track “Silly Me”.
Also released in 1998 was “Rhubarb Dreams”, the only album that Ginger’s son Kofi Baker released using the name Riddlehouse. The track “William The Konker” is a drum battle between father and son. Kofi Baker had previously been in the band Lost City with Malcolm Bruce, the son of Jack Bruce.
Baker lived in Colorado during the 1990s, in part due to his passion for polo. “The DJQ2O was born in 1995”, wrote Baker in the booklet of “Coward of the County” (1999), released just before Baker moved to South Africa after his past drug history got him into problems with U.S. immigration.
“I first heard Ron and bassist Artie Moore playing a Denver gig with Bill Frisell. I was totally blown away by them, This was the perfect opportunity to combine the two great loves of my life, jazz and polo: Polo and Jazz In The Park was born, with Ron Miles as musical director. Wonderful summer evenings with great polo followed by jazz concerts by the Denver Jazz Quintet-To-Octet” (DJQ2O). Regarding the album, Baker noted that the record label “Atlantic suggested that we get James Carter to join us on this musical adventure, and I was surprised and delighted that he agreed to fly to Denver.”
One of the highlights of this excellent album is arguably the track “Daylight”. “It amazed me that Ron, one of the gentlest and nicest people I have ever met, could come up with such a disturbing piece of music. Definitely the dark side of Ron Miles”, commented Baker.
Ron Miles composed most of the material but Baker did get credited for “Dangle The Carrot” and the track “Cyril Davies”. “Cyril was a harmonica player and singer with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated band and had great impact on my life”, wrote Baker. “He died in 1963. The tune was inspired by Cyril and I hope conveys my respect and admiration for him. Cyril was what the Blues was all about.”
“Coward Of The County” was credited to Ginger’s wife at the time, with “the deepest gratitude to my four drum heroes who became dear friends, and whose friendship, respect and encouragement meant far more to me than all the dollars in the world: the late Phil Seamen, my ‘drum dad’ and ‘uncle’ Art Blakey, and to my dear living uncles Max Roach and Elvin Jones.”
In 1995, Baker got to perform with two of his heroes, Max Roach and Tony Williams.
2003 saw the release of “BBC Sessions”, a CD with selected highlights from 7 of the 8 sessions for the radio network that Cream did in 1966-68. At the suggestion of Eric Clapton, Cream eventually re-united for four shows in 2005 at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the same venue where Cream had also performed their farewell concerts back in 1968. Recordings from these dates were released as the double album/DVD set “Royal Albert Hall London May 2-3-5-6, 2005”. Three further shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City provided an end to the story of Cream.
Baker’s autobiography “Hellraiser” was published in 2009 and in 2012 he performed on a cover of “Lonely Boy” with Iggy Pop, off the album “Black On Blues – A Tribute To The Black Keys”.
Another album of covers released in 2012 was “A Spoonful Of Time” by the progressive rock band Nektar. Formed in 1969 by Englishmen in Hamburg, Germany, Nektar enjoyed success in the 1970s with albums like “A Tab in the Ocean”, “Remember the Future” and “Recycled” before disbanding in 1982. In the year 2000, founding member Roye Albrighton (1949-2016) decided to revive Nektar. Albrighton had played on all previous albums except 1977’s “Magic Is a Child”, featuring a 12 year old Brooke Shields on the cover. By the time of “A Spoonful of Time”, bass player Billy Sherwood (ex-Yes) had also joined as producer. The album features a long list of famous guests such as Geoff Downes, Mark Kelly, Edgar Froese, Ian Paice, Nik Turner, Simon House, Rod Argent, David Cross, Rick Wakeman, Patrick Moraz and Bobby Kimball. Ginger Baker plays drums on Nektar’s version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded By The Light”, in a version similar to the 1976 cover by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band off “The Roaring Silence”. The album also features a cover of the Blind Faith classic “Can’t Find My Way Home”, featuring Steve Howe, Derek Sherinian and Mel Collins.
Baker toured throughout 2013 and 2014 with the Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion, a quartet featuring bassist Alec Dankworth (who had recently worked with Dave Brubeck), percussionist Abass Dodoo and saxophonist Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis, an important member of the James Brown Revue from 1965-69 and musical director for Van Morrison’s band in 1979-86 and 1995-99.
This was the line-up that recorded Ginger Baker’s final solo album, 2014’s “Why?”. Two compositions from “Coward of the County” were re-used for “Why?”, “Ginger Spice” by Ron Miles and Baker’s tribute to Cyril Davis. Baker was also credited for the title track and “Aïn Témouchent” (previously on “Going Back Home”) while “Aiko Biaye” (a title off the first album by Ginger Baker’s Air Force) is said to be Baker’s arrangement of a Nigerian traditional. Other compositions featured on his swan song included Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and “St. Thomas” by Sonny Rollins, who Ellis had taken regular lessons from while at the Manhattan School of Music back in the late 1950s.
Due to health issues, the last years of Ginger Baker’s life were less productive but they did see the release of many re-issues and archival releases containing old live material. If you made it this far, reading about the great drummer’s life, I salute you! Now, go listen to his music!
Selected album discography featuring Ginger Baker:
1958: Terry Lightfoot and His Band – Tradition In Colour
1958: Bob Wallis – Storyville Revisited
1965: Graham Bond Organisation – The Sound of ’65
1965: Graham Bond Organisation – There’s a Bond Between Us (1965)
1966: Cream – Fresh Cream
1967: Cream – Disraeli Gears
1968: Cream – Wheels of Fire
1969: Cream – Goodbye
1969: Blind Faith – Blind Faith
1970: Ginger Baker’s Air Force – Ginger Baker’s Air Force
1970: Ginger Baker’s Air Force – Ginger Baker’s Air Force II
1970: Cream – Live Cream (recorded 1967-68)
1971: Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa ’70 with Ginger Baker – Live!
1971: Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa ’70 with Ginger Baker – Why Black Man Dey Suffer
1972: Ginger Baker – Stratavarious
1972: Cream – Live Cream Volume II (recorded 1968)
1974: Baker Gurvitz Army – Baker Gurvitz Army
1975: Baker Gurvitz Army – Elysian Encounter
1976: Baker Gurvitz Army – Hearts on Fire
1977: Ginger Baker & Friends – Eleven Sides Of Baker
1980: Hawkwind – Levitation
1982: Bakerandband – From Humble Oranges
1986: Ginger Baker – Horses & Trees
1987: Ginger Baker – African Force
1987: Ginger Baker’s African Force – Palanquin’s Pole
1989: Ginger Baker, Sonny Sharrock, Peter Brötzmann, Nicky Skopelitis, Jan Kazda – No Material (recorded 1987)
1989: Nicky Skopelitis – Next To Nothing
1990: Ginger Baker – Middle Passage
1991: Ginger Baker – The Album (recorded 1967, 1972, 1982, 1986)
1992: Ginger Baker with Jens Johansson and Jonas Hellborg – Unseen Rain
1992: Masters of Reality – Sunrise on the Sufferbus
1993: Material – Live In Japan (recorded 1992)
1993: Hideo Yamaki – Shadow Run
1994: BBM – Around the Next Dream
1994: Ginger Baker Trio – Going Back Home
1996: Ginger Baker Trio – Falling Off the Roof
1996: Andy Summers – Synaesthesia
1999: Ginger Baker and the DJQ2O with special guest James Carter – Coward of the County
2003: Cream – BBC Sessions (recorded 1966-68)
2005: Cream – Royal Albert Hall London, 2–3 and 5–6 May 2005
2014: Ginger Baker – Why?