Ginger Baker, English drummer and co-founder of the band Cream, passed away on October 6, 2019, after being hospitalized last month. His daughter Ginette confirmed his passing, saying that he “passed away peacefully in the hospital,” but gave no other details. He was 80 years old.
Baker was born in South London in 1939 and earned the nickname “Ginger” for his shock of flaming red hair. He began playing the drums at 15, later taking lessons from English jazz drummer Phil Seamen and performing in local groups. In the 1960s Baker joined Blues Incorporated, where he met bassist, Jack Bruce. The two clashed often but later played together in the popular British group the Graham Bond Organization before founding the band Cream in 1966 with guitarist Eric Clapton.
The trio is widely regarded as the world’s first supergroup and spanned the genres of hard rock, blues, and psychedelic rock. Across their career, Cream released four albums and sold more than 15 million records worldwide before disbanding in 1968. Among their signature hits were “Sunshine of Your Love,” “White Room,” “Badge,” “I Feel Free,” and the reworking of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.” Perhaps Baker’s best-known Cream work is his five-minute drum solo on the track “Toad,” which became a highlight of the group’s concerts. Cream was later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
“He [Baker] changed the game,” said John Sykes, incoming chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, at the time. “I was in awe of him because he was trained as a jazz drummer and played in a completely different way, and sounded different from most [rock] drummers, like Charlie Watts.
Following the demise of Cream, Baker and Clapton reunited to form Blind Faith with bassist Ric Grech and singer-keyboardist Steve Winwood. The quartet debuted in 1969 before some 100,000 concert attendees and released just one album before disbanding. Baker later formed, toured and recorded with fusion rock group Ginger Baker’s Air Force. After a move to Nigeria, Baker collaborated several times with Nigerian saxophonist Fela Kuti.
Throughout his later career, Baker formed the short-lived Baker Gurvitz Army with brothers Paul and Adrian Gurvitz and played with progressive rock band Hawkwind, Masters of Reality and BBM. He also reunited with Clapton and Bruce for a series of Cream concerts in 2005. More recently, he toured with the Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion, alongside saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, bassist Alec Dankworth, and percussionist Abass Dodoo.
He is survived by his fourth wife, Kudzai Machokoto; a son, Kofi; and two daughters, Leda and Ginette.