BEST OF 2021: Call him a jazzer, call him a rocker (please don’t), or just call him a drummer – Ginger Baker was at the forefront of the ’60s melting pot who saw blues-inspired rock explode. But while the guitarists took inspiration from the pentatonic riffs, the guys at the back were busy merging more orthodox approaches to jazz with the backbeat.
None identified as strongly with jazz as Ginger Baker, vehemently denying his association with rock music. It’s fair to say that Ginger Baker was a pungent character, displaying contempt for his peers, labeling rock stars as “fucking idiots, most of them.”
But we’re here to discuss the drums, and while we can easily do these “Five Cream songs,” Baker has covered a lot of ground musically, from Cream’s blues-rock to his work with the afrobeat legend. , Fela Kuti make his point to be seen as a musician rather than a “simple” convincing rock drummer, regardless of diplomacy.
So if you’ve heard Sunshine Of Your Love and think you’ve experienced the entirety of Ginger Baker, come with us as we visit some of the other well-known cuts and some lesser-known ones.
Cream – Toad
When Cream burst onto the scene with Fresh Cream, Eric Clapton was already described as “God”. But it was Ginger Baker’s solo on Toad that cemented his arrival at drummers. It is often considered one of the earliest recorded rock drum solos and originated from the Graham Bond Organization track Camels and Elephants.
Toad starts off with the full band’s recurring vamp before Baker builds up from simple melodic phrases on toms to rudimentary snare passages, double bass ostinatos, and out-of-the-ordinary jazz playing. It’s a vast exploration of the kit that encompasses everything that made Baker what he was, and probably invented a few things in the process!
If the recorded version isn’t enough for you, check out one of the many extended live versions, including the Cream 2006 reunion.
PiL – Ease
You might think that a jazz-loving Baker and former Sex Pistol, John Lydon are an odd couple, but then again, that makes sense. This is exactly what happened during the recording of PiL’s fifth album, 1986 Album, which also included a seemingly disparate line-up of Steve Vai, Parliament’s Bernie Worrell and jazz legend, Tony Williams.
“I like her a lot,” Lydon said of Ginger to Sound on sound. “I really do. He’s a real person. My kind of guy, you know. Great fun in the studio. The amount of drum kits he destroyed was amazing. I think that was the biggest part. from the budget”
Stylistically, the record is full of catchy, almost industrial grooves, but the Baker-branded swing is most striking on Ease – its simple beat interspersed with hammered tom fillings. Ginger is officially credited with playing on Fishing, Round, Bags and Ease.
“The first time I met him he was sitting in a room cutting his nails with a razor blade.” Ginger told Classic Rock in 2019. “Then we met in different sessions. Me and Tony Williams both played with PiL. This made me laugh later, as critics never knew who played the drums on this record. I can’t even tell myself, and to be honest. I did not care. I just took the money. Me and Tony had a good laugh about this gig.
Hawkwind – Space Hunt
His brief stint in space rockers Hawkwind adds to Baker’s list of collaborations.
“It was the biggest joke in history,” Ginger said in 2019. “I needed the money, and that was the only reason. Unfortunately, I never saw what was on offer, because they had no money. Hawkwind was more interested in their appearance on stage and their lighting than their actual music – and their music was appalling. Atrocious. I hated everything. Thank goodness I didn’t been with them for a very long time.
Despite his displeasure, Baker put in an impressive performance on 1980s Levitation. With a tight, dry kit and plenty of room to stretch, there are plenty of interesting parts. Instrumental, Space Chase offers perhaps the most interest with its fusion style accents and acid-disco grooves and massive ending fill. It’s Ginger Baker, but not necessarily as you know him.
Ginger Baker’s Air Force – Let Me Roll
Air Force was arguably Baker’s natural home, and given that this was the group that bore his name, it should come as no surprise. The Air Force saw Ginger track down Graham Bond, bringing with him the grain of the Hammond organ.
There is no shortage of songs either, the uptempo Hammond funk of Da da Man, the African-inspired Aiko Biaye or the jazzy soul of Today and many others. But, Let Me Ride has more in common with a rare groove record than with any sort of histrionic rock.
But while Baker establishes a heavy groove, he also manages to spice up Let Me Ride with signature 32nd note fills that, surprisingly, don’t seem out of place. If Cream’s guitar sound annoys you, Air Force just might be the antidote.
Blind Faith – Do What You Love
The post-Cream Clapton and Bakers supergroup project, Blind Faith also starred keyboardist Steve Winwood and bassist Ric Grech, and although the only studio album featured some blues-rock / R’n’b part that you could expect you, the six tracks offer a taste of soul and psychedelia too.
But, the most interesting is Do What You Like, which ends the album with what we think it would be like if Dave Brubeck’s Take 5 had taken a few too many puffs on a jazz cigarette.
Baker displays his true pedigree with the dynamics and feel of a thoroughbred jazzer before dropping a solo that again includes his double bass drum, and sometimes sounds like proto-drum ‘n’ bass breaks and metal simultaneously. fugga-dugga.
At 15 minutes, we advise you to get comfortable and immerse yourself with headphones.