“Oh for god’s sake, I’ve never played rock. Cream was two jazz players and a blues guitarist playing improvised music. We never played the same thing two nights running… It was jazz.”
That was Ginger Baker’s appraisal of his standing as arguably the best rock drummer of all time — that he wasn’t a rock drummer in any respect. Baker’s loss of life at age 80 has drawn tributes and platitudes from a number of the most acclaimed artists in rock, and his legacy as one of the influential drummers of his technology has been echoed by legions of followers. But he at all times noticed himself as one thing totally different, one thing that was, to him, a far more elevated commonplace.
“I have been playing jazz ever since I started playing,” he defined to Something Else! final 12 months. “Improvisation also came very naturally to me. I found improvisation very enjoyable and easy.”
As a teen, he’d come underneath the tutelage of the nice Phil Seamen — who would subsequently spend a temporary stint with Baker’s Air Force within the 1970s. Baker’s early idols had been names like Philly Joe Jones, Art Blakey and Max Roach, and he made his identify on the late ’50s/early ’60s London music scene enjoying with conventional jazz outfits, accompanying Acker Bilk and serving a stint with Terry Lightfoot’s Jazzmen. Rock music — each in sound and scene — was virtually a facet hustle for the copper-topped drummer. Even his widely-copied two bass drum-approach was impressed by Duke Ellington drummer Sam Woodyard.
“I made my first report in 1957 with Acker Bilk,” he would inform an interviewer within the late 1960s. “I played with Terry Lightfoot, Alexis Korner, Harold McNair, Diz Disley, the Graham Bond Organisation. I made my first real money through selling a composition to The Who for £1500. That bought me my first car.”
It was with Korner’s Blues Incorporated that Baker would meet virtuosic bassist Jack Bruce and that assembly would function the catalyst for rock supergroup Cream. Teaming with famed guitarist Eric Clapton, the trio would redefine ’60s rock music, serving to to form the sound of exhausting rock and injecting an emphasis on instrumental acuity that upped the usual for generations to return.
His famously unstable relationship with Bruce short-circuited that band’s potent chemistry, and he would resurface in teams like Blind Faith (alongside Clapton and Steve Winwood) and Ginger Baker’s Air Force, which additionally featured Winwood and a revolving door of noteworthy musicians from the aforementioned Seamen to rock veterans like Denny Laine of the Moody Blues and Afro-jazz percussionist Remi Kabaka. Baker’s Air Force would launch two albums earlier than disbanding, however the undertaking set the stage for Baker’s subsequent act.
Baker would spend a lot of the early 1970s in Lagos, Nigeria, throughout which era he bonded with legendary Afrobeat star Fela Kuti. Baker’s present for advanced rhythms and improvisations made him a good match for Kuti’s musical strategy, and his jazzy drumming can be showcased on Kuti’s 1971 album Live! Baker would additionally tour with Kuti’s band as a momentary substitute for Afrobeat icon, drummer Tony Allen.
“There was nobody doing what Fela was doing,” Baker defined in 1999. “It was just… heh… you had to go to Fela’s club to see that. You didn’t see anybody that wasn’t moving. The whole place was jumping. He had several clubs — the Afro-Spot, the Shrine, various places. One stunt he used to do… when the Shrine was on the opposite side of the main Lagos road, they would close the road before the gig, and cause a traffic jam for miles in both directions.”
After listening to Baker’s drum solo on “Do What You Like?” by his short-lived late 60s supergroup Blind Faith, jazz drummer Elvin Jones slammed the brash Baker. “Nothing happenin,’” he advised journalist Albert Goldman in a 1971 interview. “Cat’s got delusions of grandeur with no grounds. They should make him an astronaut and lose his ass!” Jones and Baker would sq. off at a dwell date later that 12 months, with the basic jazz drummer battle turning into the stuff of legend. The duo paired off for the Nigerian people track (and Baker mainstay) “Aiko Biaye” earlier than coursing via “Do What You Like.” Afterwards, in a present of congeniality, Baker and Jones embraced. It affirmed for Baker that he was of a particular lineage that had little to do with the bombast of exhausting rock stars like Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham and Keith Moon of the Who–drummers to whom he was so ceaselessly in contrast.
“I battled Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Phil Seaman, Max Roach and Tony Williams,” Baker stated years later in a Facebook put up about Jones, as he slammed any comparability between himself and John Bonham. “Bonham played in Led Zeppelin. If he was still alive today, ask him! How I am grouped with Bonham and Moonie is laughable.”
Baker’s musical strategy was indicative in his restlessness, working via numerous types of jazz, rock, and African people music. He by no means appeared all that comfy working inside the confines of exhausting rock, whilst his legend had been solid in it. His numerous musical incarnations — from his Air Force to his work with Fela to short-lived initiatives just like the Baker-Gurvitz Army Band with guitarist Adrian Gurvitz within the mid-1970s, and solo initiatives like 1986s Horses & Trees with bassist Bill Laswell.
Baker wouldn’t type a full-on jazz band till the 1990s. In 1994, he was joined by legendary guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Charlie Haden as The Ginger Baker Trio, for the acclaimed jazz-centric album, the appropriately-titled Going Back Home. The well-received album noticed the trio tearing via authentic compositions alongside requirements by Thelonius Monk and Ornette Coleman, with the growing older Baker in wonderful and distinct type — showcasing each his deft jazzy leanings and undeniably rock affectations. He would type Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion with bassist Alec Dankworth, fellow percussionist Abass Dodoo and former James Brown saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis.
For Ginger Baker, jazz wasn’t a sideline for his primary profession as a rock legend. It was the lifeblood of his musicianship and the hallmark of his musical identification. Rock might have his identify — but it surely by no means owned his coronary heart.
“I started off as a jazz player, and I don’t think I’ve played anything else,” the famously fiery drummer stated in 1988 — earlier than admitting in typical Ginger Baker style:
“Well, I did have some delvings into horrific music — for money.”