Ginger Baker, the virtuosic drummer best known for his work with singer/guitarist Eric Clapton and singer/bassist Jack Bruce in the 1960s supergroup Cream, celebrates his 80th birthday today.
Baker’s inventive drumming is considered an influence on jazz fusion and heavy metal, though he also explored African rhythms and World Music. Baker first played with Bruce in the London groups Blues Incorporated and The Graham Bond Organisation. Despite having a contentious relationship, Baker and Bruce teamed up again in Cream, which was formed in 1966.
The band’s name came from the notion all three members were the “the cream of the crop” on their respective instruments. Cream was hugely successful, scoring top-10 hits in 1968 with “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room,” and topping the U.S. album chart for four weeks with their third studio effort, Wheels of Fire. Baker contributed a few tunes to the band’s catalog, including the instrumental “Toad” and the quirky “Blue Condition.”
Cream broke up in 1968, due in large part to hostilities between Ginger and Jack. Baker then joined Blind Faith, the short-lived super group formed by Clapton and Traffic‘s Steve Winwood, after which he formed the jazz-fusion project Ginger Baker’s Air Force.
For a time, Baker moved to Nigeria, where he delved into African rhythms and worked with Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. In the ensuing years, Ginger worked with a wide variety of other artists, including Hawkwind, Public Image Ltd. and BBM, the latter a short-lived group featuring Bruce and guitarist Gary Moore.
In 1993, Cream was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The band reunited at the ceremony to perform for the first time on 25 years.
Cream reunited again in 2005 for four shows at the Royal Albert Hall in London in May, and for three shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden in October.
In 2012, Baker was the subject on an acclaimed documentary, Beware Mr. Baker, which took a candid, in-depth look at his turbulent life.
Ginger’s most recent solo album, Why?, was released in 2014. In 2016, he announced plans to tour with a new group called Air Force 3, but was forced to cancel the trek after experiencing serious heart issues, as well as a bad fall. He’s been inactive since then.
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