Ginger Baker, the volatile and propulsive British musician who was best known for his time with the power trio Cream, has died at 80, his family says.
Baker’s family said on Twitter that he died on Sunday: “We are very sad to say that Ginger has passed away peacefully in hospital this morning.”
Gary Hibbert, a media representative for Baker’s family, confirmed his death.
Baker wielded his blues power and jazz technique to help break open popular music and become one of the world’s most admired and feared musicians.
With blazing eyes and orange-red hair, and a temperament to match, the London native ranked with The Who’s Keith Moon and Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham as the embodiment of musical and personal fury.
Using twin bass drums, Baker fashioned a pounding, polyrhythmic style uncommonly swift and heavy that inspired and intimidated countless musicians. But every beat seemed to mirror an offstage eruption – whether his violent dislike of Cream bandmate Jack Bruce or his on-camera assault of a documentary maker, Jay Bulger, whom he smashed in the nose with his walking stick.
Cream was among the most successful acts of its time, selling more than 10 million records. But by 1968 Baker and Bruce had worn each other out and even Clapton had tired of their deafening, marathon jams, including the Baker showcase “Toad,” one of rock’s first extended drum solos. Cream split up at the end of the year, departing with two sold-out shows at London’s Albert Hall. When told by Bulger that he was a founding father of heavy metal, Baker snarled that the genre “should have been aborted.”
To the surprise of many, especially Clapton, he and Baker were soon part of another super group, Blind Faith, which also featured singer-keyboardist Stevie Winwood and bassist Ric Grech.
Sad news hearing that Ginger Baker has died, I remember playing with him very early on in Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. He was a fiery but extremely talented and innovative drummer. pic.twitter.com/tZg3IGwP4Z
— Mick Jagger (@MickJagger) October 6, 2019
From the 1970s on, Baker was ever more unpredictable. He moved to Nigeria, took up polo, drove a Land Rover across the Sahara, lived on a ranch in South Africa, divorced his first wife and married three more times.
He recorded with Fela Kuti and other Nigerians, jammed with Art Blakey, Elvin Jones and other jazz drummers and played with John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd.
He founded Ginger Baker’s Air Force, which cost a fortune and imploded after two albums.
He endured his old enemy, Bruce, when Cream was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and for Cream reunion concerts a decade later. Bruce died in 2014.
Baker continued to perform regularly in his 70s despite arthritis, heart trouble, hearing loss dating from his years with Cream and lung disease from smoking.
No strangers to vices and not a fan of modesty, he called his memoir Hellraiser: The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Drummer.