On October 6, we lost we lost British drummer Ginger Baker, known for his work in the ‘60s with Cream and Blind Faith. We look back with drummers John Bee Badanjek, Ken Evans, Burleigh Drummond, Joe Vitale, and Eric Singer.
By Warren Kurtz
Ginger Baker on the left
With Cream, Ginger’s solid beat propelled the group’s three Top 40 hit singles “Sunshine of Your Love,” “White Room,” and their live version of the Robert Johnson blues standard “Crossroads,” from their double album Wheels of Fire, which concluded with a sixteen minute version of Ginger’s drum spectacular “Toad.”
In 1969, Cream’s final charting single from their album Goodbye was “Badge” with its flip side “What a Bringdown” written and sung by Ginger who also played chimes on this iconic recording, produced by Felix Pappalardi, who shifted to bass, allowing Jack Bruce to focus on piano and organ on this driving number. Felix added a Mellotron keyboard, bringing a flute-like sound, which some have compared to early Jethro Tull. “What a Bringdown” became the final track on Cream’s final album.
Flip side: What a Bringdown
A side: Badge
Top 100 debut: April 5, 1969
Peak position: No. 60
As Cream disbanded, Ginger and Eric became half of the short lived quartet Blind Faith. Their lone 1969 album included a version of Buddy Holly’s “Well All Right” which became a blueprint for Santana’s version in the following decade. The album included Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Back Home” and “Sea of Joy,” Eric’s “Presence of the Lord,” and ended with Ginger’s “Do What You Like.”
Ginger Baker 3rd in the photo
As the new decade began, most of Blind Faith moved on to the group Ginger Baker’s Air Force, with the traditional song “Man of Constant Sorrow,” sung by Denny Laine, reaching No. 85 in 1970. After the Air Force, The Baker Gurvitz Army was formed, recording three albums in the mid-‘70s.
A 2005 Cream two hour live reunion album, Royal Albert Hall, on CD and DVD, was very well received.
John Bee Badanjek, drummer for Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, The Rockets, and other artists, including Edgar Winter and Alice Cooper, shared with Goldmine, “I first become aware of Ginger when I was playing in Miami at a concert and a kid came by and gave us the first Cream album. We listened to it in the dressing room. Needless to say, we were completely blown away. Cream played The Grande Ballroom a lot in Detroit, and to see this powerhouse of a trio was explosive, with long solos, from each member of the band. There were great vocals from bassist Jack Bruce and Eric, but watching Ginger was like a train wreck going off the tracks, in a good way. The man was on fire. A speeding drummer is a thing to behold. He was a maniac. I didn't get to know Ginger well, but his playing was so huge, and his gruff personality transcended him to be the inspiration for Animal from The Muppets! Ginger became the stuff of legends. Ginger was a drummer's drummer! Any kid today who wants to play drums would do well to listen to Ginger Baker. I always loved his Cream composition ‘Pressed Rat & Warthog.’”
The Fifth Estate’s drummer Ken Evans told Goldmine, “Ginger Baker's passing is a great loss. He was a great influence on me. He was truly a breath of fresh air to many drummers and musicians in general in the mid’60s. He opened up areas of drumming to contemporary rockers that had not been seen as acceptable at the time including double bass drum playing. Most important to me was his ability to rock and jam with more open and uncharted song arrangements. He broke that mold and I am very thankful that he opened it up for all us rock drummers.”
Burleigh Drummond, the drummer for Ambrosia informed Goldmine, “Much of Ginger’s drumming was influenced by African rhythms. He was a huge influence on me personally and because of him I spent four years studying with a master drummer from Ghana.”
Joe Vitale of Barnstorm with Joe Walsh and Kenny Passarelli recalls, “I saw Cream in 1969 and after that concert, which was about three hours long, I went into my practice room and worked my butt off. We all wanted to be Ginger Baker and be in a power trio. He will be missed but his incredible drumming will live on forever.”
Eric Singer of KISS highlights, “’Sunshine of Your Love’ – Every quality and ingredient of Ginger Baker’s unique style and approach to drumming is included in this iconic song. What an impression and influence he has left with the drumming and music community. R.I.P. Ginger.”
Ginger Baker was 80.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.