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PostDeath of Drumming Legend Ginger Baker (David Duggan, USA, 10/07/19 7:04 am)
Rock 'n' roll fans the world over are mourning the loss of the best rock 'n' roll drummer ever, Ginger Baker, on October 6th at the age of 80. With the death earlier this year of legendary surf guitarist Dick Dale, rock 'n' roll has lost two of its pioneers without whom the genre would never have amounted to much.
Baker, ne Peter Edward, got the name because of his bright red hair which matched his volatile temper, and was the drummer for one of the greatest rock bands of all time: Cream, one of the 1960s "supergroups" which combined top artists from different bands. His 10 minute (or so) solo in Cream's hit "Toad" is legendary and probably equals the best of Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa. And while we're on the subject of greatest, how can it be that Eric Clapton, Cream's lead guitarist, is responsible for the two greatest guitar riffs of all time: the opening staccato of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love," and the wailing strains of "Layla" by Derek and the Dominos? It's like one guy composing Wagner's Die Walkyrie and Handel's Messiah.
Having heard Duke Ellington's band in London in the 1960s, Baker was taken with Sam Woodyard's style, kissing the skins and banging the high hats. Baker also was known for having two foot-pedal operated bass drums (like Woodyard), and the legend was that he'd had his knees surgically altered so that he could play rolls on the basses. Talk about devotion to your craft. I confess that I could not verify that in my research after learning of his death. Fifty years ago however college kids on the East Coast were on "Ginger Baker Death Watch," counting down the days until he was supposed to die of the abuse of recreational substances common in the 1960s. Somehow he survived and lived to ripe old age, as Henry V told his band of brothers at Agincourt. Who says that there are old rock drummers and bold rock drummers but no old, bold rock drummers?
Drummers may take a back seat to the more creative guitarists like Clapton, Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix and the now deceased Glen Campbell. Since the guitar mixes the singing of the violin with the rhythm of the drum, some may think that rock 'n' roll drummers are irrelevant. The Beatles would still have been good if some stiff had been up there banging the sticks, they say (not that Ringo Starr was anything but a stiff). They're wrong. If rock 'n' roll is a legitimate genre, then it needs a strong rhythm section, and drumming, with its ability to create off-beat sounds and multiple rhythms at once satisfies our innate craving for both order and chaos in the arts. All you have to do is watch 2014's film Whiplash, to see what I mean. In one of the great travesties of all movie history, Whiplash with Detroit's J K Simmons as a martinet band leader at a school mirroring Juilliard lost out to Birdman for Best Picture. In 15 years no one will be watching Birdman while Whiplash will stand as the ultimate example of how a young kid can be driven to obsession over a craft.
In his later years, Baker re-united with Clapton and you can see their performances on YouTube. Baker had fascinations with African rhythms that he incorporated into his performances, and now joins Jimi, Dick, Glen and Janis in that great supergroup in the sky.
Ginger Baker RIP.
JE comments: Agreed about Whiplash. Very few films in history make you more uncomfortable. J K (Simmons) might stand for "Just Kidding," for if we real-world educators were as cruel as the guy in the film, we'd quickly be looking for a new career.
Ginger Baker claimed he'd given up heroin 29 times. Didn't Mark Twain say something similar about cigars? Either way, he was a genius. Here's a sad epiphany: of the rock 'n' roll icons of the 1960s, even the ones who survived are now running out of time. RIP, indeed.