Ginger Baker

Crème de la Crème

Sometimes Dizzy Dean of Drummers

When the city of Atlantis stood serene above the sea,
Long time before our time when the world was free,
Those were the days.

Golden cymbals flying on ocarina sounds,
Before wild Medusa's serpents gave birth to hell
Disguised as heaven.

Those were the days, yes they were, those were the days.
Those were their ways, miracles everywhere are they now?
They're gone.
Those were their ways, yes they were, those were their ways.
Those were the days, yes they were, those were the days.

Tie your painted shoes and dance, blue daylight in your hair,
Overhead a noiseless eagle fans a flame.
Wonder everywhere.
Ginger Baker And Mike Taylor

For those lucky enough to live in Great Britain, or rich enough to fly there, as of this writing, they can see living legend, drummer Ginger Baker, Saturday May 25, 2013 at the London Field Day Festival. If you check on his website, one can find his itinerary for future engagements. This writer saw him with one of his most notable groups, Cream, back in 1968 in Baltimore, Maryland. He showed and still shows everybody what a fusion drummer could do in a drum solo: Toad. Though he is only seven years older than I, he looked ancient back then. But nowadays, he is not doing too bad at 73. He is still very active with his new group, Jazz Confusion, with band mates, Pee Wee Ellis, saxist, (formerly with James Brown), Alec Dankworth, bass (recorded with Dave Brubeck), and Abass Dodoo, African percussion. (Ellis and Dankworth both worked with Van Morrison, as well). He proved his reputation for being a curmudgeon when he remarked about his longevity, in spite of more than alcohol abuse, "Amazed, actually, God is punishing me for my past wickedness by keeping me alive and in as much pain as he can." He has a prescription for osteoarthritis, "I'm on a daily dose of morphine... so there isn't any void to cover up any more." Perhaps Ginger's favorite song by Eric Clapton, with those great vocals by Steve Winwood in his other superstar group, Blind Faith helped him:

I have finally found a way to live,
Just like I never could before.
I know that I don't have much to give,
But I can open any door.

Everybody knows the secret,
Everybody knows the score.
I have finally found a way to live,
In the color of the Lord.

I have finally found a place to live,
Just like I never could before.
And I know I don't have much to give,
But soon I'll open any door.

Everybody knows the secret,
Everybody knows the score.
I have finally found a place to live,
In the presence of the Lord,
In the presence of the Lord.

It was a bit after that date of August 19th in 1939, when the lad Peter Edward Baker was born to Ruby Baker in that southern borough of Lewisham, and because of his red hair, he would be thereafter be known as Ginger. His father died during World War II, while young Ginger grew more than accustomed to the Luftwaffe bombing of London -- he liked it. Obviously a cacophonous parallel to raising babies with Mozart. The young New Eltham man who loved bicycling so much he competed and considered going professional, also had a side interest in music. When he was a pre-teen he listened to the Big Band records, especially the drummers like Baby Dodds and Phil Seaman as he recalls:

I started listening to music when I was very young 11/12 y.o. Listening to the big bands of the time, Ted Heath, Jack Parnell...always concentrating on the drummer... got into the school gang...we were nicking records...that's when I heard the Quintet of the Year - Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charlie Mingus and the great Max Roach, which totally blew me away... so I was listening to all the jazz I could...that's when I first heard Phil....

He played trumpet as a teen for the Air Training Corp band, and lusted after the drummers' role. Although he used to bang the silverware or anything else he could, even the desks at school, to everyone's chagrin, he bought his first cheap set when 15, a time he rode miles to his day job at a lettering firm. He recounts this story in an interview with Bob Henrit:

I was training all the time; I was Club Junior Champion in 1955 and my ambition was to ride in the Tour De France. I had a job in town, and we used to do these cycle races at Brands Hatch, every Thursday. It was Thursday 13th August, it was lap 13 and I was number 13, it was a prime lap, and I worked out a plan to win the lap. I was coming right from the back, coming right through everybody and I got entangled right at the front of the bunch with the handle bars of a guy called Ginger Booker from the Woolwich Club and I went down and brought half the bunch down with me. I turned up for work the next day with my arm in a sling; I've still got the burn marks on my shoulder where I went along the ground. Anyway, when I got to work the art director said I had to either give up the cycling or give up the job (this is the British way of encouraging sport), so I told him to stuff the job up his arse.
Afterwards he got another job, at the Robert Freemen company, where he was training to be a graphic arts designer. Riding his bicycle to work 14 miles away allowed him to stay in shape. But it was what caused him to literally run into destiny as he detailed:

It was right at the end of the season, about September/October, and I was riding home on Duke Street, St James at that time was cobbles and wooden blocks. It was raining and my cape became entangled with a taxi door handle. So I was tied on to the side of the taxi and I managed to get myself away from it but as I did that my bike went underneath and the taxi just drove straight over the bike, both wheels, the frame, the whole lot, and destroyed it completely - and I still hadn't finished paying for it.

So that evening there was a party, one of the few school friends I had was having a party at his house, and I was invited to it and they had a band there. They were all telling me to go and sit in on the drums, I'd never sat behind a kit before, but they all knew I was a drummer. I was just watching drummers everywhere I went, I wasn't really keen on doing it but they got me to sit in and I got behind the kit and I could play. It was just natural, I was playing cymbal, hi-hat, bass drum, snare drum, it all just came together and there were two horn players, one of them was playing a solo, standing in front of me and one turned to the other and said "J***s Chr**t we've got a drummer," and a sort of light went on and I realised "Bloody hell, I'm a drummer". I could play immediately.

I got home and told my mum I wanted to get a drum kit and she said: "You still haven't finished paying for the bike". There was a drum kit going, just a bass drum, snare drum and hi-hat and cymbal for £12, there was no way I had £12 and my mum wouldn't lend me the money, but I was determined. I found a toy kit for £3 which I could just about scrape together and I cut up my tent to put a front head on the bass drum which I painted this strange design on and the snare drum had just tighteners on the top only and one little tom tom but I found a biscuit tin was the same size and I fixed the biscuit tin on it to make it a bit deeper and that was my first kit.

His recollection of his fledgling career revealed more:  
I got a little band together with my cousin playing banjo (playing it rhythmically because he didn't know what a chord was) and a couple of other friends of mine. The guy whose party it was played trombone, a kid called Dave Tomlin played clarinet. We did one gig at Bungy's Coffee Bar, around the corner from Robert McFreeman and earned the princely sum of £4/11 shillings.
It was now 1956, and that certain ad in Melody Maker magazine for a drummer was too tempting to pass up. So he turned in a resume that was parallel to the Biblical principle that a day is like a thousand years. He needed to convince Hugh Rainey's All Stars he had played for years instead of only several months. This was not the end of the deception since he had showed up all the way in Stratford without a set. Ginger tells what happened next:  
I told them my kit was being repaired and to my total amazement I got the job, just like that. Then I went home and told my mum I had got a job in a band and I said that I had to have a drum kit and she lent me the money to put a deposit on one. I went to Vic O'Brien and got a blue bass drum, white snare drum, different colour tom tom, on hire purchase with this £50 deposit, a hi-hat and cymbal and that was the Storyville Jazz Band. The following week Bob Wallis with his trumpet joined the band.
More than likely his strong legs and love of the beat won him over with this ensemble playing American Dixieland-styled, but known in the U.K. as "traditional" jazz. This "trad" jazz was featured in a 1961 Richard Lester movie, It's Trad, Dad. He became a traveling musician, a modern art enthusiast, a beatnik, and a dropout at only 16. The way other musicians influenced him was direct:  

...the clarinet player gave me a whole set of 78's of Baby Dodds 'Hear Me Talking To You', which had an amazing effect. Musically I was listening to my favourite record it was the Quintet of the Year. ...

Some of the things I picked up, such as the best thing is to make the horns sound good, which is what a drummer's job is. The old saying "a band's only as good as its drummer" is extremely true.

Wallis, just two years his senior, also shared additional records, many featuring Dodds, who was Louis Armstrong's drummer, and, by many, is considered the first modern jazz drummer blending his mix of Afro-western eclecticism. But going on tour, and recording with them, experience became Ginger's best teacher.

He played a few chords then he sang some more-
"I got the Weary Blues
And I can't be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can't be satisfied-
I ain't happy no mo'
And I wish that I had died."
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.
--excerpt Langston Hughes, "The Weary Blues"

They made a first recording, with Bob Wallis on vocals, (that is why he was the one highlighted, and not the real leader, banjo-playing Hugh Rainey). This one from 1957, which was Ginger's first, used trombonist, Pete Gresham, pianist John Mortimer, and Stu Wimsey slapping the string bass. The album tracks were:

In 1957 they released 10 inch single which selected the first three tracks. And they had a second, where instead Johnny Macey was on bass, Les Wood was back on clarinet, and used a different trombone player, John R.T. Davies. They did the following cuts:

They followed that with another single extended play, called "Bob Wallis Meets Mr. Acker Bilk At the New Orleans Jam Session." There was three minutes and seven seconds of "Do What Ory Say." and a B side with a Gospel tune, "In Gloryland" with Acker Bilk on clarinet and Pete Crumpton helping on baritone sax. That Christmas of 1957, he had a job with Acker Bilk, around the time he was dating his wife-to-be, Liz. (Later in 1961 Bilk would have a hit locally and across 'The Pond' with "Stranger On The Shore." Kenny G's musical daddy?) He was practicing being a husband with her and was late as he tells the story:

I ran into the front entrance and I had one of these flick knives in my pocket and I ran down the thing and jumped on to the stage and as I jumped onto the stage the flick knife opened and stabbed me in the leg. I got on stage and there was blood on my trousers. That was the Acker Bilk gig.

That other be-bop jazz drummer, besides Max Roach, Phil Seaman, would be another strong influence not just in musical style, but musical attitude, and unfortunately later, in drug abuse -- especially heroin. Seaman, in spite of his problems, for example, being in a somnambulant mode was one of the best drummers in the U.K. However, he was the only jazz musician who could read music for the 1958 production of West Side Story. Though the regular conductor knew Phil could play while seemingly asleep, during a matinee performance was nudged by a stand-in conductor with his bow, and after crashing into the huge Chinese gong, he got up and told the audience, which would be his last with this band, "Ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served."

1957 was the year 21 year old Terry Lightfoot met Louis Armstrong, and 17 year old Ginger Baker would become the drummer on the Terry Lightfoot's Jazzmen's album that year. He was able to buy a full white Vic O'Brien drum kit. He was now feeling more improvisional than what Lightfoot demanded, to play, "...four to the bar on the bass drum, nothing else!" Ginger reminisces:

You got a band uniform and £16 a week - every week. This was amazing, the big time. I think I did a record with them, we did 'Winter Wonderland' or something but my technique was coming together and I'd got into listening to other things like Big Sid Catlett. So we'd be playing and I would go 'bomp' on the bass drum and "whoa' - Terry Lightfoot would nearly swallow his clarinet, he wanted 4/4 continuing throughout and I kept putting these bomp things in. And it was at a gig in town somewhere with all the wives there and I let one of these things go and he turned around to me on stage and said "You don't come and practice with my band" and I said "Stuff your band up your arse" and that was the end of Terry Lightfoot.

It would not be the only time Ginger retorted with a similar response, that was his form of a resignation letter.

Only nineteen, Liz and Ginger were married on 17th February 1959. In the next spring they had Ginette, or as they called her, Ninette. Now things were meager but domesticated as he tells it:

Back at our little ground floor maisonette, life seemed normal and happy. I bought a load of timber and constructed bookshelves and cupboards. We had a small back garden where I grew lettuce, carrots, radishes and large cannabis plants among the runner beans. Liz was aware of my habit but had accepted it and to all intents and purposes we were a happy couple with a beautiful young daughter.
Times were very rough with his heroin habit, however, and gigs sporadic, even on the continent. He would walk, instead of the bus, to save as much as he could out of his three pounds average pay. Liz tried to convince everyone that she wasn't a junkie while pregnant, when Ginger has her share in riding that 'horse'. The daughter looking back admits she probably would have been aborted with Britain's liberalized laws just after her birth. This was the era when a female Medical doctor married to a Knight, Lady Isabella McDougall Frankau, was prescribing heroin liberally, and then others took the mantle. (a bit later HM Govt re-criminalized it).
Isabella died so I had to get a new croaker. Now I have a young buck in Harley Street. He's OK I guess, he's even increased my script a wee bit. But I do miss dear Lady Frankau it's true. --excerpt Joe South, "Poppy Dream - the story of an English addict"
Near this time he played in an Irish styled, Ken Oldham Showband, too, and to be more in demand, taught himself to sight read music. As for his controversial musical style, later called fusion, now in the dawn of the '60s, he was beyond the wannabe jazz skiffle, and caused him numerous conflicts. Ginger was only too happy to relate:
In those days I played like a madman and got emotionally involved with the music. Some people don't like that. They feel they are losing control of the band. A lot of drummers played what they heard on record. I was always playing myself. I had influences, obviously, but when I was playing modern jazz I was always accused of being a rock'n'roller because I need to lay down an off-beat. But then, so did Art Blakey. They didn't like this loud drummer playing off-beats, and getting the audience clapping their hands, and dancing about. That was most uncalled for. You were supposed to sit up and listen and drink your drink. But I never considered myself a rock'n'roller, I was always a jazzer.
It was also in 1961 while working in various groups that he wanted to replace his Vic O'Brien, but not only was he going to make his own, cannibalizing hardware off the old, but use acrylic instead of wood:
I got this great idea for using Perspex. It was like wood to work on, but it was smooth, and it would save painting the inside of the drum shell with gloss paint. So I bent the shells and shaped them over a gas stove.

It was finally in August of 1962 that Ginger put two and two together, or the R and B, I should say, where the R became louder and more like Rock. There were several musical tributaries flowing from the fifties to this time, picking up different stylistic flotsam, until we will get to the gargantuan stadium rock concerts of the sixties. Blues Incorporated as formed by Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies in 1956 had been a 'fluid' group, meaning they deliberately wanted to allow different talents to come and go. These two are considered the first white musicians to embrace blues. Ginger's acquaintance, Acker Bilk played with them as well. They began playing jazz at the Ealing Club but changed to blues in 1960, about the time when Watts came on board. Watts before departing in '62 talked them into taking Ginger as his replacement. Trad musician trombone player, Chris Barber, had the idea after hearing Muddy Waters in 1960 to add that genre. Blues Incorporated featured Korner's electrified guitar backed up Irish jazz (seen in It's Trad, Dad) also blues singer, (who just died in 2011), Ottilie Patterson, (she had worked with husband Barber too). They increased their notoriety by venues at the place ran by Barber's manager, the Harold Pendleton's Marquee Club. The other clubs featuring blues and jazz, and later rock, hatcheries for some of the most famous bands, were the 100 Club, Flamingo Club, London and Ronnie Scott's. Before Baker came along the line-up was as follows:

  • Long John Baldry..................................vocals
  • Mick Jagger .........................................vocals
  • Alexis Korner .......................................guitar
  • Dick Heckstall-Smith.............................sax
  • Cyril Davis ............................................Blues harp
  • Keith Scott.............................................piano
  • Jack Bruce, Spike Heatley (upright) .......bass
  • Graham Burbridge, Charlie Watts...........drums
When he joined Korner's bunch, he also crossed paths with tenor sax man Dick Heckstall-Smith (Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames) with whom he and Acker, he had recorded. That other co-founder with Korner, the short-lived Cyril Davies (d. '64) was a blues harmonica virtuoso and guitarist who had started in the fifties doing unplugged blues, but hearing Muddy Waters changed to the amplified Chicago style.
I got my brand on you,
There ain't nothin' you can do darlin'.
I got my brand on you...

Oh I'm puttin' my brand
--you know baby--
--on no certain part;
But whenever I kiss you,
I stab it in your heart!
--Willie Dixon (sung by Muddy Waters)
This was when Ginger would first work with vocalist and bassist, Jack Bruce. Jack Bruce was classically trained and the irony was that during a gig by Ginger Baker and Dick Heckstall-Smith, they thought at first Jack could not keep up with them, and were hesitant to let him sit in; But, he proved his talent. Later, it was Bruce and Heckstall-Smith that supposedly were behind the switching Watts for Baker. Then, a previous appliance salesman and saxophone player turned organist, Graham Bond came on the scene, and like some seer of old, Ginger quipped, "Blimey, you'd better watch him, he'll nick half the band!" On the side Ginger would play in the Johnny Birch Octet. It lasted about a year before in February of 1963 while emulating some kind of musical amoeba they split up. Only one of these creatures would survive until this day, The Rolling Stones, but when they first performed, they were the warm up band, to Korner's group -- fronted by Long John Baldry. the latter blues singer and guitarist was Eric Clapton's inspiration. Baker's first impression of Mick Jagger: he was overly wired, too youthful, and a bit of a girly man. The Graham Bond Organisation, where Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker went with, was the lesser other, but it would be the embryo for other great things to come. Also in 1963, Cyril would form the All Stars, bringing with him this lineup:
  • Long John Baldry.....................................................................vocals
  • The Velvettes..........................................................................vocals
  • Cyril Davis .............................................................................blues harp
  • Jeff Bradford/Bernie Marsden
    {or Watson?}/Jimmy Page .......................................................................guitar
  • Nicky Hopkins
    (sessions with The Who, Stones, Jeff Beck).................................................piano
  • Ricky Brown/Cliff Barton .........................................................................bass
  • Carlo Little/Ernie O'Malley..............................................................drums

It was at this time he hooked up (and got hooked) with his old idol, Phil Seaman, Ginger details:

Tubby Hayes (the sax player) had apparently been in there and heard me and ran over to Ronnie Scott's Club and told Phil to come down and hear me. When I got off stage I was suddenly confronted by my hero. I moved on to professional bands and into modern jazz, playing regularly at Ronnie Scott's club and the Flamingo in London...Phil heard me play and gave me an enormous compliment...that night he played me his collection of African drum records and this was like a great big door opening, a big light went on. Phil told me that I was the only drummer who'd got it.

Seaman also went with Baker shopping for drums, Ginger tells us:

Phil and I used to go in and play on a couple of kits and we played there and old Bill Ludwig was totally blown away with what he'd heard. He was really very nice, and I decided if ever I got a kit it would be a Ludwig kit because he was such a nice old bloke.


While Robert Stigwood was the manager, Ginger Baker was informally the leader of the Graham Bond Organisation since Graham was getting worse with his partying, and Baker was ironically trying to go Cold Turkey. (Stigwood would later be more famous for his producing Saturday Night Fever and the Bee Gees.) The guitarist was another fusion artist, John McLaughlin (Mahavishnu Orchestra). Mike Falana joined them their last year (1966) on trumpet. The real dissonance came between Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. That beloved homemade drum set of Bakers was kicked over and destroyed during one of their legendary on stage brawls, and Baker wreaked vengeance himself on Jack's equipment. Not too long before they broke up, Ginger fired Jack for "...being too busy," and Bruce's short stint with John Mayall's Blues Breakers ('69 album Looking Back with Heckstall-Smith) would align him with Eric Clapton, before Jack played with Manfred Mann. Clapton had seen the Organisation play in 1964, and was familiar with Bruce and Baker, jamming with them at the Flamingo. Back when they first recorded in 1963 their vocalist was Duffy Power and Jim Sullivan also helped on guitar. The Graham Bond Organisation were better live than in studio, they left this work:

  • Roarin' with Don Rendell (Jazz) (1961)
  • Live at Klooks Kleek (1964)
  • The Sound of '65 (1965)
  • There's a Bond Between Us (1965)

That last year an ex-con, Mick Turner helped their equipment vehicle out of a quagmire, and became a roadie. He also supposedly came to Graham's rescue when attacked by some hoodlums at a job. At a club shared by the Yardbirds, a very young Eric Clapton told Ginger, beginning their friendship, "I know you, Baker! You ain't really a hard nut at all.!" Back in March of 1965 Eric had left the Yardbirds to hook up with John Mayall. But the next spring, while Eric was with Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Ginger and Liz went to see them in Oxford, after talking to Flamingo owner Ric Gunnell's brother, John, the manager. Sure enough Ginger put forth the idea of them forming their own group, “As well as wanting to play together, which is very important, we think we can succeed commercially with our music." The irony was, Clapton insisted on Bruce, oblivious to the bad blood with Baker, and Stigwood concurred with Eric. Thus the first 'Supergroup', Cream was born. They made up over tea at Bruce's Mum-in-law's, and had an informal rehearsal at Ginger's home. This occasion, where kids outside were dancing and grooving to their dynamic sound, was where the trio realized their potential, was succinctly declared as Eric gushed, "Yeah, man we're the Cream!" Embarrassingly, Mayall first heard the news of this new ensemble from a premature leak in Melody Maker, and Ginger still had to do a last gig with GBO at Bradford; moreover Bruce was still with Manfred Mann.

Wrapping paper in the gutter
Moving slowly as the wind on the sea,
(Faces calling, waves moving)
In your picture on a wall of a house of old times.
(Can you hear me) Can you hear me
(Can you hear me) Wandering sadly?

In the city, feeling pretty,
Down and out and making love to you on the shore,
(Ruined buildings, faces empty)
In the picture as I gaze ahead and don't see
(That they're calling) That they're calling.
(That they're calling) Wandering sadly.

Shattered windows, stairs to nowhere.
(Hear you calling) Hear you calling
(Hear you calling) As I wander so sadly.

Wish I knew what you'd done to me;
Turned me on to things I never knew.
It's all broken, weeds are growing.
Wish I was going home to the house by the shore
(Where you loved me) Where you loved me,
(Where you loved me) Loved me so sadly.

Someday I'll get back, somehow I'll do it.
I'll arrive there and you'll be there to meet me.
(Walk together, tread the weeds down)
Kiss again in the picture on the wall
(Where I loved you) In the old house.
(Where I loved you) Loved you so well.
--Jack Bruce and Pete Brown

The 30th July 1966 Melody Maker revealed that this anticipated group was rehearsing for their first engagement at Sixth National Jazz and Blues Festival at Windsor the next day. That wet and muddy day did not discourage or disappoint eager fans, and wowed them, like so many to follow with an opening rendition of "Spoonful."

Could fill spoons full of diamonds,
Could fill spoons full of gold.
Just a little spoon of your precious love
Will satisfy my soul.

Men lies about it.
Some of them cries about it.
Some of them dies about it.
Everything's a-fightin' about the spoonful.
That spoon, that spoon, that spoonful.
That spoon, that spoon, that spoonful.
That spoon, that spoon, that spoonful.
That spoon, that spoon, that spoonful.

Could fill spoons full of coffee,
Could fill spoons full of tea.
Just a little spoon of your precious love;
Is that enough for me?


Could fill spoons full of water,
Save them from the desert sands?
But a little spoon of your forty-five
Saved you from another man.

--Willie Dixon
Stigwood brought in poet Pete Brown, who once aided GBO, to help with writing and they released "Wrapping Paper" for their first single, Baker fussed about it as, "...the most awful song and had absolutely nothing to do with what Cream was doing." Janet Godfrey, Jack Bruce's wife helped with the writing, too.
Alone tired half drunk hopeful
I staggered into the bogs
at Green Park station
and found 30 written on the wall
Appalled I lurched out
into the windy blaring neon Piccadilly night
thinking surely,
Surely there must be more of us than that…
Praise be to Christ this mackerel
He died that we might live
--"Few" Pete Brown
In the November 5th Melody Maker writer Nick Jones lauded them however with, "Well they finally made it. The much publicised, talked-about, raved about, and listened to group - the Cream - are in the chart." When it came time for their first album, because Stigwood was losing money on the GBO outfit Baker left, he asked him for a £30K loan. It was titled in a sort of clever bovine way, Fresh Cream. The track list:
  • 1. I Feel Free (Pete Brown / Jack Bruce) 2:53
  • 2. N.S.U (Jack Bruce) 2:47
  • 3. Sleepy Time Time (Jack Bruce / Janet Godfrey) 4:22
  • 4. Dreaming (Jack Bruce)
  • 5. Sweet Wine Ginger Baker / Janet Godfrey) 3:20
  • 6. Spoonful (Willie Dixon) 6:33
  • 7. Cat's Squirrel (Mick Abrahams / Traditional) 3:05
  • 8. Four Until Late (Robert Johnson / Traditional) 2:10
  • 9. Rollin' And Tumblin' (Muddy Waters) 4:43
  • 10. I'm So Glad (Skip James) 3:59
  • 11. Toad (Ginger Baker) 5:09
  • 12. *The Coffee Song (Tony Colton / Ray Smith) 3:20?
  • 13 *Wrapping Paper (Jack Bruce/ lyrics Pete Brown) 2:25
  • * not on original release
They began taking the gigs GBO had booked, and upped their fee £5 on top of their usual £40.
I feel free, I feel free, I feel free!

Feel when I dance with you,
We move like the sea.
You, you're all I want to know,
I feel free, I feel free, I feel free.

I can walk down the street, there's no one there,
Though the pavements are one huge crowd.
I can drive down the road, my eyes don't see,
Though my mind wants to cry out loud, yeah!

I feel free, I feel free, I feel free!

They started out the year of 1967 with the release of a single from that debut LP, "I Feel Free, and performed it on the BBC." Disk magazine in their January article, "Crowds like Cream" were amazed that fans became "a mass of heaving bodies, girls jump on boys backs, boys edge forwards craning their necks."

They became to much of a draw for seating in anything but large concert settings. And with this in mind, they began their tour of the U.S. starting with the New York based, Murray the K (Kauffman) radio show starting in March ending the 2nd of April, 1967 at the RKO theater. They shared the format with The Who, Wilson Pickett (Buddy Miles was on drums), the Blues Project, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, The Young Rascals, The Mandala, the Chicago Loop, Jan and Jean, Phil Ochs, The Blues Magoos, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Hardly Worthit Players. Booked but not to perform were Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. It was a good thing the Who did not listen to the injunction to not bring their equipment, because theirs were the only ones available, and Cream was loaned it. Ginger tells of an incident with Murray when he asked, "How the hell is he going to be able to play?!" Ginger was nursing a bottle of Bacardi rum while supine under a table. Murray lost 27 grand on the shows, that would no longer repeat in the future. They did not fill the theater, and were not to the New Yorkers' liking at that time. They used their several weeks time to also record "Strange Brew" at NYC's Atlantic studios. Around this time Ginger was flirting with the double bass drums and he remembered Ludwig:

When Cream started getting very popular, they offered me a kit and that's when I wanted the two bass drum kit after going to the Ellington Concert with Sam Woodyard in Georgia, and they offered to make me a kit for nothing which was amazing. I went to Boston {to see Zildjian} in the States on our first trip doing the Murray the K show and I've still got the hi-hat and ride cymbal that I picked up.

They went back to Ahmet Ertegun's Atlantic Records to finish the album in May before their visa ran out. With Felix Pappalardi getting top producing credit they finished in eleven days. Tom Dowd was the engineer previously successful with Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife", and Aretha Franklin's "Respect" ran the boards. His synopsis: "They were incredible. It was as if 'I've got two of everything here'. They recorded at ear shattering levels. I never saw anything so powerful in my life and it was just frightening... I don't think they were cognizant of the fact that they had more tracks. They just went about recording in their own method". Ertegun caused a few ruffled feathers when assuming that Eric Clapton was the star backed-up by the other two. He did try to thwart Bruce about his songs and singing saying, "No, that's no good, it's psychedelic hogwash, and anyway you shouldn't be singing, Eric has to be the lead singer. You're just the bass player."

Strange brew
killing what's inside of you.

She's witch of trouble in electric blue.
In her own mad mind
she's in love with you
with you.
Now what you gonna do?
Strange brew
killing what's inside of you.

She's some kind of demon dusting in the flue.
If you don't watch out

it'll stick to you
to you.
What kind of fool are you?
Strange brew
killing what's inside of you.

On a boat in the middle of a raging sea
she would make a scene for it
all to be ignored.
And wouldn't you be bored?
Strange brew
killing what's inside of you.
Though the pre-album single release of "Strange Brew" and "Tales of Brave Ulysses" only made it to number 17, their subsequent single of "Sunshine of Your Love" became Atco's biggest seller. That song was another Pete Brown collaboration, that was worked on all through the night, when Brown looked out his window and said, "It's getting near dawn, when lights close their tired eyes," and his artistic declaration that it was morning was incorporated into the song. Eric wrote the bridge, "I've been waiting so long / to be where I'm going / in the sunshine of your love." Was there some tune familiar to you too in the guitar break? It was lifted from Rodgers and Hart's Blue Moon. Eric Clapton, Felix Pappalardi and his wife, Gail Collins all wrote "Strange Brew" using the previous live rendition of the folk tune "Lawdy Mama." It also featured Eric as lead vocalist, worrying the other two. They also considered disbanding thinking themselves a 'cult' group, rather than something long lasting. "SWLABR" stands for 'She Walks Like a Bearded Rainbow' which was considered too bizarre. The title was derived out of a conversation of roadie:
Mick Turner's. Just after we'd made the record, Eric wanted to get a racing bike, and because I'd been a cyclist he was talking to me in the back of the car about the bike, and Mick was driving and he said "Do you mean one of the them bikes with Disraeli gears?" And we all just collapsed on the floor, it was so funny, and we decided that was the album title. He actually gave Mick a gold disc too.

Tracks on Disraeli Gears album released November of '67, all vocals by Bruce unless noted:

Side One

  • 1. Strange Brew Eric Clapton, (Felix Pappalardi, Gail Collins) vocals Eric Clapton 2:46
  • 2. Sunshine of Your Love (Clapton, Jack Bruce, Pete Brown) voc. Bruce and Clapton 4:10
  • 3. World of Pain (Pappalardi, Collins) voc. Clapton, Bruce 3:03
  • 4. Dance the Night Away (Bruce, Brown) voc. Bruce, Clapton 3:34
  • 5. Blue Condition (Ginger Baker) voc. Ginger Baker 3:29
Side Two
  • 1. Tales of Brave Ulysses (Clapton, Martin Sharp) 2:46
  • 2. SWLABR Bruce, Brown) 2:32
  • 3. We're Going Wrong Bruce) 3:26
  • 4. Outside Woman Blues (Arthur Reynolds, arr. Clapton) vocals Clapton 2:24
  • 5. Take It Back (Bruce, Brown 3:05
  • 6. Mother's Lament (Traditional, arr. Clapton, Bruce, Baker) vocals Baker with Bruce, Clapton21:47

When they returned to England, some of their gigs were back in small clubs and with the wrong audience of 'closers.' They then went back to what they did best, early summer sharing the stage with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. They were like family during the rest of 1967, even enjoying a tour of Germany like a vacation. Cream was at at Bill Graham's Fillmore August 22, how significant that they were there at the height, or better put, the Haight-Ashbury, of the Summer of Love causing overwhelming accolades, as Graham let them play their songs as long as they wanted. Remember the average song length used to be about three minutes, not twenty! George Almond wrote a review aptly titled, "Freaking out at The Fillmore" where he felt Cream had unloaded on the crowd, "...a musical megaton bomb." They also graced the halls of the Whisky A Go Go, and the Psychedelic Supermarket. They were busy after returning to the U.K. involved with various sessions, but Stigwood did have to make a few cancellation when Baker collapsed on stage later on October 26 on a BBC TV stage reported as because of ulcers. (I guess too much cream is not an antidote.) Baker, in his autobiography, (helped by Ginette) Hellraiser, mentions that it was actually a heroin overdose. They finished touring that year in December, first in the U.K., then in Chicago and Detroit, and then back in time for a Brittania Christmas.

If they were busy in 1967, '68 would provide no relief and after performances around the British Isles in January, by the 23rd they were back off to California. Ginger heard of the birth of his second child November 20th, Leda, while getting ready to record their third album, Wheels of Fire. Felix Pappalardi brought the idea of a double album to an unconvinced Atlantic Ahmet Ertugen and Jerry Wexier, but since the boys in the band were digging it, well the rest is histrionics. They used ten days during a break in their hectic American schedule to make it, the first album was what they did in studio, the second disk was live, using the first leg of the 1968 tour. This album had 16 minutes live of "Spoonful", and another 16 of the instrumental, "Toad", featuring Ginger's big 13 minute drum solo, was perhaps Baker's masterpiece. There are no studio musicians at all either on this work, though someone almost brought in King Curtis horn section for "Born Under a Bad Sign," I suppose because B.B. King has them, but Felix and the trio did not like the idea. Another jazz pianist, who might have let the ocean take him elsewhere when only 30, helped Ginger write "Passing the Time," and Those Were the Day." And, their honeymoon started to unravel during the playback phase. A highlight of this time in NYC was when Eric shared the stage with B.B.King and Elvin Bishop at the Café A Go Go. Sadly the recording made here, that might have included the earlier Canned Heat show, languishes somewhere too far away from our ears. Through this Jack and Ginger feud renewal, Eric was the innocent 'child' bystander. That push to force these guys to work instead of vacationing and before perhaps going into mitosis was Stigwood's idea, fearing the loss of his Golden Goose, and also shared by Britain's Polydor, but the U.S. Atco interests. This release's claim to fame: it was the first worldwide double album to go platinum.

Track list for Wheels of Fire

Disc one: Studio recording
  • Side 1
    • 1. White Room (Jack Bruce, Pete Brown) 4:58
    • 2. Sitting on Top of the World (Walter Vinson, Lonnie Chatmon; arr. Chester Burnett) 4:58
    • 3. Passing the Time (Ginger Baker, Mike Taylor) 4:37
    • 4. As You Said (Bruce, Brown) {Jack plays acoustic guitar on the track.} 4:20
  • Side 2
    • 1. Pressed Rat and Warthog (Baker, Taylor) 3:13
    • 2. Politician 3 (Bruce, Brown) 4:12
    • Those Were the Days (Baker, Taylor) 2:53
    • 4. Born Under a Bad Sign (Booker T. Jones, William Bell) 3:09
    • 5. Deserted Cities of the Heart (Bruce, Brown) 3:38

    Disc two: Live at the Fillmore

  • Side 3
    • 1. Crossroads (Robert Johnson, arr. Clapton) 4:13 (recorded March 10, 1968 at Winterland, San Francisco, CA. (1st show))
    • 2. Spoonful (Willie Dixon) 16:43 (recorded March 10, 1968 at Winterland, San Francisco, CA. (1st show))
  • Side 4
    • 1. Traintime 3 (Bruce) 7:01 (recorded March 8, 1968 at Winterland, San Francisco, CA. (1st show))
    • 2. Toad (Baker) 16:15 (recorded March 7, 1968 at The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA. (2nd show))

    The May 11 1968, Rolling Stone issue with an exclusive interview with Eric Clapton should have caused joy. Instead the scathing review of Eric Clapton's playing by Jon Landau caused great distress on the talented guitarist. What they read was this:

    Clapton is a master of the blues clichés of all the post World War II blues guitarists, particularly B.B. King and Albert King. And he didn't play a note that wasn't blues during the course of the concert... Improvisation means the creation of new musical ideas spontaneously. It does not mean stringing together pieces and phrases of already learned musical ideas. He is a virtuoso at performing other people's ideas.
    Ginger's sympathies were, "Eric took it too f*ckin' seriously!" By July of that year, the strain of touring also got to them, not just because of the travel, hotels and jets, but the jet plane level decibels in concert. The fans raving about them did not assuage the perfectionist Clapton who had his own demeaning critique of Cream's excellence as actually lacking. Baker concurred:
    Our success gained a life of its own. We were so big audiences didn't care what we played. As long as we showed up and produced a riot of noise, they were satisfied. For top shelf creative musicians like the three of us, that was the sounding of the death knell. Cream had become a caricature of itself.
    They had broken attendance records in the States. Because the fans were mourning the press-leaked breakup, they had enough appreciation to make a last Goodbye Cream album. This September Pappalardi project gave all band members songwriting share. They started their tour with the States on October 4th, and ended it at Albert Hall in November 26th which was recorded for posterity.
    • 1.I'm So Glad (Skip James) 9:13
    • 2. Politician (Pete Brown / Jack Bruce) 6:20
    • 3. Sitting on Top of the World (Chester Burnett / Lonnie Chatmon / Bob Dylan / Walter Vinson) 5:04
    • 4. Badge Eric (Clapton / George Harrison) 2:47
    • 5. Doing That Scrapyard Thing (Pete Brown / Jack Bruce) 3:18
    • 6. What a Bringdown (Ginger Baker) 3:57
    Ginger's oeuvre, "What a Bring-down" had a title that reflected multiple populations' feelings.
    Dainties in a jam-jar, parson's colour in the sky.
    Water in a fountain doesn't get me very high.
    Moby Dick and Albert making out with Captain Bligh.
    So you know what you know in your head.
    Will you, won't you, do you, don't you know when a head's dead?
    What a bringdown!

    Winter leader Lou is grownin' 'Ampsteads in the North.
    Betty B's been wearin' daisies since the twenty-fourth.
    Wears a gunner when there's one more coming forth.
    And you know what you know in your head.
    Will you, won't you, do you, don't you wanna go to bed?
    What a bringdown!

    There's a tea-leaf about in the family,
    Full of nothin' their fairy tale.
    There's a tea-leaf a-floatin' now for Rosalie,
    They'll believe in ding-dong bell.

    Take a butchers at the dodginesses of old Bill.
    Aristotle's orchestra are living on the pill.
    One of them gets very very prickly when he's ill.
    And you know what you know in your head.
    Will you, won't you, do you, don't you wanna make more bread?
    What a bringdown!

    1969 arrived with a tarnished golden dawn but a gold record for Goodbye. Unfortunately, Ginger said hello to his old intravenous Equine friend again, but hung with Eric at the Speakeasy club, and recorded with Billy Preston and George Harrison. The latter had helped on "Badge" from their last album. Amazingly, ex-roadie Mick Turner shows up again, making an announcement in the middle of "That's the way God Planned it" to tell him wife Liz birthed a boy, they would call Kofi. Baker was honoring the Tempos Afro-Jazz Ghana drummer, Kofi Ghanaba or a.k.a. Guy Warren, "The Divine Drummer." (Today from the website of the cover band, Sons of Cream, "Ginger Baker's son Kofi, along with Jack Bruce's son Malcolm, team up with guitarist Godfrey pay humble tribute to the world's greatest power trio.")

    It is a cold winter,
    Away is the songbird.
    And gone is her traveler,
    She waits at home.

    The sun is on holiday,
    No leaves on the trees.
    The animals sleep
    While cold North wind blows.

    The snowflakes are falling,
    The roof a white blanket.
    There's ice on the window pane,
    She waits alone.
    She sits by the fireside,
    The room is so warm.
    Her children are sleeping,
    She waits in their home.

    Passing the time.
    Passing the time.
    Everything fine.
    Passing the time, drinking red wine.
    Passing the time, drinking red wine.
    Passing the time, drinking red wine.
    Passing the time, everything fine.
    Passing the time, drinking red wine.
    Passing the time, everything fine.
    Passing the time, wine and time rhyme.
    Passing the time.

    It is a long winter,
    Away is the summer.
    She waits for her traveler
    So far from home.

    She sits by the fireside,
    The room is so warm.
    There's ice on the window,
    She's lonely alone.
    Ginger Baker and Mike Taylor

    After a road race by Eric and Ginger in their to Stevie Winwood's country place, an idea of a new supergroup was born, too. That January the twenty year old Winwood left Traffic, three years before that he made his name singing for the Spencer Davis Group. So, in May of 1969, after Eric, Steve and Ginger brought along a different bassist, Rick Grech, and brought high hopes for something even better than before began to rise. Record producers and fans were happy to learn of the Phoenix-like rise of these talents.

    S I've been the distance and I've seen it all
    I've been turned around by love and hate
    I have resided in my private hell
    But I love this life and I live to tell

    Blind Faith is the cause of the trouble
    Blind faith what we bleed

    Quiet Riot, Citron/Banali/Hughes

    This phase of Ginger's life is rather easy to relate, since they recorded only one album, the self titled, Blind Faith. It featured the now ubiquitous obligatory 15 minute drum solo on the second side.

    Side One

    • 1. Had To Cry Today (Steve Winwood) 8:49
    • 2. Can't Find My Way Home (Steve Winwood) 3:17
    • 3. Well All Right (Holly, Allison, Mauldin, Petty) 4:28
    • 4. Presence Of The Lord (Eric Clapton) 4:56
    Side Two
    • 5. Sea Of Joy (Steve Winwood) 5:22
    • 6. Do What You Like (Ginger Baker) 15:20

    They had a big concert at Hyde Park, toured Europe in June of '69, and then hit America and Canada. July 12 at Madison Square Gardens was the first step of the U.S tour with 20K plus attending. If it was bad enough a mob stormed the stage and busted up Winwood's piano, the police mistakenly bopped Ginger on the head while repelling for 30 minutes, the over-zealous fans. Also The L.A. crowd got rowdy, the press kept bugging Eric on his ever increasing laid-back role, and to add embarrassment upon itself, they had too small a repertoire, with fans yelling for Cream numbers.

    They were glad when this seven weeks of "Brave Ulysses" Hades ended on August 24. Dichotomous rumors abounded about a U.K. tour or a splitting apart. Their album had sales success, though the cover had to be changed to a band portrait from the nude pre-teen on the original. October 1969, near the end of the Psychedelic Sixties, was the end of Blind Faith. Now, Ginger's "Do What You Like makes sense".
    Come down off your throne and leave your body alone,
    Somebody must change.
    You are the reason I've been waiting so long,
    Somebody holds the key.

    But I'm near the end and I just ain't got the time, oh no,
    And I'm wasted and I can't find my way home.
    Eric Clapton

    November, after Eric left with new friends Bonnie and Delaney and then joined Derek and the Dominoes, and Jack left to go solo, then a bit later with ex-Experience drummer, Mitch Mitchell; Ginger was still left with a good core. Bassist Grech, who could also play violin, and organist and vocalist Winwood. So, near the end of November of 1969, the runway was cleared for Ginger Baker's Air Force. He wanted to include the genres of not just rock and blues, but Rhythm and Blues with African, jazz, and folk in a big-band format. Flutist and saxophonist Chris Wood from Traffic days came on board and on vocals he added ex-Moody Blues Denny Laine. Also helping singing was Jeanette Jacobs and there was African percussionist, Remi KabakaIt. The original plan was to only work with his two remaining Blind Faith members for two shows January, 1970 but the temporary band lasted longer than the previous Supergroup. Not only did Winwood depart to work solo, but took the bass player as well. And they wound up turning into a reborn Traffic.

    The Air Force was a squadron with a ten piece show band, and he even brought in Graham Bond, and his old lauded tutor, Phil Seaman. They were successful enough to play all through most of 1970, but their melange of styles did not have the earlier mass appeal. They had two albums, each from the Mark I and Mark II derivatives, Ginger Baker's Air Force Atco (1970) and Ginger Baker's Air Force II Atco (1970). Because of Ginger's African friends, Fela Ransom-Kuti and Remi Kebaka he visited Ghana, and heard Nigerian radio.

    Ginger's interest in Africa became intensified to the point that when the Air Force was finally grounded, he went to Nigeria on his first trip then subsequently returned to reside there and establish his recording studio in Lagos. At his Batakota Studios he got together with those two musicians and their bandmates, and recorded Fela Ransome-Kuti and Africa 70 with Ginger Baker: Live. His big tour got messed up with a third party equipment person carrying marijuana, but with Baker's name on the gear got him also busted for pot. Everything should have gone wonderfully, and though Paul McCartney, who recorded Wings' Band on the Run there, has been blamed for the studios eventual financial meltdown, according to Baker, it was EMI bullying their competition out of Africa. Ginger did his own album at that time, Stratavarious, Polydor (1972). He made some other various costly investments, but friends stayed with him.

    Though his own studio was finished in 1973, he teamed up with Paul and Adrian Gurvitz first, then added singer Steve 'Mr Snips' Parsons and keyboard player Peter Lemer, cutting Baker Gurvits Army (1974). This lasted unti 1976, when Baker moved back to what Shakespeare considered "This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England." His next project, Eleven Sides of Baker did not make the standards that Baker thought he had reached in the previous release. He continued with polo and horses, maintained his close relationship with Eric Clapton and Pattie Boyd at their place in Surrey, and had almost killed himself in dragster racing.

    Recently divorced, now his polo hobby was causing the money output to be more than the input, enigmatically worse than his heroin addictions. Therefore, he was happy to get work in November 1978 with Fela Anikuulapo Kuti and his Africa 70, but for some reason, Fela dropped him, so instead he pooled musical resources with Tony Allen and old friend Henry Kofi. He even had his old friend and roadie, Mick Turner help him.

    In 1979 he built another studio in N. London's Acton and formed a new group, Energy. He worked with John Mizarolli on guitar and vocals, Whitey Davis did double duty with guitar and singing, and the bottom was covered with bassist Henry Thomas, and David Lennox rounded them out on keyboards. They worked through the Spring of 1980 when wrecks and fights caused Baker to find more stable work. He almost became Emerson, Lake and Palmer's drummer, but 'space rock' Hawkwind's guitarist, Dave Brock asked him to record a couple of albums with them. He was with Atomic Rooster, for three weeks in 1981, and for a time he is busy with olive groves in Italy, which is, out of twenty eight attempts, the final successful cocaine and or heroin rehab: "I really got off (it) when I got into olive farming, learning how to prune the trees, which is an art that they only know in Tuscany."

    Ex-Sex Pistols' singer John Lydon and bassist Bill Laswell invited Baker to record with them in 1986. In the next decade, 1992 he helped guitarist Chris Goss and bassist Debbie Googe resurrect the previously born in 1981 Masters of Reality. (A band that was named after a Black Sabbath album.) Baker wrote a couple of the songs on their self-titled album, "J.B. Witchdance" and "Ants In The Kitchen", and helps with the scathing, "T.U.S.A.", ranting, "Now this is serious! if there's one thing in this country that really bothers me Is the inability of yanks to make a good cup of tea... They drink luke brown water that looks like gnat pee."

    During the Cream's induction in Rock's Hall of Fame in January of 1993, the three members performed several of their famed songs in L.A., but the rumored further renaissance of them was proven untrue. 1994 was another attempt to get a power trio going, inviting old frenemy Jack Bruce back and adding guitarist Gary Moore; BBM (Baker, Bruce, Moore) left one album, Around the Next Dream. He had met Moore during Bruce's 50th birthday party. In an interview with Baker in 2010's Classic Rock, he not only considered Moore, "the Pampered Pompadour Of Pop", that he basically "contrived" all his solos, that he finally screwed up their bookings when he literally blew out his eardrums. He also laments:

    One gig was canceled when he Moore cut his finger opening a f**king tin. Eric {Clapton} would have put a plaster on and played. Oh no, not Gary. "And, again, it was so loud I had to have baffle boards on either side. I hate volume. Why does rock music have to be so loud? That was rock'n'roll finished for me.

    In 1999 Baker moved to South Africa and would play jazz. Finally, an happily for fans on May 3, 2005 the long awaited Cream reunion was a go. And their performance at the Royal Albert Hall was recorded, and they played Madison Square Gardens as well, all to very delighted fans, new and old. That year too, he deservedly was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award Grammy. Any hopes of that continuing were crushed, however, the old complaints of excessive volume loomed too loudly. In 2008 daughter Nettie stayed with Ginger in South Africa to do his biography, and she finished in four months. The next year they celebrated Ginger's 70th concussion and percussion filled life. In 2010 he was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame, and the

    So, we come full circle, with Ginger Baker having some oxymoronic clarity after moving back to the U.K. in 2011, being extremely happy today, with his Jazz Confusion.

    Sad 2014 Update:

    In the 254th edition of Mojo magazine, Ginger Baker is featured in a December 9, 2014 interview with Mark Paytress, where he declares he is "under a curse." He has having financial difficulties living in a rented house after, as he confesses:

    I blew it all, taking advice from the wrong people. I put a state-of-the-art polo field on my property in South Africa. It was beautiful, but all these people told me I’d get sponsorship and nothing happened.

    I’m gullible. People become my friends, give me advice but it usually works to their benefit and my deficit. But I still have this optimism…

    God is punishing me for my past by keeping me alive with these incredibly painful situations. I’ve just had a disaster with one of my royalty payments. I go forward. I don’t look backward, but these things keep happening to me. There’s a curse on me, I think.

    RIP 6 October, 2019, we say goodbye to a rock and jazz great.

    Some, not all of my Sources:

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