Top 10 Ginger Baker Songs
Credit, or blame, goes to Ginger Baker for basically inventing the rock ‘n’ roll drum solo. But this list of the Top 10 Ginger Baker Songs highlights a career that was about much more than lengthy excursions behind the kit. There has always been more to Baker than mere feats of strength.
It all began with a figure who would help define his rise to fame: Jack Bruce was a consistent early bandmate, first in Blues Incorporated, then with the Graham Bond Organisation and finally, and most memorably, in Cream. But even during their lengthy time together as collaborators, the two often clashed personally, which contributed to the quick demise of Cream, who released four albums in a career that basically lasted only two short years.
Baker then worked with fellow Cream co-founder Eric Clapton in Blind Faith, but that supergroup came and went even faster. The subsequent Ginger Baker’s Air Force again found him working with an all-star cast – this time including Blind Faith members Steve Winwood and Ric Grech (Traffic), as well as Denny Laine (Moody Blues and Wings). More importantly, this era ushered in the broad use of horns into Baker’s work, and a long-held interest in jazz and world music took flight.
He spent the ’70s working and living in Africa, becoming deeply involved with tribal sounds. Later projects found Baker collaborating with jazz legends like Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell, as well as rock and blues figures such as Gary Moore, Hawkwind and Masters of Reality. A brief reunion with Cream was held in 2005, but more often Baker has kept his gaze firmly focused on the next musical horizon.
This Top 10 Ginger Baker Songs focuses on contributions in his original area of expertise. After all, by the time he dived headlong into other styles, his rock legend was already firmly in place.
Later a launching pad for some of Cream’s most intriguing forays into jazz rock, “Sweet Wine” emerged from the studio as a sturdy early example of Baker’s ability to work as the group’s backseat driver. He’s simply relentless on this track, which was co-written with Jane Godfrey, Jack Bruce’s first wife and occasional writing partner.
“Do What You Like”
This 15-minute Santana-styled piece was credited solely to Baker, and closed out the one and only studio album by the short-lived Blind Faith, made up of two-thirds Cream (Baker and Eric Clapton) plus Traffic’s Steve Winwood. Baker begins a nearly four-minute exploration of his kit at about the 8:30 mark, moving with ease from staccato asides to roiling explosiveness.
When Hawkwind lost Robert Calvert, their original singer and lyricist, they inevitably moved toward more instrumental music in the studio – and who better for that than Baker? Check out the fleet “Space Chase,” which illustrates the drummer’s deep interest in tom-focused tribal beats, something that dominated his jazz albums. Even though the partnership here began with great promise, ‘Levitation’ would be the restless Baker’s only studio album with Hawkwind.
A Top 20 hit in Cream’s native U.K., “Strange Brew” is – at least on the surface – far more noticeable for its use of Eric Clapton on vocals (rather than Jack Bruce, who sang most of the band’s songs). Indeed, the track – which began life as a dash through the early blues and jazz standard “Hey Lawdy Mama” – starts off with a pretty standard boogaloo groove. But listen to what Baker does once Clapton gets to his solo, adding cool variations and rumbling runs – all without losing that unerring sense of swing.
We’d like to set aside the spoken-word complaints here about “the inability of Yanks to make a good cup of tea” in order to discuss Baker’s rhythmic contributions on this collaboration with Chris Goss and John “Googe” Endieveri. But who can? It’s just too funny. As with Blind Faith and Hawkwind, Baker didn’t stick around long: Asked at the time if he might do an extended tour with Masters of Reality, Baker declined by saying that it “gets in the way of my polo.”
If Baker’s presence on “Strange Brew” was about delicate control, Cream’s tough take on Willie Dixon’s blues classic “Spoonful” gave him a chance to show off some raw power. But even here he displays a thrilling complexity – from crashing cymbal asides to a series of perfectly calibrated fills. Along the way, they gave “Spoonful” – which had been memorably recorded by Howlin’ Wolf as a modal, one-chord blues – a forceful shove into a new era.
“Sunshine of Your Love”
Cream’s highest-charting U.S. single is dominated by a thundering Jimi Hendrix-inspired riff and Baker’s ferocious work on the toms. A canny emphasis on the downbeat gives “Sunshine of Your Love” a vaguely Indian flair, keeping with Cream’s new-found interest in psychedelia. But its influences moves well outside the Summer of Love. The origins of heavy blues — in the form of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath — trace back to moments like this.
“Had to Cry Today”
A triumph of episodic construction, “Had to Cry Today” comes off as a something akin to prog blues. There’s an inherent pushing and pulling here, and abrupt shifts of mood and emotional temperature – all of it driven along by virtuoso performances by Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, then at the top of their games. Put those sticks in a lesser drummer’s hands, and he might have been badly humbled. Not Baker.
Baker leads Cream from a mysterious 5/4 intro into the song’s rumbling main 4/4 rhythm, and from there Pete Brown’s acid-trip freakout lyrics and Eric Clapton’s wah-wah tend to sit center stage. Holding all of that heavy spectacle together is Baker’s ability to guide the song through its many musical intricacies; he matches Jack Bruce’s menace as well as his whimsy. That helped propel “White Room” beyond its psychedelic roots toward the status of a rock classic.
Every component of Baker’s skill and talent is on display as the other two members of Cream, after a brief intro, sit back for this lengthy drum showcase. Up to that point, such things were reserved for jazz groups. Taking cues from Baker’s building of pattern after stunning pattern, “Toad” today stands as a moment of deep inspiration for any serious drummer. The most remarkable thing is Baker’s coherency: “Toad” never descends into wild gesticulations – something you can’t say about so many of the drum solos that followed.