Ginger Baker, the legendary drummer behind Cream, Blind Faith, and the Ginger Baker Trio, has died at the age of 80, according to a statement on his official Facebook page.
A mercurial figure in rock, Baker was the fiery pioneer who created a polyrhythmic beat that fused jazz with the rock era. Born August 19, 1939 in southeast London, the drummer absorbed multicultural influences as he moved to Africa in the 70's and spent years in Nigeria forming a close friendship with Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti. The two famously collaborated on a landmark 1971 album Live! that presented a world of rhythm with the instrumental prowess of trumpet and saxophone solos that interlocked with the funk-driven frontline of keyboard and guitar.
Baker described to JazzWax in 2013, "Oh for god's sake, I've never played rock. Cream was two jazz players and a blues guitarist playing improvised music."
He continued, "All that stuff I did on the drums in Cream didn't come from drugs, either. It was from me. It was jazz."
Baker pursued a free approach in his creations with Cream, adding to their catalogue a new routine of rhythm in songs like "White Room" with a 5/4 bolero beat. Cream debuted with their first studio album Fresh Cream in 1966 and toured in the US with 71 shows, an intensive live performance schedule that often exacerbated the tension between the band's bassist Jack Bruce and Baker. Baker's explosive energy was not limited to behind the drums and the heated dynamic of the Cream band led to their split in 1968 shortly after the album's release, and while the band reunited briefly in 2005, Baker and Bruce still remained on complicated terms.
Bruce's family paid their respects in a statement, "Surviving a love hate relationship, Ginger was like an older brother to Jack, working together in The Graham Bond organisation, making history with Cream and later collaborating with BBM. Each and every time, their chemistry was truly spectacular."
In the words of Paul McCartney, "Ginger Baker, great drummer, wild and lovely guy...sad to hear that he died but the memories never will."