Rhythm - - FEATURE -

Of all the leg­ends we’re prais­ing here, Gin­ger Baker would prob­a­bly be the most re­luc­tant to be talked about as a pi­o­neer of any sort of rock drum­ming. “The heavy metal thing,” Baker told

Rhythm in 2012, “giv­ing birth to that, we should have aborted it. We should have aborted that kid. I hate heavy metal.” Nev­er­the­less, what Baker brought to the rock genre with the lauded trio Cream can­not be un­der­stated. A jazz player, men­tored by the great Bri­tish jazz player Phil Sea­men, Baker went on to ex­plore African rhythms, and his play­ing was so far beyond the scope of what was con­sid­ered rock that – in­ten­tion­ally or oth­er­wise – he changed rock play­ing for the bet­ter, for­ever.

Gin­ger first came to promi­nence play­ing R&B with Alexis Korner’s Blues In­cor­po­rated and the Gra­ham Bond Or­gan­i­sa­tion, but it was with Jack Bruce and Eric Clap­ton (along­side Baker, con­sid­ered the ‘cream’ of mu­si­cians at the time) that he ex­pe­ri­enced his great­est suc­cess and pop­u­lar ac­claim. In 1968, Cream re­leased their third and fi­nal al­bum

Wheels Of Fire. Baker and Clap­ton went on to form Blind Faith, then Gin­ger turned his tal­ents to a huge range of projects. His abid­ing love for jazz and African drum­ming led Gin­ger to record with Afro-beat king Fela Kuti and fu­sion gui­tarist Bill Frisell, and in 1993 Gin­ger was in­ducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame with Cream, the trio re­form­ing for live dates in 2005. ‘Sun­shine Of Your Love’, from 1967’s Dis­raeli

Gears, is one of Cream’s most pop­u­lar hits and is a per­fect ex­am­ple of Gin­ger Baker’s unique drum­ming with its tribal verse groove and ‘back­wards’ feel, as well as the wide-rang­ing fill ideas. Gin­ger’s spar­ing use of crashes helps em­pha­sise the tribal pa­tern while his snare on ‘1’ and ‘3’ gives a heavy down­beat and cre­ates an in­ter­est­ing re­versed feel. Dur­ing the cho­rus, re­peat­ing two-bar phrases leave Gin­ger plenty of space to show his ideas and fea­ture a mix­ture of sub­di­vi­sions, flams and dou­ble-stops. When the band jam over the same chord at the end, he in­cor­po­rates some of his sig­na­ture dou­ble bass-drum work.


One of Baker’s most fa­mous mo­ments be­hind the kit was his ‘Toad’ solo. Un­til then, ‘pop’ so­los by the likes of Sandy Nel­son, the Sur­faris’ Ron Wil­son and the Shad­ows’ drum­mers were still heav­ily in­flu­enced by the jun­gle toms of Krupa, or Joe Morello’s ‘Take Five’. Baker’s solo­ing here em­ployed dou­ble bass drums and R-L-F-F type pat­terns in­spired by Duke Elling­ton drum­mer Sam Wood­yard, and have be­come the sta­ple of rock so­los ever since. Gin­ger was also more than ca­pa­ble of rein­ing it in when nec­es­sary, and ‘Badge’ has min­i­mal fills or even crashes. The big re­lease there is the drum break be­fore the bridge, which can be dif­fi­cult to feel in the right place (lis­ten for the guitar part start­ing on ‘3’ with the drum fill start­ing on the down­beat of the fourth bar af­ter that).

On ‘The White Room’ from 1968’s Wheel­sOfFire Gin­ger’s clas­sic 5/4 bolero-type tom pat­tern is a re­peat­ing hook that the band fol­lows, while dur­ing the guitar solo Gin­ger lets rip with some beau­ti­fully mu­si­cal fill ideas. His ap­proach to blues clas­sic ‘Born Un­der A Bad Sign’ is unique; its nor­mally steady eighth-note feel and ‘2’ and 4’‘ back­beat dis­missed in favour of some­thing more syn­co­pated. The eighth­note pat­tern in the right hand is here played on the ride, com­ple­mented by the left foot step­ping up­beat eighth-notes while the kick and snare play a unique pat­tern im­ply­ing a dou­ble-time feel at the end of the bar as the snare falls on the up­beat of 3’‘ and 4’.‘

From 1966 and through­out Cream, Gin­ger played a Sparkling Sil­ver Pearl Amer­i­can-made Lud­wig dou­ble bass-drum kit, a spe­cial order with un­usual sizes. The kicks had 11" deep shells, not the usual 14": 22"x11" (l), 20"x11" (r), 12"x8", 13"x9" (Rogers Swiv-O-Matic mounts), 14"x14", 16"x16". He specif­i­cally wanted a dif­fer­ent tonal­ity from each of his bass drums. Front heads were in­tact and he played Lud­wig Fleet­foot kick ped­als, with leather drive straps, rather than the metal-link Speed kings used by most Lud­wig play­ers. He played and recorded with sev­eral snares, in­clud­ing a 1940s 14"x6½" wood shell Leedy Broad­way and 14"x5" metal Lud­wig Su­per-Sen­si­tive with par­al­lel-ac­tion snares. Heads were Lud­wig Weather masters, sin­gle-ply, white coated My­lar and he tuned his toms to the band: “When they tuned up, so would I.” His trade­mark tom sound comes from the care­ful, deep tun­ing and the way he set his toms flat and played rim-shots off them to cut through. Gin­ger used Zild­jian cymbals. His main ride was a 22" with riv­ets that he po­si­tioned high, an­gled to­wards him. Al­ways look­ing for mul­ti­ple tonal­i­ties he dou­ble-tiered his cymbals – a lower cym­bal placed on the sec­tion join be­low the top sec­tion so he could mount four cymbals on his two right stands and two on his sin­gle left stand. He had a lower 20" ride, 13", 14", 16", 17" and 18" crashes, 8” splash and cow­bell.

Gin­ger’s unique flair, fiery tem­per­a­ment and jazz lean­ings make him one of the most in­spi­ra­tional rock drum­mers. Per­haps his best qual­i­ties though come from the fact that he’s a great ac­com­pa­nist, in the jazz tra­di­tion. “I play depend­ing on what the peo­ple I’m play­ing with play,” he told Rhythm. “You lis­ten – that’s what a drum­mer does. It’s the drum­mer’s job to make the other guys sound good. Baby Dodds said that. You lis­ten to the other guys and you com­ple­ment what they’re play­ing. That can lift them up.”

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