Ginger Baker 1939-2019

by Chris Murray on October 8, 2019

There was no-one like Ginger Baker. I first knew of Baker as the drummer for Cream. That band with Eric Clapton, Baker, and Jack Bruce was a game changer. I saw Cream early on at Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village in October of 1967. I had never seen a band like them… the first so-called ‘super group’.

Ginger Baker. Photo by Robert Whitaker

Robert Whitaker’s black and white photograph above of Ginger Baker is one of my favorites of a musical artist. Baker looks as if he is a poet or painter in the bohemian scene in Paris in the 1920s and 30s with Picasso and Hemingway.

My longtime friend Jay Bulger made and directed the film Beware of Mr. Baker. That film, apart from Baker’s own music, is the finest document on the life and music of Ginger Baker. Monday morning, the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Sirius Radio all interviewed Jay Bulger about Mr. Baker.

I had a wonderful personal encounter with Ginger Baker. My R&B/Funk band, The Heat, opened for Baker and Jack Bruce at The Bayou in Washington DC. It was billed as a Cream reunion, though Eric Clapton was not present.

The Heat in their dressing room after the gig, The Bayou, Washington, DC, 1989.
(left to right) Back row: Andy Rapoport (guitar), Michael Hall (bass), Jim Sivard (saxophone), Jordan Layton (drums), Chris Murray (guitar and vocals). Front row: Whitney Smith (guitar), Lizard Downer (vocals), Ayiko von Varga (vocals). Photo by Chester Simpson.

The Heat opening for Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, The Bayou, Washington, DC, 1989. Photo by Chester Simpson.

Our charismatic drummer Jordan Layton and myself had been on tour with the Martha Graham Dance Company. Graham had just been performing in Brazil, and principal dancer extraordinaire Maxine Sherman gave Layton a ‘rain stick’, a wooden tube about two feet long filled with seeds, that when turned back and forth sounded like the rain. At our sound check, Layton gave the rain stick to Ginger Baker. Baker loved it!! He thanked Layton and then went over to Jack Bruce and the rest of the band, turning the rain stick back and forth, creating the magical sound it made. As he did this, he looked at his band and kept repeating, “This is it! This is it! This is it!” That percussion instrument captured his imagination and evoked a strong groove in Baker.

Cream – Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce, Chadds Ford, PA, 1968. Photo by Art Kane.

Art Kane, Barrie Wentzell, and Robert Whitaker’s photographs are available through Govinda Gallery.

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