What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
When legendary sportscaster Keith Jackson passed away last year, I said the soundtrack to large portions of my childhood came through a Panasonic transistor radio, and it was all about the voices which drew me to the world of sports fandom. Chick Hearn brought me the Los Angeles Lakers. Dick Enberg brought me the California Angels. And Keith Jackson brought me football.
But that’s nowhere near the whole story. Another part of that soundtrack was music. I was always fascinated by music, and I jumped at the first opportunity in school I got to take up an instrument. I was originally a string guy; my first instrument was the violin, which eventually led to the bass. But my real passion proved to be the drums. The reasons for that are numerous, but I believe the one foremost on the list is my age.
As a child of the “classic rock” era, and originally being a “classic” strings musician, it would take a while for me to come to the electric bass and the many virtuosos it had in that era. When you’re 13, you don’t understand subtlety yet, which comes in handy when understanding the proficiency of great bassists. In contrast, the “classic rock” era provided so many drummers whose greatness was plainly obvious.
Keith Moon was more flamboyant. John Bonham was more polished. Charlie Watts was more precise. Neil Peart was the technician. Ian Paice was more musical; probably because he was also a classic strings guy. Bun E. Carlos might have been the coolest, but we wouldn’t know any of them had Ginger Baker not blazed the trail for the “rock star” rock drummer.
Baker was the first to feature extended drum solo in his sets with the groundbreaking Cream, which made him really the first rock drummer to become a star in his own right. Even his Cream bandmate Eric Clapton said of Baker “a fully formed musician whose musical capabilities are the full spectrum.” Even Neil Peart, considered by many to be the greatest rock drummer of all-time was quoted saying “set the bar for what rock drumming could be.”
The irony is that while Baker arguably did set the standard for percussion in rock music, he took exception with being called a “rock drummer,” most notably in an interview he did with the British newspaper The Telegraph in 2013.
“I’m a jazz drummer. You have to swing. There are hardly any rock drummers I know who can do that.”
Baker had the chops to back that up; he got his start in jazz combos and cited the likes of Max Roach and Elvin Jones as influences. In his post-Cream career, Baker formed decidedly jazz-influenced acts like Baker-Gurvitz Army and Ginger Baker’s Air Force, amongst many others.
Born Peter Edward Baker in Lewisham, London in 1939, he was drawn to the drums at an early age. At 16, he talked his way into a job with a traditional-jazz combo despite his complete lack of professional experience. But in no time at all, he was a fixture on the London jazz circuit…so much so that he drew the attention of guitarist Eric Clapton, whose work with The Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Blues Breakers had already made him a legend. From there, the addition of bassist extraordinaire meant the formation of Cream…and rock music was changed forever.
For my money, the three most culturally important events in the history of rock music were as follows:
A journey through Cream’s discography is to take a trip through the history of rock from it’s inception, to what it was at the time, eventually peering forward to what it could be. There’s the roots in the “Delta Blues” in “Outside Woman Blues.” It’s hard the miss the folk-country overtones in “Anyone for Tennis?” But the game-changer was “Sunshine Of Your Love.” Easily one of the most iconic tracks in all of rock history, it’s a beautifully-lyriced love song set to the tempo and tonal qualities of a street fight. But in that dichotomy lie the keys to the future, within the sonic walls of “Sunshine Of Your Love” can be found the foreshadowing of everything from heavy metal to hip-hop.
In other words, Cream is hugely important culturally, and Cream doesn’t happen without Ginger Baker. Not to mention, you know you’ve arrived as a cultural icon when you are the inspiration for a Muppet.
RIP, Peter Edward “Ginger” Baker. You will be missed, but never forgotten.
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