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Legendary rock drummer Ginger Baker dead at 80

Lyndsey Parker
·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
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Ginger Baker, the legendary drummer known for forming the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame-inducted ‘60s supergroup Cream with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, died Sunday at age 80 after being hospitalized for an undisclosed “critical” illness. His death was confirmed on his social media accounts.

No details about Baker’s illness or cause of death have been made available at press time, but Baker suffered from several medical issues in his later years, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, and degenerative osteoarthritis. In July 2016, he underwent pioneering open-heart surgery after being diagnosed with "serious heart issues.” At that time Bake wrote on his blog, "Just seen doctor... big shock... no more gigs for this old drummer... everything is off... of all things I never thought it would be my heart.”

A tweet shared on Baker’s official Twitter account Sept. 25 read: “The Baker family are sad to announce that Ginger is critically ill in hospital. Please keep him in your prayers tonight.” The account revealed Sunday, Oct. 6 that Baker had passed.

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Baker leaves behind a legacy as one of the greatest drummers of all time, credited, along with the Who’s Keith Moon, as one of the early pioneers of double-bass drumming in rock. He was also a pioneer of the rock ‘n’ roll drum solo, and cited as an influence by Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, Rush’s Neil Peart, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, the Police’s Stewart Copeland, Alex Van Halen, KISS’s Peter Criss, Deep Purple’s Ian Paice, King Crimson’s Bill Bruford, Slayer’s Dave Lombardo, and Missing Persons/Frank Zappa drummer Terry Bozzio.

AllMusic declared Baker as "the most influential percussionist of the 1960s" and stated that "virtually every drummer of every heavy metal band that has followed since that time has sought to emulate some aspect of Baker's playing”; Drum! magazine listed him among the "50 Most Important Drummers of All Time"; and he was ranked third on Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Drummers of All Time" list. In 2009, Peart told Rolling Stone, “[Baker’s] playing was revolutionary — extrovert, primal, and inventive. He set the bar for what rock drumming could be. I certainly emulated Ginger’s approaches to rhythm — his hard, flat, percussive sound was very innovative. Everyone who came after built on that foundation. Every rock drummer since has been influenced in some way by Ginger — even if they don’t know it.”

Ginger Baker was born in Lewisham, South London, on Aug. 19, 1939. He began playing drums at age 15, taking lessons from famous British jazz drummer Phil Seamen, although he was mostly self-taught. in the early 1960s joined Alexis Korner’s all-star collective Blues Incorporated upon the recommendation of the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts, who had previously played in the group. It was during his Blues Incorporated tenure that Baker met bassist Bruce; while the two were known to personally clash, they later played together in British jazz/R&B/blues group the Graham Bond Organisation, and then co-founded the psychedelic blues-rock power trio Cream with guitarist Clapton in 1966.

Cream perform on 'Top of the Pops' in 1967. Left to right: bassist Jack Bruce, drummer Ginger Baker and guitarist Eric Clapton. (Photo by Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns)
Cream perform on 'Top of the Pops' in 1967. Left to right: bassist Jack Bruce, drummer Ginger Baker and guitarist Eric Clapton. (Photo by Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns)

Cream released four albums — including Disraeli Gears, considered to be one of the landmark rock LPs of the ‘60s — before disbanding in 1968. Baker and Clapton continued to play together in Blind Faith, who released one album in 1969 before breaking up as well.

In the ‘70s, Baker formed the groups Ginger Baker's Air Force and Baker Gurvitz Army, and he also set up a recording studio, Batakota (ARC), in Lagos, then the capital of Nigeria. The studio was used by both local and Western musicians, including Paul McCartney and Wings, who recorded some of Band on the Run there. The 1971 documentary Ginger Baker in Africa chronicled Baker’s journey across the Sahara Desert from Algeria to Nigeria to set up the studio. Baker explored his love of African music throughout his career, frequently collaborating with Nigerian musician Fela Kuti.

Cream In Concert At The Royal Albert Hall, London, Britain - 03 May 2005, Cream - Ginger Baker And Eric Clapton (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images)
Cream In Concert At The Royal Albert Hall, London, Britain - 03 May 2005, Cream - Ginger Baker And Eric Clapton (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images)

In the 1980s, after his recording studio closed, Baker kept a lower profile, living on an olive farm in Italy as he (ultimately successfully) battled an addiction to heroin. Later in his life, he pursued an acting career and performed with acts like Hawkwind, Public Image Ltd., Masters of Reality, the Ginger Baker Trio with Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell, Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion, and another power trio, BBM, featuring Jack Bruce and Gary Moore. Cream also reunited for a series of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and Madison Square Garden in 2005. Baker published his autobiography Hellraiser in 2009 and was the subject of the documentary Beware of Mr. Baker in 2012. He additionally released 18 solo albums throughout his life, the most recent being Why in 2014. He retired from touring due to his health problems in 2016.

Baker is survived by his three children, Ginette Karen, Leda, and Kofi Streatfield Baker.

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