Tributes to Ginger Baker (1939-2019)

Sebastian writes: The official statement from his family on Sunday 6 October that Peter “Ginger” Baker had passed away was succinct: “We are very sad to say that Ginger has passed away peacefully in hospital this morning.” There has been a vast outpouring of thought, as is now the norm. We have collected a few tributes, and selected a few links and remarks.

Ginger Baker in 2013. (Photo © William Ellis. All Rights Reserved)

THE PHOTO ABOVE William Ellis took this photo at A Tribute to Stan Tracey at the 100 Club in November 2013, an event organised by Clark Tracey. William remembers meeting him: “It was exciting to meet a hero – and have no illusions shattered. I briefly outlined the One LP Project and invited him to be included in the series thus: ‘I wonder if perhaps there’s an album that comes to mind which is particularly significant to you?’ “His answer was not wholly unexpected – a polite but unequivocal ‘No.’” TRIBUTES Wally Houser: “I first met Ginger in 1960 in Ronnie Scott’s recently opened club in Gerrard Street. Ginger was drumming with pianist Stuart da Silva and bassist Tony Archer. He was a fine jazz drummer and put me  in mind of Arthur Taylor. We became good friends. He was always broke. I a little less so, so I gave him my cast off clothes and he painted a couple of pictures for me. Then fame struck with Cream and he started to gain his fearsome reputation. He became it seems a monster but he and I never had a cross word. He took me to Nigeria where he was opening a recording studio. One evening we came from dinner to find our rental car had a flat tyre. There was a spare but no jack. Three very tall guys with tribal scars approached wanting to know what was going on. Ginger, ever the diplomat, half looked at them and said “fuck off and mind you’re own business “ I assumed I was about to become a statistic and was terrified. But the guys calmly lifted the car. And put on the spare. Ginger gave them 5 Nire and they took us into a shebeen where we drank copious amounts of weak beer. I returned to England . A year or so later, about 1972, Ginger was driving to Nigeria across the Sahara. Somehow in the vast space he managed to knock a policeman off his motorcycle and kill him. The only two vehicles within 30 miles or so. Remarkably it seems it was not Ginger’s fault but he was held somewhere in Niger north of Nigeria. He managed to get a message to me via the French consulate and somehow I managed to secure his release via British diplomatic channels. So those are but two of my Ginger Baker memories.” Pete Cater: “Ginger Baker was a musician you simply could not ignore. His body of work, foul moods and disastrous business ventures and both well documented and legendary. Like him or not you couldn’t help but admire his lifelong commitment to jazz. His playing, albeit in an entirely different context for the most part, was enriched by unmistakable influences including Phil Seamen and Art Blakey, but for me his lifelong trump card was that in a world populated by so many professional nice guys and yes men, his was a life lived utterly truthfully, and the world of music is diminished with the passing of a genuine character.” Ralph Salmins: “Ginger had the magic ingredient that makes a drummer truly great: something very hard to quantify. Sheer wildness and mad abandon combined with eccentricity made him an incredibly exciting musician behind the drums and he was someone who could truly set a group on fire. Ginger’s deep love and connection with African music gave him the ability to cross stylistic boundaries and unite musicians in the worlds of jazz and rock.” Clark Tracey: “I only met Ginger twice and both times he sat in on my drums and broke my bass drum pedal, which is quite an achievement! I know he was in a lot of pain by the end and found it hard to be affable. However, I much appreciated him jumping on a train from Kent and back to play at my father’s benefit gig at the 100 club just for a cup of tea.” QUOTES FROM ELSEWHERE Mick Jagger: “Sad news hearing that Ginger Baker has died, I remember playing with him very early on in Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. He was a fiery but extremely talented and innovative drummer.” Flea: “So much freedom in his playing. What a wildman. Rhythms we’ve hear all our lives he plucked them out of the sky. Rest In Peace Ginger Baker.” Anil Prasad: “While the fatuously myopic idiocy of conventional, reductive music journalism would have you believe Ginger Baker’s career began and ended with Cream, I will put my hand up and state he went on to do vastly more important and interesting things decades beyond that group’s tiny lifespan. My favorites are the two albums he did with Bill Laswell as producer—1990’s utterly astounding and mind-bending Middle Passage and 1986’s Horses and Trees. Both stunning and brilliant in their own way, infused with myriad interlocking rhythms and influences from across the world. Musicians like Jah Wobble, Shankar, Bernie Worrell, Aïyb Dieng, Nana Vasconcelos, and Nicky Skopelitis contribute. Both are must-listens for anyone with open-minded musical proclivities.” Alex Petridis’ tribute in the Guardian (link to piece) has a concluding paragraph which starts thus: “Whatever the reason, Baker was clearly not an easy man to love, or even to like. But he was also an inspired and groundbreaking musician, a drummer other drummers queued to pay homage to, even when their praise was rebuffed. And that’s what Baker should and will be remembered for.”

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