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Artist: Cream

Cream

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Cream was a 1960s three-piece British band consisting of bassist/lead vocalist Jack Bruce, guitarist/vocalist Eric Clapton, and drummer Ginger Baker, having formed in London, England. They were known as one of the first great power trios and supergroups of rock. Their sound was characterised by a hybrid of blues, hard rock and psychedelic rock. Cream combined Clapton's blues guitar playing with the powerful and airy voice and intense bass lines of Jack Bruce and the manic drumming of Ginger Baker. They have sold over 35 million albums worldwide. Wheels of Fire was the world's first platinum-selling double album. Baker, Bruce, and Clapton named their band "Cream" because they thought themselves as the "cream of the crop" of their respective instruments. Cream's music included songs based on traditional blues such as "Crossroads" and "Spoonful", and modern blues such as "Born Under a Bad Sign" and "Outside Woman Blues" as well as more eccentric songs such as "Strange Brew", "Tales of Brave Ulysses" and "Toad". Cream's biggest hits were "I Feel Free" (UK, #11)[4], "Sunshine of Your Love" (US, #5)[5], "White Room" (US, #6)[5], "Crossroads" (US, #28)[5], and "Badge" (UK, #18). Cream, together with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, made a significant impact upon the popular music of the time, providing a heavy yet technically proficient musical theme that foreshadowed the emergence of bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and The Jeff Beck Group in the late 1960s. The band's live performances influenced progressive rock acts such as Rush, jam bands such as The Allman Brothers Band, Grateful Dead and Phish, and heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath. Cream were ranked #16 on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. By July of 1966, Eric Clapton's career with The Yardbirds and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers had earned him a reputation as the premier blues guitarist in Britain.[2] Clapton's virtuosity and raw power with the instrument inspired one fan to spray paint the words "Clapton is God" on the wall of an Islington underground station.[7] Clapton, however, found the environment of Mayall's band confining, and sought to expand his playing in a new band. In 1966, Clapton met Baker, then the leader of the Graham Bond Organisation, which at one point featured Jack Bruce on bass, harmonica and pi
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Ginger Baker The History of Rock, Jan 1982

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PETER 'GINGER' BAKER had an enormous and profound effect on the course of rock drumming when his playing and personality first began to make an impact in the mid Sixties. A unique, passionate player, he took the study of percussion much more seriously than his 'wild man' image and temperament suggested and had been playing a mixture of jazz improvisation and rock as far back as 1964 with the Graham Bond Organisation.

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With Bond, Baker was given his head to experiment and blossom forth in the company of bassist Jack Bruce, guitarist John McLaughlin, sax player Dick Heckstall-Smith and Bond himself. Together, the group moved away from the bop-influenced modern jazz clubs of the early Sixties towards the blues and R&B scene then dominated by groups like the Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones. Baker's backing had an urgency and authority that pushed along the soloists in the band and underscored the main riffs or ensemble passages with a clipped precision. When it came to fill-ins, four-bar breaks and, eventually, full-blown solos, Ginger unleashed a whirlwind of bass drum, tom-tom and snare drum beats in attacking style.

The main weapon in his armoury was the triplet, a basic enough rudiment of three beats played in rapid succession. Clusters of triplets, played extensively on the tom-toms and cascading over onto the twin tom-toms he later employed with Cream, set up a whirlpool pattern that he could build up, bring down and alter in complexity.

In the early days, there were quite a few examples of Baker's work on record which enable us to chart his progress. It is particularly interesting to hear the Baker of 1963 when he was playing a busy, Elvin Jones-inspired style with Bond, Bruce and McLaughlin at Klooks Kleek. These sessions, which were released by Warner Brothers in 1970 as a double album called Solid Bond, produced fast pieces in 3/4 time such as 'The Grass Is Greener', on which Ginger can be heard keeping time on a hard ride cymbal and breaking up the beat with flurries of furious snare-drum beats. But his three sets of drum breaks are rushed and betray anxiety – the curse of the fresh young drummer trying to prove himself.

By the time Baker was in the EMI studios with the Graham Bond Organisation to cut the blues-oriented The Sound Of '65 album, however, his playing had become much more disciplined and direct. He stripped away much of the verbiage and concentrated on socking home the beat, his snare and single bass drum operating like a well-oiled pivot on such tunes as 'I Want You'. Also on this album was included what many feel to be one of the most exciting instrumental performances ever cut by a British group, the Graham Bond version of 'Wade In The Water'.

Of all the records Ginger made over the years, this was his finest hour. His drums cut through quick and sure, just controlling the rising excitement generated by the tune and its treatment. Ginger played like a big band drummer, ripping into snare-drum rolls, gliding on his ride cymbal and finally delivering drum breaks that exploded with a presence no British drummer has achieved on record before or since.

The Sound Of '65 also contained 'Oh Baby', Baker's club circuit showcase, when Graham invariably introduced him as "Europe's greatest drummer". Ginger's solo on the number commenced on snare drum (tuned high with the snares off) and tom-toms (tuned low). He set up a Latin-based rhythm and created a flawless solo which reached its climax in thunderous fashion, the bass drum pulsing through with previously unheard-of violence. Ginger insisted on getting as lively a sound as possible in the studio at a time when most engineers tried to keep drums buried in booths and blankets. It was this stubbornness that undoubtedly helped win the drummer his rightful place in rock recording and shaped the future of the music; his emphasis on the 'big beat' reached its apogee in heavy metal.

The commercial failure of The Sound Of '65 led to the break-up of the Bond Organisation and the subsequent formation of Cream in 1966. Thenceforth Ginger was allowed full rein, and his solo on 'Toad' became one of the group's highlights. The first recording of 'Toad' was a relatively short affair on the trio's debut album Fresh Cream. Ginger had, by now, worked out his 'story-lines' to maximize interest, although they became stretched on the more self-indulgent version of 'Toad' on the 'live' segment of the Wheels Of Fire double LP.

But the latter was the solo which turned on thousands of young kids. Virtually all the top drummers in rock today will confirm how inspired they were by the vision of Baker, head down and long hair flowing, as his sticks flashed across his array of tom-toms, accompanied by the roar of the crowd and the thundering boom of the player's double bass drums.

During his years on the road with Cream, and later Blind Faith and Airforce (the huge group that included his old mentor Phil Seamen), much of the sharpness and invention in Ginger's playing began to erode. His lifestyle, intensified by success, riches and drugs wore him down, and he experienced a steady musical decline. Curiously, a trip to Africa – the source of inspiration for so many drummers – only served to introduce an uncharacteristic sloppiness into his playing.

He modernized and updated his style and renewed his vigour for a 1975 comeback with the hard rock outfit Baker-Gurvitz Army. After a period of retirement to concentrate on playing polo, he returned to the music business with a new band, Energy, in 1979. A couple of groups later, he retired to live and teach in Italy. He can look around at a music scene that has learned and benefited from his example – all the way from the Mahavishnu Orchestra to Adam and the Ants.

‘Nobody can replace Cream’ — Ginger Baker Beat Instrumental, Apr 1972

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It seems that it’s not only the record-buying public that consider Ginger Baker to be the world’s top drummer. "I haven’t ever heard anybody who’d cause me any worry," said the man himself. "The only time I did begin to worry was when I walked into a club and heard an album playing with a drummer who I thought was incredible. Then I found out it was me." All this was said without any trace of a smile across his sunken cheeks.

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"I’ve heard a lot of people copy me but it just didn’t flow with them," he continued, always seeming to find something to distract his attention when a question was answered. He fiddled around with a slide viewer and slotted in some shots taken of himself and his new protégé, Fela Ransome-Kuti. He mumbled something about the fact that he was only interested in seeing the ones of himself anyway.

"There aren’t many drummers who can do a drum solo and excite the audience," he said, peering into the viewer. "When I do a solo I’m very conscious of the audience. At some point or other the audience turn me on. Eventually the audience plays the drums through me – what the audience wants comes out."

After a while Ginger seemed to relax and began talking about his early days. "I was just very lucky," he explained when I asked him where his talent was derived. "The first time I ever sat down at a drum kit I could play it. I played my first gig after five weeks! That was with the Storeyville Jazzmen – I told them I’d been playing for three years and they believed me. After that I joined Terry Lightfoot’s band which was a trad jazz outfit."

The story in between is well known by now but for today’s generation I knew that it was his role in Cream that he’s missed for. I asked him whether he’d ever heard Grand Funk, one of the groups that took advantage of the vacuum created by the Cream break up. He answered in a negative, and in such a way that I knew it was going to remain that way unless he accidentally walked into a room where E. Pluribus Funk was blaring.

Ginger doesn’t think it’s possible to replace Cream. "I don’t think anybody ever will," he says. "Cream were three excellent musicians who, for a period of time, worked so together. There was a sort of ESP between us." Did the ESP vanish? Was that why Cream fell apart? Ginger didn’t want to say. He feels that enough has been said about that subject. "No one will ever replace the Beatles. Cream played Cream. Beatles played Beatles. It’s that individuality and originality that made it popular."

One thing that he was most persistent about was the fact that I was not to put a tag onto his music. In fact, I couldn’t even call Cream a rock group. "We were always having rows with reporters because they wanted to name it," he explained to me. "I’ve never put a name to music. You play yourself. I just play what feels natural for me to play. If music is enjoyed by the people then I’m happy. It was just our music." Hasn’t he got any influences then? "I’ve got about two million influences," he answered.

He now intends to get a band together by this autumn. The difference between this band and his previous set-ups will be that the musicians all be reading music. "It will be a case of people playing what I feel’, he said. The stimulation behind all this is that he’s just completed a film with Tony Palmer for which he did the musical score. "It has been ten years since I’ve actually written music and I began to enjoy it again," he said.

He’s also been involved in the building of The Ginger Baker Studios in Lagos, Nigeria. I had been under the impression that this was soley for use by local musicians but Ginger stepped in and corrected me. "Anybody can record there. I’m hoping to fly out a few friends. It’s right next to the airport." All the equipment will be custom made by Dick Sweatenhan of Helios Electronics at Teddington. The studio itself was designed by Sandy Brown.

Although he’s busy constantly he considers himself to be relaxed at the same time. He rarely listens to records and never practices. "I think that if I was to practise I would frighten the life out of everybody," he told me. "I can play things that are impossible to most people now and I haven’t practiced for six years! If I did practise I’d be playing impossible time things. Technically I’d become far more involved. I can play with the technique I have now."

"My practise is playing now. When, I play, I play something I’ve never used before." He even went as far as to say that a lot of people who practise and then play, very often fall down on gigs because of this. They become proficient on their own but aren’t able to play off the musicians they’re working with.

Towards the end of the interview Ginger told me that he had to break it off now. He’s got to go somewhere with Fela Ransome-Kuti. It’s to do with the African film. The situation reminded me somewhat of a quote I’d taken down from him earlier on: "It’s my life. It’s my laugh too. I don’t like staying in one place too long."

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Top Albums

Disraeli Gears cover art

Disraeli Gears

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The Very Best Of Cream cover art

The Very Best Of Cream

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Fresh Cream cover art

Fresh Cream

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The Cream Of Clapton cover art

The Cream Of Clapton

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Disraeli Gears (Remastered) cover art

Disraeli Gears (Remastered)

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Top Songs

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Sunshine of Your Love

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White Room cover art

White Room

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I Feel Free

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Strange Brew cover art

Strange Brew

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Tales of Brave Ulysses cover art

Tales of Brave Ulysses

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Badge cover art

Badge

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SWLABR

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Cocaine by Eric Clapton

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