BY BRAD SCHLUETER
It’s difficult to fully convey the importance of Ginger Baker’s output during the ’60s with Cream and later with Blind Faith. He wasn’t just one of the greatest drummers of his era — he forever changed the face of rock music. Baker’s love of jazz brought an improvisational flavor to rock drumming that was unheard of during the early ’60s with the likes of Ringo and Charlie. To be fair, so did Baker’s contemporary, Mitch Mitchell, with Jimi Hendrix. But Baker also integrated his appreciation of African music and heavy use of toms, which introduced a tribal element to rock that still lingers to this day. He has played with a wide variety of rock and jazz artists over the years, as well as releasing a number of albums as a solo artist, but the following examples of his drumming in the ’60s demonstrate his ongoing influence.
“Spoonful” from Fresh Cream
On Cream’s song “Spoonful,” we hear Baker imply a slow jazz groove over this blues classic. He breaks up his cymbal pattern and punctuates his kicks with his bass drum, though as is characteristic of a lot of recordings from the era, it’s a little hard to make out the bass drum at times. Sometimes the incomplete sounding fills, where he pauses just before an accent, like in the first measure of the fourth line, add even more impact to the following note.
“Strange Brew” from Disraeli Gears
The simple boogaloo drum groove on this classic song is just as popular today as it was then. The main differences are the seemingly random variations and the heavy dose of swing Baker adds to his groove.
“Sunshine Of Your Love” from Disraeli Gears
Cream’s biggest hit helped the band rise to the top of the charts. The groove was actually suggested by famed producer Tom Dowd and is Ginger’s variation on a traditional Native American tribal pattern. Unfortunately, the bass drum and floor tom are often indistinguishable on the recording. But after watching a couple of videos of Baker playing the pattern, we were able to shed light on how he actually played it.
For this song Baker plays a cool variation on the Motown groove, with quarter-notes on the snare and bass drum notes that punctuate the guitar riff, while opening the hi-hat on the & of 4. Make note of this funky groove. Every blues guitarist knows this song and, sooner or later, you’ll have to play it. The guitar solo features a boogaloo hand pattern played on top of eighth-notes on the bass drum. Baker throws a snare variation in the last measure that functions as a fill.
“Tales Of Brave Ulysses” from Disraeli Gears
This great but largely forgotten tune by Cream is heavy on vibe, and Baker sets the mood with rising and falling tom and cymbals rolls until his sudden flam entrance. This tune also showcases Baker’s talent for creating dramatic triplet fills around his large kit. He plays his signature “Sunshine Of Your Love” groove in the sixth line, complete with flams on his mounted toms to build into the full measure sextuplet fill near the end of the transcription.
“White Room” from Wheels Of Fire
If you were a percussion nerd in high school band like I was, the timpani intro to “White Room” may remind you of Gustav Holst’s Mars, since both are in 5/4 (even though the rhythms are slightly different). This is another great song by Cream, and Baker’s dramatic intro flam and swinging boogaloo beat helped make the song a classic.
“Had To Cry Today” from Blind Faith
The intro of this song has a funky groove and cool tom fills that perfectly set up the vocal. Baker missed his first tom note, striking the rim instead — just the sort of human moment that would be quickly corrected in our Pro Tools era. It’s probably just a matter of time until robots can play the drums.
“Do What You Like” from Blind Faith
This 15 minute long, 5/4 song was written by Baker and features a prominent ride and hi-hat at the intro with barely audible tom notes. A few measures later, he accents the bridge with his toms more loudly, foreshadowing things to come, and plays a slightly more consistent pattern in the bass solo. For the first eight bars of the drum solo, Baker drops syncopated kick and snare bombs just as any jazz drummer would. He later enters into the tribal tom solo, a very small portion of which is included here.