We at The Niche would like to salute the wild-eyed redhead percussion destroyer known as Ginger Baker by offering up our favorite five Baker performances. It was tough to limit this to five, but hey man the nature of the internet is ruthless and we’re already late getting this up and surely some other ’60s-era fave will cross over any day now and take away all those sweet, sweet clicks. So here they are, covering the classic rawwwkk bangers you know and have become bored with, Cream and Blind Faith deep cuts and hymns, and even a much-needed sprinkle of Hawkwind. Enjoy, and salute to a real deal rock madman born with the gift of time.
Presence Of The Lord, Blind Faith
Much like his fellow psych era percussion caveman slash rival John Bonham, Ginger was never known for having a light touch. But this doesn’t mean he couldn’t be gentle, and Mr. Baker clearly feels a lot of affection for this Clapton junkie Christian lament, filling in the hymn’s outer contours with heavily reverbed rolling fills that somehow sound like church bells collapsing in on themselves. Dramatic for sure, but never intrusive, POTL is a fine example of Baker toeing the line and serving the song.
White Room, Cream
Simply immortal. Talk all you want about EC’s nuclear era blues updates and Jack Bruce’s butch bellowing, but without that martial beat from Ginger this would have just been a deep cut on Wheels Of Fire and not the ruler of Classic FM it has been for the past four-plus decades. Baker is so locked in here, so four-to-the-floor, that you can envision that thousand-yard biker speed glare just trying to write about it.
- Motor Way City, Hawkwind
The late ’70s pairing of Ginger Baker and the greatest band that has ever existed, Hawkind, hasn’t been praised or examined nearly enough. The one record produced from this batshit pairing, Levitation, is deliciously fantastic all the way through, with the best Ginger performance being the fierce “Motor Way City”. See, it was very tough for card carrying idealist hippies to make the jump to the the nihilist realms of punk, with many falling flat on their bellbottoms attempting to sneer in the mirror, but two certain old dinosaurs, The Hawk Enterprise and Mr. Baker, seem to have absolutely no trouble here. This track burns so black and dystopian if you didn’t know who was playing it you’d think it was a Damned outtake, and Ginger really seems to connect and lock in with this two-chord rager in a way he hadn’t since the days of Cream and Blind Faith. As a matter of fact, I’m just gonna’ go ahead and leave the whole album below. Critic snobs will never get this, but Hawkwind brought out the absolute best in Ginger Baker.
- Sunshine Of Your Love, Cream
For as much as Baker babbled in interviews about jazz structures and keeping time, there’s just nothing like GB in full beast mode like we get on the chorus of this flower power classic. Check out how dude just ditches the rhythm entirely and starts pounding in echo to Bruce’s words…”I’ve” BANG “been” BANG “wait-” BANG “-ing” BANG “so” BANG “lo-ong” BANG BANG. If this wasn’t improvisational, then I’ll just continue believing it was. One thing is for sure though: Here is Ginger Baker once again just shamelessly stealing the whole show on yet another monster Cream hit.
We kicked off the list with a gentle Baker performance, so let’s end it with a bit of the old ultra violence, shall we? Coming at you straight off the crunching middle stretch of Fresh Cream, this AOR relic may be just another white boi blooze dirge, but while Clapton and Bruce seem to be going through the 12-bar motions, Baker is dangerously alive on this thing. The violence on display here is gleeful and palpable, not Keith Moon cartoonish in any way. It’s always been tough for rock music to sound truly dangerous, ever since Ricky Nelson smoothed over its tough greaser edges in the ’50s, but Baker comes thrillingly close here. These beats sound like he was smashing his kit to shards with large mallets then jumping up and down on the debris. Dude sounds like he HATES those drums, like they abandoned him as a child or tried to sleep with his wife. There’s no reverence in his playing, no feel or nuance, just sheer droog-style destruction for the sheer thrill of it. There’s no way that drum kit survived this session. You almost have to feel sorry for the poor thing, undergoing such a savage and relentless attack on this lesser known Cream track. Clapton himself sounds timid and frail, like a man playing a clarinet in the midst of a battlefield. And that tremble in Bruce’s voice on the last verse? It was most likely fear.