Hello MD readers! A tribute to a drummer by a lead guitarist? Whoever heard of such a thing? But this was no ordinary lead guitarist and no ordinary drummer either—they were legends Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker, who along with the late great Jack Bruce on bass, had taken the world by storm as Cream in their short but mighty tenure from 1966-68. In fact, on their final US tour in 1968, they broke the box office records formerly held by the Beatles.
Ginger and Eric went on to form the short-lived but iconic super-group Blind Faith before a parting of musical ways. They reconvened for Cream’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and the sell-out Cream reunion shows in London and NYC in 2005.
Yet these two men maintained a life-long friendship out of the public eye that lasted right up to the end. In London’s prestigious Hammersmith Eventim Apollo on February 17, musical roots and a deep bond were celebrated. “I loved him and he loved me,” said Eric in his moving introduction. No less than four drumkits waited on stage, as if the ghost of Ginger was daring all comers! There were three smart Yamahas, the one far right catching the lights with a deep gold glitter. Far left sat a silver sparkle Ludwig, built by Bill Ludwig III in the same style as Ginger’s original Cream kit, the double kicks spelling Kofi Baker in black lettering, identical in style to the 1966 kit of his dad Ginger.
Anticipation was high, applause rang out, and drums were on our minds as Eric introduced Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters on bass. Then drummers Sonny Emory and Steve Gadd sat at the two middle kits and masterfully held down the heavy swing of “Sunshine of Your Love.” With flashes of smiles were they remembering Ginger’s words of how he “slowed it down and played it backwards” and so “made the song?”
Gasps at hearing “Strange Brew” live along with Roger on bass then expanded to a roar as Ronnie Wood strolled on. (I well remember being in Eric’s Surrey, UK kitchen in the mid-’70s, and seeing Ronnie clowning around.) Then taking a seat at the gold sparkle kit was none other than Ronnie’s former bandmate and Ginger’s friend from music and polo worlds, Kenney Jones, as they swung into “White Room.”
Backing singers Sharon White and Katie Kissoon were supplemented by Chris Stainton on keys and then by the mighty Paul Carrack lending voice and keys to “I Feel Free,” “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” and “Sweet Wine,” joined by Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Will Johns (son of Pattie Boyd’s sister Paula and producer Andy Johns) on guitars. With Willie Weeks on bass and Sonny and Steve behind him, Eric teased out the moving blues tones of Ginger’s Disraeli Gears arrangement “Blue Condition.” Henri Spinetti then came in as drummer four to back Eric and Ronnie on the big crowd pleaser “Badge.”
Next entered Ginger’s son Kofi (born in 1969, just as his dad was recording in Abbey Road studios with George Harrison) to give us a “Pressed Rat and Warthog” that sure did swing and the crowd couldn’t get enough of. As it’s 1969, this heralds Blind Faith and the entrance of Ginger’s beloved friend Steve Winwood (giving a sign that Kofi should come back on) for “Had to Cry Today,” “Presence of the Lord,” (a big Ginger favourite), and “Can’t Find My Way Home,” all with Nile Rodgers.
By then Kofi was on as the Ginger Baker arrangement “Do What You Like” morphed into Kofi’s solo of the iconic “Toad” to honour his dad. As Kofi said, “Originally, timing was tight, so we’d agreed to a five minute solo, but once I was playing, Eric said it was fine to go on a bit longer. Usually my solos are twenty minutes, so I felt I rushed a bit.” He need not have worried—with the ghost of his dad playing on the screen behind him, the audience was wowed and moved. It was a big talking point after the show, and it meant so much to all the fans.
It’s hard to convey the atmosphere of the night as anticipation gave way to the certainty that this was a very historic occasion, not forgetting that the proceeds of the night went to the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, where Ginger’s only grandchild Zara works.
After the standing ovation, all five drummers and all the musicians took to the stage for “Crossroads” that fully encapsulated all the love in the house for Ginger—legend, musician, drummer, jazzer, dad, and special friend. Thank you Eric Clapton, and as the great drummer himself would say, “God Bless.”
Watch “Badge” from A Tribute to Ginger Baker Eventim Apollo here
Watch Kofi Baker drum solo here
Check out the books Hellraiser, Tales of a Rock Star’s Daughter, More Tales of a Rock Star’s Daughter, and Full Cream, at Amazon and/or via the shop at https://www.wymeruk.co.uk/webshop/books/rock/cream/.
Photos by George Chin