As reported by Pitchfork, influential rock drummer Ginger Baker—best known for his time with Cream—has died. Baker’s death was confirmed by his family through his official Twitter account, thanking fans for their “kind words” over the last few weeks. Baker’s family had previously announced that he was “critically ill” late last month, and Pitchfork notes that he had undergone open heart surgery in 2016. Baker was 80.
Baker is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most iconic rock drummers of the ‘60s, if not all time, with his style being particularly influential to heavy metal and hard rock, and he’s also credited with largely inventing the idea of a drum solo. That’s partially thanks to his memorable five-minute run on “Toad,” which appeared on Cream’s debut album Fresh Cream. That all being said, Baker pushed back against the metal and even rock labels.
Baker, who was born Peter Edward Baker in London in 1939, started playing drums as a teenager and learned from jazz musician Phil Seamen. He met bassist Jack Bruce when they were both members of British blues group The Graham Bond Organisation. In 1966, Baker and Bruce teamed up with guitarist Eric Clapton—who had played with Bruce in a band called John Mayall And The Bluesbreakers and already had a reputation for being one of the best guitarists around—to form psychedelic supergroup Cream.
Cream recorded four albums in only two years, popularizing blues-inspired rock music and the use of distortion, laying the groundwork for future bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Rush, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Unfortunately, the increasingly volatile relationships between the band members—especially Baker and Bruce—made their constant touring and one-upmanship more and more antagonistic, leading to Cream breaking up in 1968. Baker and Clapton stayed together, forming another short-lived supergroup with Ric Grech and Steve Winwood called Blind Faith. That band broke up after one album, but Baker, Grech, and Winwood stuck around for the more jazz-leaning group Ginger Baker’s Air Force.
In the ‘70s, Baker moved to Africa and established a recording studio in Nigeria, with Paul McCarthney and Wings recording Band On The Run there. Later, Baker continued to team up with other musicians here and there to assemble other supergroups, and Cream even reunited a handful of times (once for induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993 and later for a few shows in 2005).
In 2012, filmmaker Jay Bulger released Beware Of Mr. Baker, a documentary about the legendary drummer that focused just as much on his infamously abrasive personality and temper as it did his actual career (Baker and Jack Bruce may have only spent a few years playing together, but rock fans know countless stories of their various physical fights). Bruce died in 2014, leaving Clapton as the only surviving member of Cream.