Baker began playing drums at age 15 around 1954, and later took lessons from Phil Seamen. In the 1960s, he joined Blues Incorporated, where he met bassist Jack Bruce. The two clashed often, but would be rhythm section partners again in the Graham Bond Organisation and Cream, the latter of which Baker co-founded with Eric Clapton in 1966. Cream achieved worldwide success but only lasted until 1968, in part due to Baker's and Bruce's volatile relationship. After briefly working with Clapton in Blind Faith and leading Ginger Baker's Air Force, Baker spent several years in the 1970s living and recording in Africa, often with Fela Kuti, in pursuit of his long-time interest in African music. Among Baker's other collaborations are his work with Gary Moore, Masters of Reality, Public Image Ltd, Atomic Rooster, Bill Laswell, jazz bassist Charlie Haden, jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, and another personally led effort, Ginger Baker's Energy.
Baker's drumming attracted attention for his style, showmanship, and use of two bass drums instead of the conventional one. In his early days, he performed lengthy drum solos, most notably in the Cream song "Toad", one of the earliest recorded examples in rock music.
Baker was born in Lewisham, south London. His mother worked in a tobacco shop; his father, Frederick Louvain Formidable Baker, was a bricklayer and Lance Corporal in the Royal Corps of Signals in WWII who died in the 1943 Dodecanese Campaign.
An athletic child, Baker began playing drums at about 15 years old as an outlet for his restless energy. In the early 1960s he took lessons from Phil Seamen, one of the leading British jazz drummers of the post-war era. He gained early fame as a member of the Graham Bond Organisation with future Cream bandmate Jack Bruce. The Graham Bond Organisation was an R&B/blues group with strong jazz leanings.
Baker founded the rock band Cream in 1966 with Jack Bruce and guitarist Eric Clapton. A fusion of blues, psychedelic rock and hard rock, the band released four albums in a little over two years before breaking up in 1968.
Baker then joined the short-lived "supergroup" Blind Faith, composed of Clapton, bassist Ric Grech, and Steve Winwood, who was nine years younger than Baker, on keyboards and vocals. They only released one album before breaking up.
In 1970 Baker formed, toured and recorded with fusion rock group Ginger Baker's Air Force.
Baker lived in Nigeria from 1970 until 1976. He sat in for Fela Kuti during recording sessions in 1971 released by Regal Zonophone as Live! (1971)' Fela also appeared with Ginger Baker on Stratavarious (1972) alongside Bobby Gass, a pseudonym for Bobby Tench from the Jeff Beck Group. Stratavarious was later re-issued as part of the compilation Do What You Like. Baker formed Baker Gurvitz Army in 1974 and recorded three albums with them before the band broke up in 1976.
In the early 1980s, Baker joined Hawkwind for an album and tour, and in the mid-1980s was part of John Lydon's Public Image Ltd., the latter leading to occasional collaborations with bassist/producer Bill Laswell.
In 1992 Baker played with the hard-rock group Masters of Reality with bassist Googe and singer/guitarist Chris Goss on the album Sunrise on the Sufferbus. The album received critical acclaim but sold fewer than 10,000 copies.
Baker lived in Parker, Colorado, a rural commuter town at the southeastern corner of the Denver Metropolitan Area, between 1993 and 1999, in part due to his passion for polo. Baker not only participated in polo events at the Salisbury Equestrian Park, but he also sponsored an ongoing series of jam sessions and concerts at the equestrian centre on weekends.
In 1994, he formed The Ginger Baker Trio with bassist Charlie Haden and guitarist Bill Frisell. He also joined BBM, a short-lived power trio with the line-up of Baker, Jack Bruce and Irish blues rock guitarist Gary Moore.
On 3 May 2005, Baker reunited with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce for a series of Cream concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and Madison Square Garden. The London concerts were recorded and released as Royal Albert Hall London May 2–3–5–6 2005 (2005), In a Rolling Stone article written in 2009, Bruce is quoted as saying: "It's a knife-edge thing between me and Ginger. Nowadays, we're happily co-existing in different continents [Bruce, who died in 2014, lived in Britain, Baker in South Africa] ... although I was thinking of asking him to move. He's still a bit too close".
In 2008 a bank clerk, Lindiwe Noko, was charged with defrauding him of almost half a million Rand ($60,000). Baker said he had hired Noko as a personal assistant, paying her £7 per day (about 100 Rand) for performing various errands, and alleged she used this position to uncover his private banking information and make unauthorized withdrawals. Noko claimed that the money was a gift after she and Baker became lovers. Baker replied, "I've a scar that only a woman who had a thing with me would know. It's there and she doesn't know it's there". Noko pled not guilty, but was convicted of fraud and in October 2010 was sentenced to three years of "correctional supervision," a type of community service. Baker responded to the sentence as "a travesty".
Baker's autobiography Hellraiser was published in 2009.
Throughout 2013 and 2014, Baker toured with the Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion, a quartet comprising Baker, saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, bassist Alec Dankworth and percussionist Abass Dodoo.
In 2014, Baker signed with record label Motéma Music to release a new jazz album. The album, Why?, was released in May 2014 and featured the aforementioned quartet.
In February 2016, Baker announced he had been diagnosed with "serious heart issues" and cancelled all future gigs until further notice. Writing on his blog, he said, "Just seen doctor... big shock... no more gigs for this old drummer... everything is off... of all things I never thought it would be my heart..." Little is known about Baker's sudden and serious illness. In late March 2016, it was revealed that Baker is now set for pioneering treatment after explaining: "There are two options for surgery and, depending on how strong my old lungs are, they may do both." He added: "Cardiologist is brilliant. Yesterday he inserted a tube into the artery at my right wrist and fed it all the way to my heart – quite an experience. He was taking pictures of my heart from inside – amazing technology... He says he's going to get me playing again! Thanks all for your support." The heart operation was done in July 2016 with Baker reported to be on the road to recovery.
Ginger Baker in Africa (1971) documents Baker's drive from Algeria to Nigeria (across the Sahara desert by Range Rover), where in the capital, Lagos, he sets up a recording studio and jams with Fela Kuti.
In 2012, the documentary film Beware of Mr. Baker of Ginger Baker's life by Jay Bulger had its world premiere at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas where it won the grand jury award for best documentary feature. It received its UK premiere on BBC One on 7 July 2015 as part of the channel's Imagine series.
Baker cited Phil Seamen, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones and Baby Dodds as main influences on his style. Although he is generally considered a pupil of Phil Seamen, Baker stated that he is largely self-taught and he only played some exercises with Seamen.
Baker's early performance attracted attention for both his musicality and showmanship. While he became famous during his time with Cream for his wild, unpredictable, and flamboyant performances that were often viewed in a vein similar to that of Keith Moon from the Who, Baker has also frequently employed a much more restrained and straightforward performance style influenced by the British jazz groups he heard during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Although he is usually categorized as a "rock drummer," Baker himself prefers to be viewed as a jazz drummer, or as just "a drummer."
Baker was a pioneer of double bass drumming in rock and roll music and he started to adopt two bass drums after watching Sam Woodyard at a Duke Ellington concert. Baker is primarily a matched grip player and prefers a light, thin, fast-rebounding drum stick (size 7A). Baker's playing makes use of syncopation and ride cymbal patterns characteristic of bebop and other advanced forms of jazz, as well as the frequent application of African rhythms. He frequently employs differing timbres and colours in his percussive work, using a variety of other percussion instruments in addition to the standard drum kit.
In his early days, he developed what would later become the archetypal rock drum solo, with the best known example being the five-minute-long "Toad" from Cream's debut album Fresh Cream (1966). Baker was one of the first drummers to move his left foot between his left bass drum pedal and hi-hat pedal to create various combinations. Somewhat atypically, Baker mounts all of the tom toms on his drum kit in a vertical fashion, with the shells of the drums perpendicular to the floor - as opposed to the more common practice of angling the rack toms toward the player.
Baker's style influenced many drummers, including John Bonham, Peter Criss, Neil Peart, Stewart Copeland, Ian Paice, Terry Bozzio, Dave Lombardo, Tommy Aldridge, Bill Bruford, Alex Van Halen, Danny Seraphine and Nick Mason.
Modern Drummer magazine has described him as "one of classic rock's first influential drumming superstars of the 1960s" and "one of classic rock's true drum gods". AllMusic has described him as "the most influential percussionist of the 1960s" and stated that "virtually every drummer of every heavy metal band that has followed since that time has sought to emulate some aspect of Baker's playing". Although he is widely considered a pioneer of heavy metal drumming, Baker has expressed his repugnance for the genre.
Drum! magazine listed Baker among the "50 Most Important Drummers of All Time" and has defined him as "one of the most imitated '60s drummers", stating also that "he forever changed the face of rock music". He was voted the ninth greatest drummer of all time in a Rolling Stone reader poll and has been considered the "drummer who practically invented the rock drum solo". In 2016, he was ranked 3rd on Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Drummers of All Time".
According to author and columnist Ken Micallef in his book Classic Rock Drummers: "the pantheon of contemporary drummers from metal, fusion, and rock owe their very existence to Baker's trailblazing work with Cream".
Neil Peart has said: "His playing was revolutionary – extrovert, primal and inventive. He set the bar for what rock drumming could be. [...] Every rock drummer since has been influenced in some way by Ginger – even if they don't know it".
He has been married four times and has fathered three children. Baker and his wife, Liz Finch, had their first child, Ginette Karen, on 20 December 1960. Baker's second daughter, Leda, was born 20 February 1968. Baker's son Kofi Streatfield Baker was born in March 1969 and named for a friend of Baker's, a Ghanaian drummer named Kofi Ghanaba. In February 2013 Baker said he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease from years of heavy smoking, and chronic back pain from degenerative osteoarthritis. In June 2016 it was reported he was recovering from open heart surgery, but had also suffered a bad fall which caused swollen legs and feet.Storyville Re-Visited (1958) also featuring Bob Wallis and Ginger Baker
Alexis Korner and Friends (1963)
Live at Klooks Kleek (1964)
The Sound of '65 (1965)
There's a Bond Between Us (1965)
Fresh Cream Polydor (1966)
Disraeli Gears Polydor (1967)
Wheels of Fire Polydor (1968)
Goodbye Polydor (1969)
Live Cream Polydor (1970)
Live Cream Volume II Polydor (1972)
BBC Sessions (2003)
Royal Albert Hall London, 2–3 and 5–6 May 2005 Reprise (2005)
Blind Faith Polydor (1969)
Ginger Baker's Air Force Atco (1970)
Ginger Baker's Air Force II Atco (1970)
Baker Gurvitz Army Janus (1974)
Elysian Encounter Atco (1975)
Hearts on Fire Atco (1976)
Flying in and Out of Stardom Castle (2003)
Greatest Hits GB Music (2003)
Live in Derby Major league productions (2005)
Live Revisited (2005)
Ginger Baker at His Best (1972)
Stratavarious Polydor (1972)
Ginger Baker & Friends Mountain (1976)
Eleven Sides of Baker Sire (1977)
From Humble Oranges CDG (1983)
Horses & Trees Celluloid (1986)
No Material live album ITM (1989)
Middle Passage Axiom (1990)
Unseen Rain Day Eight (1992)
Ginger Baker's Energy ITM (1992)
Going Back Home Atlantic (1994)
Ginger Baker The Album ITM (1995)
Falling Off the Roof Atlantic (1995)
Do What You Like Polydor (1998)
Coward of the County Atlantic (1999)
African Force (2001)
African Force: Palanquin's Pole (2006)
With Fela KutiFela's London Scene (EMI, 1971) – uncredited
Why Black Man Dey Suffer (African Sounds, 1971)
Live! (Regal Zonophone Records, 1972)
Levitation by Hawkwind, Bronze (1980)
Zones by Hawkwind, Flicknife (1983)
This Is Hawkwind, Do Not Panic by Hawkwind, Flicknife (1984)
Album by Public Image Ltd, Elektra/Virgin (1986)
Unseen Rain with Jens Johansson and Jonas Hellborg, Day Eight (1992)
Sunrise on the Sufferbus by Masters of Reality, Chrysalis (1992)
"Cities of the Heart" by Jack Bruce, CMP Records (1993)
Around the Next Dream by BBM, Capitol (1994)
Synaesthesia by Andy Summers, CMP Records (1996)
Coward of the County by Ginger Baker and the Denver Jazz Quintet-to-Octet (DJQ2O), Atlantic (1999)
Baker's current kit is made by Drum Workshop. He used Ludwig drums until the late 1990s. All of his cymbals are made by Zildjian; the 22" rivet ride cymbal and the 14" hi-hats he currently uses are the same ones he used during the last two Cream tours in 1968.1960s
20" × 14" Bass (right foot)
22" × 14" Bass (left foot)
12×8" & 13×9" top toms
14×14" & 16×14" floor toms
1940s 6.5" × 14" black finished Leedy Broadway wood Snare
Snare tuned high, toms and bass tuned low
In May 1968 Baker purchased a new Ludwig drum kit with 20" × 14" and 22" × 14" bass drums, a 14" × 5" metal Super-Sensitive snare and the same-sized toms for Cream's farewell tour.Current drums
10" × 8", 12" × 9", 13" × 10", 14" × 12", Toms on front rack stands
20" × 14" & 22" × 14" Bass Drums
13" × 5.5" DW Craviotto Snare
14" × 6.5" Leedy Snare (Spare)
DW 5000 Accelerator Bass Drum Pedals
4 DW cymbal stands
1 DW 5000 Hi-hat Stand
1 DW Snare Stand
Zildjian Ginger Baker 7A sticks
1963–present made by Zildjian1960s
16" crash left upper
13" crash left lower
14" hi-hats left
20" ride right front lower
14" crash right front upper
22" rivet crash/ride right back upper
18" crash right back lower
8" which Ginger once called a "joke effect" splash right of middle
16" K Dark Medium Thin Crash
14" A New Beat Hi-hats
8" A Splash
8" A Fast Splash
10" A Splash
8" A Splash
13" Top A Mastersound Hat
22" A Series Medium Ride Rivet Ride
18" A China Low
18" A Medium Crash
Cow bells front right