Ginger Baker didn’t know he was a drummer
Cream icon Ginger Baker didn’t want to be a drummer when he was young – he wanted to be a professional cyclist.
But when he crashed and wrecked his bike, his need for a job led him to music. And he got his first paid gig with a modified toy drumkit.
Baker tells the Calgary Herald: “I was obsessed with the idea of being a cyclist when I was a kid, and I rode everywhere. One day I had a smash-up and the bike was a write-off.
“I had to earn some money, and this mate of mine said, ‘Why don’t you play drums?’ It’s funny – they all knew I was a drummer, and I didn’t. I was always beating rhythms when I went to jazz gigs, which I did a lot. Anyway, I went along, they sat me down at the kit, and I just did it.”
He remembers his mum wouldn’t buy him any drums, so he was forced to improvise when he went for an audition. “I bought a toy drum kit and sort of worked on it,” he explains. “I cut up my tent to put a front head on the bass drum, added a biscuit tin to one of the tom-toms, and took this kit with me to Leytonstone, and got the gig.
“I told them I’d been playing professionally for three years, and my normal kit was busted.”
Baker has returned to the UK after losing his South African estate in a legal battle. He’s the subject of acclaimed 2012 documentary movie Beware Of Mr Baker, featuring the memorable scene in which he attacks director Jay Bulger and breaks his nose.
Earlier this year producer Rick Rubin revealed he’d suggested the 73-year-old as Bill Ward’s replacement in Black Sabbath, but the band vetoed the idea. Baker still rails against the suggestion he’s a rock musician. “I hate rock music – it’s so banal. I’m a jazz drummer,” he says.
“You have to swing. There are hardly any rock drummers I know who can do that. People go on about how many beats I put down, but it’s not how many beats you play, it’s where you place them. It’s all about listening, and it’s all about improvising, responding to what’s going on around you.”