The drummer Ginger Baker has ‘passed away peacefully’. Life is never fair. In a just world, Baker would have passed away noisily, amid a cacophony of bangs and crashes.
Ginger Baker, most famous for being the drummer with Cream, is widely credited with the popularisation of the drum solo.
Until Baker came along, drummers had been retiring figures, employed to sit behind their kits at the back of the stage and help the others keep time.
They were the Mr Carsons of the music world, salt-of-the- earth types, trusted by the flashy grandees on vocals and guitars to ensure their lives ran smoothly.
Ginger Baker – who has died aged 80 – was considered one of the most innovative and influential drummers of all time
The typical drummer seldom glanced up or smiled. Instead, he would look bored and perhaps even slightly grumpy, as if he had just been informed that his train was delayed by an hour.
The other members of the group might josh about but they would never bother to include the drummer in their banter. He was more like a hired help. Only the group’s accountant, and perhaps one or two obsessive fans, would be able to tell you his name.
Ginger Baker changed all that. He sat behind great mountains of bass drums and snare drums and cymbals and chimes and handbells and tom-toms and bongos and gongs, and made as much noise as he possibly could.
Before long, other drummers followed suit. They were no longer prepared to be the faceless proletariat, banging and thumping away in obscurity while others enjoyed the fruits of their labour.
It called to mind the Peasants’ Revolt. From now on, the workers would take centre-stage, and command their fair share of applause and adulation.
Needless to say, all social revolutions have unintended consequences. In this case, it was more nightmarish than anyone could possibly have imagined.
No one had heard the horror coming, and, once it came, no one could stop the horror being heard. I am talking, of course, about the drum solo.
Born in south-east London Baker (centre) taught himself drumming and found global fame and fortune with ‘supergroup’ Cream alongside Eric Clapton (left) and Jack Bruce (right)
Bang! Crash! Wallop! Bang! Splat! Crunch! Bang! Crash! Words cannot do justice to the full unstoppable misery of the drum solo, generally delivered three-quarters of the way through a set, giving the rest of the band the chance to go off-stage, insert their ear-plugs and enjoy a bit of a lie-down.
In the heyday of drum solos in the late Sixties and early Seventies, they grew longer and longer, with each drummer trying to out-bang his rivals.
Needless to say, Ginger Baker led the way, with a drum solo on Cream’s album Wheels Of Fire lasting a full 12 minutes. Twelve minutes! At the time, music critics called it a masterpiece. Today it sounds more like a migraine.
Baker was soon out-distanced by John Bonham, the drummer with Led Zeppelin, who clocked up a 17-minute drum solo on Moby Dick.
How times had changed: Ringo Starr’s only drum solo with The Beatles, on their song The End on Abbey Road, lasts just 15 seconds. One of the reasons why Ringo Starr was the perfect drummer for The Beatles is that he never sought to elbow his way centre-stage.
‘I am the foundation, and then I put a bit of a glow here and there,’ was how he defined his role.
Perhaps that’s why he’s still going strong. Prolonged time in the spotlight seems to have had a strange psychological effect on many drummers.
Baker grew increasingly aggressive and paranoid. Even after Keith Moon of The Who had smashed up his drum kit each night on stage, he couldn’t stop making things go crash, bang, wallop.
On tour, his destruction of furniture and fittings in hotels is estimated to have cost the group £300,000. He particularly enjoyed blowing up hotel toilets with makeshift bombs.
Ginger Baker lived to the age of 80, but others, like Moon and Bonham, were not so lucky.
Spinal Tap, that very funny send-up of a rock band, chronicles the deaths of upwards of 12 successive drummers in the same group, one in a gardening accident, one spontaneously combusting in the middle of a drum solo and another choking to death on someone else’s vomit.
Happily, in recent years we have witnessed the decline of the drum solo. Drummers have tiptoed back into the shadows, to concentrate on what they do best, which is keeping the beat.
Like the late Ginger Baker, the drum solo must now pass peacefully away.