Ginger’s influences

Ginger Baker with Air Force
Ginger Baker & Air Force

Ginger writes of how he started, “After sitting in with a band at a party [I’d never sat on a kit before [!!!the kids virtually forced me to play !!] I discovered that I could play the drums just like that… I heard two of the horn players remark “christ! we’ve got a drummer!” that was it… a light went on… I was a drummer…”


Ginger was heavily influenced by Jazz. He writes, “I started listening to music when I was very young 11/12 y.o. Listening to the big bands of the time, Ted Heath, Jack Parnell… always concentrating on the drummer… I got into the school gang… we were nicking records… that’s when I heard the Quintet of the Year – Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charlie Mingus and the great Max Roach, which totally blew me away…. so I was listening to all the jazz I could…. that’s when I first heard Phil….”


Phil Seamen was one of the top drummers on the London Jazz scene in late ‘50s, and when Ginger started out he got to see Phil play a lot.


Drummer Baby Dodds was also a major influence in his development. Ginger recalls: “The clarinet player gave me a pile of old 78’s Baby Dodds ‘Hear me talking to ya’, this was a major revelation and influenced my drumming enormously.”


Ginger met Phil Seamen in 1959: “I moved on to professional bands and into modern jazz, playing regularly at Ronnie Scott’s club and the Flamingo in London…. Phil heard me play and gave me an enormous compliment… that night he played me his collection of African drum records and this was like a great big door opening, a big light went on.”


“Phil told me that I was the only drummer who’d “got it. That was the next big step after Baby Dodds.”


After his success with Cream and Blind Faith, Ginger put Air Force together – a ground breaking fusion of Afro-Jazz Blues & Soul. As Nettie writes in the 1970 Archive: “a powerful & eclectic mix of some the best musicians that Ginger had known, admired & worked with over the years & it resulted in a fantastically strong (& underrated) output”.


Air Force had sparked Ginger’s interest in Africa again, and after their tour finished in 1971 he went to Africa for the first time.


I remember him returning from one of his many trips to Nigeria, wandering around the house playing a talking drum. He’d come up to me and Kofi and start drum talking to us, bending the sounds with the hide strings like the vocal chords of a voice. On many occasions we’d watch him pounding out complex rhythms on a large round metal African drum, sending the sounds of West Africa wafting through our quiet London suburb. He made the thick wooden sticks look light and easy to use, but when I picked them up, they were heavy and cumbersome.


Over the years, his style has become more refined and more musical. His toms sounding more like notes in a scale. Although Ginger is labeled as a Rock drummer, his driving force comes from West Africa and the jazz musicians of the Bebop era.


When Ginger plays, he tells a story; he takes you on a journey. Don’t ask him, just listen to him play – for him his drums are his own unique and personal self-expression.