Ginger Baker: 'I was listening to the radio when they announced my death'


Click to follow
The Independent Culture

No other band got close to Cream – or ever will I played the drums, Eric [Clapton] was the best guitarist of all time and our sets [featuring hits such as "Sunshine of Your Love"] were never the same two nights running; it was magic. Unfortunately it didn't last [the band broke up in 1968] but the reunion at the Royal Albert Hall [in 2005] was amazing; it felt like we'd not seen one another for a few weeks, not 35 years!

Every drummer has to have a few marbles missing While most musicians just get their horn out and play, as a drummer you've got huge amounts of equipment to set up and break into bits every night, which is unsettling.

I've got to know and play with all my heroes such as [American jazz percussionist] Max Roach, and become good friends with them. Have I received the recognition I deserve? No, but that's the way of the world: I just carry on.

I got heavily messed up with heroin Then in 1964 I decided I would stop. It took me another 17 years of fighting; of getting off and going back on it. You can't say you've kicked it until you've been clean for two years, as once you get out of the physical withdrawal, the mental one stays with you for ever.

I was listening to the radio when they announced my death The announcer said it was from a heroin overdose. I also got put in the "Playboy Dead Band" in 1972, along with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, which was funny.

My life is a constant fiasco I've no idea why, it's just bad luck. [Baker has endured drug addiction, a string of failed businesses and myriad bankruptcies, numerous physical injuries and now suffers a degenerative spine condition.] I'm a survivor, unfortunately, and right now I'm in a difficult financial crisis.

I haven't drunk for 20 years I stopped after I joined the Colorado Fire Department, as a first responder dealing with road accidents – the vast majority caused by young drunken idiots.

My arthritis stops me doing a lot but the amazing thing is that it doesn't affect my ability to play drums, which is a joy and I'm playing as well as ever. But afterwards I'm in incredible pain, because of my spine, and I have to lie down. Then I have nightmares that some day I'll wake up and won't be able to play any more; it's my biggest fear.

I don't feel bad about breaking Jay Bulger's nose [Baker assaulted the film-maker with his cane during the making of last year's rock documentary, Beware of Mr Baker.] Actually, I felt good about it as I'd had a whole month of being followed around by cameras and [Bulger] suggesting I do silly things that I wouldn't normally do.

Hellraiser and drumming legend Ginger Baker, 73, was a member of 1960s bands Cream and Blind Faith and now heads a jazz ensemble. He will be performing at the inaugural Bristol International Jazz & Blues Festival from 1 to 2 March (