Steve Eighinger

Drummer's death rekindles memories of a bygone era

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Oct. 8, 2019 12:01 am

For those in my age bracket, I'm certain you have realized that the older you get the more iconic figures from your formative years you tend to see showing up in the obituaries.

While losing the heroes and well-known personalities of your youth becomes more expected when you reach baby boomer status, that doesn't make those losses any easier to accept. But the news of their passing can also generate some fond memories of specific times from so many years ago.

The news of Ginger Baker's passing over the weekend may have gone unnoticed to most, overshadowed by an avalanche of family activities, college football games and Cardinals playoff baseball.

But it hit me a like a ton of bricks.

Baker, who was 80 when he reportedly died of natural causes in a London hospital, earned the title of "rock's first superstar drummer" in the late 1960s. He teamed with guitarists Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce to form the supergroup Cream, which was eventually inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

When I was in seventh grade, my parents bought me a record player for Christmas in 1966. It was not some sophisticated stereo system by any stretch of the imagination, just a simple plastic contraption that I'm sure had been purchased at the local Sears store for about $20 -- or less. But I loved that little record player, and built quite a collection of 45s during my junior high days.

Two of those 45s I played over and over and over were "Sunshine of Your Love" and "White Room," both by Cream, which years later, of course, would be regarded as rock classics. Both songs were released in 1968 and fascinated me, largely because of the drumwork of Baker. (Clapton's guitar skills weren't too shabby either, but for some reason I was always drawn to Baker's contributions.)

Many an evening I would play those Cream records, plus the likes of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Monkees and Johnny Rivers, to name a few. But those two Cream records captivated me the most. The sound, the lyrics, whatever ... to this day and I can still see those 45s -- with the yellow and white ATCO label -- spinning around on that record player that sat on a small table beneath my bedroom window in Mansfield, Ohio.

Over and over, I would play "White Room" and "Sunshine of Your Love." Not then, nor did I ever, possess any musical talent, but I loved to hear Ginger Baker play the drums, especially on those Cream records.

A New York Times tribute to Baker the day after his passing rekindled memories of that time for me:

"Keith Moon of the Who was more uninhibited; John Bonham of Led Zeppelin -- a band formed in 1968, the year Cream broke up -- was slicker. But Mr. Baker brought a new level of artistry to his instrument, and he was the first rock drummer to be prominently featured as a soloist and to become a star in his own right," the Times reported.

I'm not sure when Ginger Baker was officially recognized as a star by the world, but I know when it happened for one particular junior high student a long, long time ago.