Ginger Baker, Superstar Rock Drummer With U.K. Band Cream, Is Dead at 80

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He spent much of the 1970s in Lagos, Nigeria, where he built a recording studio and became immersed in African music, performing and recording with the singer, songwriter and political activist Fela Kuti. He also developed a love for polo that over the years would prove almost as costly as his drug habit: He drove himself into debt more than once buying and importing polo ponies.

In the ensuing decades he was in and out of various bands, ranging from the hard-rock group Masters of Reality to a jazz trio in which his high-profile sidemen were the guitarist Bill Frisell and the bassist Charlie Haden. He was also in and out of financial trouble and moved frequently, living in England, Italy, Los Angeles and South Africa, where he settled in 1999 and stayed until returning to England in 2012.

Mr. Baker and the other members of Cream were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. The band reunited for concerts in London and New York in 2005 and received a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 2006.

Whatever hope there might have been for another reunion ended when Jack Bruce died in 2014.

Mr. Baker was married four times. He is survived by his wife, Kudzai Baker, a nurse from Zimbabwe with whom he lived in Kent, England, and three children: Nettie Baker, who has written several books about her relationship with him; Leda Baker, a business analyst; and Kofi Baker, a drummer. All were born in the 1960s during Mr. Baker’s first marriage, to the artist Liz Finch.

In 2013, although he had serious health problems, Mr. Baker toured and recorded with a quartet whimsically named the Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion. Interviewed that year on the BBC television program “Newsnight,” he claimed to have “lost everything six or seven times in my life” and suggested that the motivation for his return to music was more financial than artistic.

“I thought I’d retired,” he said. “Managed to sort of outlive my pension, as it were, so I had to go back to work.”

Asked in that same interview how he would like to be remembered, he paused for a moment and then gave a one-word answer:

“Drummer.”


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