Ginger Baker, who helped redefine the role of the drums in rock and became a superstar in the process, died Sunday in a hospital in southeastern England. He was 80.
His family confirmed his death in a post on his official Twitter account.
Baker drew worldwide attention for his approach to the drums, as sophisticated as it was forceful, when he teamed with guitarist Eric Clapton and bassist Jack Bruce in the hugely successful British band Cream in 1966.
Peter Edward Baker — he became known as Ginger during childhood because of his red hair — was born on August 19, 1939, in the Lewisham area of southeast London.
Drawn to the drums at an early age, Baker talked his way into a job with a traditional-jazz combo when he was 16.
In 1962 Baker joined Blues Incorporated, beginning his association with Bruce. When organist and saxophonist Graham Bond left that band in 1964 to form the Graham Bond Organisation, Baker and Bruce went with him.
Two years later they teamed with Clapton to form Cream.
Cream was an instant sensation. Within two years, the band went from nightclubs to stadiums and released four albums, whose total sales were estimated at $35 million. But in 1968, at the height of its success, Cream disbanded.
One reason for the break-up was animosity between Baker and Bruce.
Baker’s next band was, on paper, even bigger than Cream: Blind Faith, in which he and Clapton joined singer, keyboardist and guitarist Steve Winwood. Blind Faith imploded after one album and one tour, the victim of excessive hype and conflicting egos.
Following the similarly brief life of his next band, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Baker stayed largely out of the spotlight.
He spent much of the 1970s in Lagos, Nigeria, where he built a recording studio and became immersed in African music.
In the ensuing decades he was in and out of various bands, ranging from Masters of Reality to a jazz trio. He moved frequently, living in England, Italy, LA and South Africa, where he settled in 1999 and stayed until returning to England in 2012.
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.