Interview With The Music of Cream

Legacies are tricky. You can’t see or touch them, yet they can be an unbearable weight to carry around. One has to imagine that’s the case for Kofi Baker, son of late Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Ginger Baker. Like his father, the younger Baker is a drummer.

The Music of Cream (TMOC) is the current musical connection he has to his pop. TMOC is a quartet that also counts Cream guitarist Eric Clapton’s nephew Will Johns as a member. An earlier incarnation of the group was as a trio, with Cream bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce’s son Malcolm filling in on bass for TMOC. A guitarist/keyboardist by nature, the younger Bruce left to pursue his own music and was replaced by Sean McNabb (bass/vocals) and Chris Shutters (guitar/keyboards/vocals).


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What started out as a 50th anniversary tour commemorating the original Cream back in 2016, which also included Deep Purple’s Glenn Hughes and guitarist Robben Ford as part of the group, is now a quartet hitting the road and performing a pair of sets—the entirety of Cream’s 1967 album, “Disraeli Gears,”followed by a slate of Clapton classics drawn from Blind Faith, Derek & the Dominoes and the guitarist’s solo canon. Unlike his notoriously prickly father, Baker is relentlessly upbeat and bubbling over with enthusiasm when discussing drumming, the current tour and even his dad.

“The Cream stuff is a bunch of really good songs that are fun to play. ‘White Room’ is fun. It’s very simple, but it jams at the end. ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ is kind of simple, but again, it’s got a jam at the end. Most of these songs have jams at the end,” Baker said. “I’m an improvisational drummer—that’s what I like to do. I get to play this stuff the way I want to play it. What’s even more of a great thing is that I get to go on the road. Normally, when I’m at home, I’m a session player.”


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The 50-year-old Chicago native has managed to carve out a career separate from his father. A jazz-fusion enthusiast, Baker’s favorite time-keepers include Gene Krupa, Stewart Copeland, Dave Weckl, Tony Williams and a pair of Frank Zappa drummers—Terry Bozzio and Vinnie Colaiuta. Over time, he’s toured with Uli John Roth (The Scorpions) and Rick Derringer, and spent a decade in OHM, a jazz-rock power trio that also included Chris Poland of Megadeth.

Baker’s own time as a drummer started when he was a child. When told it was a pretty bold move to decide to play the same instrument as a parent who was considered to be an all-time great in his own right, Baker admitted it wasn’t necessarily his decision.


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“It wasn’t really a choice. I started playing drums because my dad taught me how to play drums. He was really hard on me. He’d give me a pair of sticks and buy me these plastic drum kits that I’d bash to pieces. So then he wouldn’t let me on a drum kit until I learned all the rudiments. He made me sit there, playing a paradiddle and then he’d leave the room and say I’d better not stop,” Baker recalled. “With my dad, there was no debating. I’d play the paradiddle and two hours later, my hands were hurting and I was crying because they hurt so much. When he came back, at least I’d gotten my paradiddle down. So that’s kind of how I started.”

That boot camp approach to percussion had Baker make his live debut performing alongside his father on “The Old Grey Whistle Test”when he was only six. His father left when he was 10, during which time the younger Baker’s family was evicted and faced homelessness. During that time, Baker rigorously practiced his drumming, eventually being forced to start playing professionally when he was 14. Meeting up with his father a year later to show off what he learned didn’t exactly result in any kind of positive reinforcement, particularly given how strained the duo’s relationship had been, and would continue to be, until the elder Baker’s death in October of last year.

“My relationship with my dad has always been a bit weird, because he wasn’t the most normal person. But it was basically just him being very tough on me, because I suppose he wanted me to be tough. There wasn’t much, ‘I love you’ or anything like that. It was more like, ‘Do this. I was this drummer and you’ve got to work on this and do that.’ He’d always point out the negative instead of the positive. In a way, that was good. It made me practice my ass off,” Baker said. “I’d practice like eight hours a day to try to be good, but my dad was never happy with what I did. Then I went to see him when I was 15 years old, after I’d been practicing eight hours a day after five years. And then he said I had too much technique. He was never really happy with me it seemed. But when I saw him at the end, it was completely different. He was really happy.”

Over time, Baker kept playing and in the late ‘80s found an unexpected source of emotional support in late Small Faces/Humble Pie founding member Steve Marriott. Baker crossed paths with Marriott when the latter’s manager saw the young drummer playing in a pub and recommended him to the Mod legend.

“I was playing in bars and when I was 17 or 18 and Steve Marriott’s manager came in and saw me playing. He said Steve needed a drummer and thought I’d be great. I asked who the hell he was and he said he was Steve Marriott’s manager. I had no idea who Steve Marriott was,” Baker recalled. “The manager was a well-known jazz saxophone player, and he told Steve about me. Steve said that if his manager said I was a good drummer, then I must be a good drummer. I was hired completely from a gig even though Steve never saw me play. When people find out who I am, they use my name to help promote them. The great thing about Steve was that he didn’t do that. He hired me because of my drumming. He was also such a great guy, was the coolest and gave me all the support I didn’t get from my dad.”

While Ginger Baker went through life and was seemingly in a state of perpetual anger, his son has found a far more tranquil path to go down that revolves around pursuing his craft and finding joy in that.

“The best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten was to do something that you’re happy doing. Don’t go after money, go after happiness, because money does not buy you happiness,” he said. “I’ve turned down gigs and all kinds of stuff because it’s not really my thing. I’d rather play for less money at some little bar gig versus getting the big money and going on the road doing something I won’t like. Sometimes taking the bigger job is going to screw up your health. I always take health and happiness over money.”

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