When drummer Kofi Baker formed Cream tribute band The Music of Cream in 2017, it was meant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the late ‘60s power trio that consisted of the late bassist and singer Jack Bruce, guitarist Eric Clapton, and Mr. Baker’s father, legendary drummer Ginger Baker.
As 2017 gave way to 2018, the tribute band kept rolling on with performances of Cream songs out of sheer enjoyment, but for Mr. Baker the project has taken on a new significance in the past several months. On October 6, 2019, after a long period of failing health Ginger Baker passed away at the age of 80, turning The Music of Cream into the way by which Mr. Baker carries on his father’s legacy. The tribute band’s current tour showcases one of that legacy’s most renowned highlights, Cream’s 1967 album “Disreili Gears,” mixed in with a smattering of numbers from Mr. Clapton’s solo career. Accompanied by bandmates Sean McNabb on bass, Chris Shutters on guitar, keyboards, and vocals, and Eric Clapton’s nephew Will Johns on guitar and vocals, Mr. Baker will perform the classic record in its entirety when the group’s tour stops by Santa Barbara on March 7 for a gig at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club.
Mr. Baker spoke with the News-Press about his group’s tour on February 18, the day after he provided the backbeat of “A Tribute to Ginger Baker,” a star-studded concert Mr. Clapton organized in remembrance of his former bandmate at the Eventim Apollo Hammersmith in London. While he was onstage with Mr. Clapton and guest stars like Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters, and Traffic singer Steve Winwood, Mr. Baker didn’t feel quite the twinge of pain he expected. The months since his father’s passing have slightly ameliorated the sadness he first experienced.
“It was really good. It was much more fun than I thought it was going to be,” he said.
Mr. Baker expressed appreciation toward Mr. Clapton for throwing the concert and referred to the guitarist as a “more down to earth” kind of person than the other two members of Cream. This isn’t surprising, as the volatile relationship between Mr. Baker’s dad and Mr. Bruce is one of the most infamous aspects of Cream’s history, their antagonism the cause of the band breaking up after just over two years in 1968. While he was indeed sad about his father’s passing, Mr. Baker had a difficult relationship with his father and didn’t hold back his honest feelings about the Cream drummer’s notorious personality. Comparing his father to the other two guys in Cream, Mr. Baker said, “My dad was most of the assholes out of all of them.”
Though born the son of Cream’s drummer, Mr. Baker didn’t started diving deep into the short lived trio’s discography circa 2005, the same year his father, Mr. Clapton, and Mr. Bruce reunited as Cream for a limited number of concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall and Madison Square Garden in New York City. Mr. Baker attended one of the New York concerts and found it interesting to see his father play in his most famous band, which split before he was born. He enjoyed seeing the older version of Cream play, but in his opinion the reunited band played in a refined manner that lacked loud, reckless abandon and improvisational adventurousness of its late ‘60s heyday. However, the concert did peak his interest enough to learn the Cream catalogue for the bands that he played in at the time. All these years later with The Music of Cream, he aims to strike a balance between the refinement his father and his bandmates displayed at the reunion with the rambunctious sound they achieved in their younger days.
“I’m trying to grab both of those aspects, the refined aspects and the improvised, adventurous aspects as well,” he said.
As the son of one of rock and roll’s most celebrated drummers, one would expect that Mr. Baker received a great deal of useful advice from his father on how to play their shared instrument of choice. His favorite piece of advice is something his dad said about what kind of drummer one should aim to be.
“He told me there are three types of players in the world,” Mr. Baker said. “Those with feel, those who have technique, and those who have both.”
Needless to say, the last is the gold standard to which his dad was referring. However, his dad also said the first ingredient is something one is born with rather than something that’s learned. If that is indeed the case, one would expect that Mr. Baker is a drummer that at the very least a drummer capable of achieving feel. After all, if being sired by Ginger Baker doesn’t make one able to grasp it, then there’s little hope for anyone else.
Tickets for The Music of Cream’s March 7 performance at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club cost between $25 and $63 and can be purchased online at www.sohosb.com. Doors to the venue open at 7 p.m. and the show will begin at 9 p.m. SOhO Restaurant & Music Club is located at 1221 State St. Ste. 205.