Before Ginger Baker, the drums were a very simple instrument providing a very simple ingredient to pop music, which was the beat. The drummer’s job was to be one of the handsome guys on the album cover. Then Ginger Baker–who died on Oct. 6 at 80–came along and threw in all kinds of stuff that was much more sophisticated.
Musicians will argue about the dividing line between rock and pop, but I think Baker–and his band Cream–was it. The difference was the power and the musicianship. In Cream, Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and Baker were all mightily proficient; Baker was all about power. Hearing his thumpy drums is one of the reasons I picked up sticks myself. They sounded so strong–it was the sound of adult masculinity, which is what every 13-year-old boy yearns for.
He always described himself as a jazz musician, but I never bought that. Amid my properly obsequious interactions, I couldn’t help rattling his cage about the jazz thing. I would say, “Dude, get over it. You are a rock god.”
This appears in the October 21, 2019 issue of TIME.