Ginger Baker: Hellraiser: The Autobiography of the World's Greatest Drummer

Ginger Baker: Hellraiser: The Autobiography of the World's Greatest Drummer

3.0 2
by Ginger Baker

View All Available Formats & Editions

A pioneering drummer who transcends genre, he's done much to popularise world music with his fierce passion for the rhythms of Africa. He is that rare thing - both critically acclaimed and globally successful. He has also lived a life more rock'n'roll than most.

Ginger tells his story for the first time. It's often harrowing but outrageously honest as he journeys


A pioneering drummer who transcends genre, he's done much to popularise world music with his fierce passion for the rhythms of Africa. He is that rare thing - both critically acclaimed and globally successful. He has also lived a life more rock'n'roll than most.

Ginger tells his story for the first time. It's often harrowing but outrageously honest as he journeys from war-torn south London to his adopted home in South Africa's beautiful Western Cape - where he has his own polo club.

Along the way he tells of his life-long love of jazz, how he discovered the drums, life on the road and reveals the heroin use that should have killed him. He talks candidly of his three marriages, his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Cream in 1993, their 2005 reunion and his own plans for the future.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Like a Ginger Baker drum solo, this unique autobiography is an exhilarating adrenalin rush of drama and excitement."  —Record Collector

"Instant classic memoir."  —Mojo

Product Details

John Blake Publishing, Limited
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Ginger Baker Hellraiser

The Autobiography of the World's Greatest Drummer

By Ginger Baker, Ginette Baker

John Blake Publishing Ltd

Copyright © 2009 Ginger Baker and Ginette Baker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-85782-866-5


Memories of War

My father was killed in action in WWII and ten years later in 1953, when I was 14, my mother handed me this letter that he had asked her to save for me.

Sunday 4 October 1942

My Dear Son,

I am writing this as if you were now a man. As you will be by the time you read this letter. It's just a little advice & the way I should like you to turn out if I should not return from this 'errand', as you called it when I was last on leave.

Well Peter, I want you to grow up as a man able to hold your own ground, to learn how to use your fists, they are your best pals so often. In this way you will be of great help to your mother & your sister. When you are old enough I want you to take my place at home. I guess I can trust you to make a good job of this by what I have seen in the early stages of your life. Therefore, I'll leave it to you & won't say anymore in this direction.

Now for the advice, don't be a fool the same as I was & work hard for your living, that is if you can get a good living another & better way. The best money is always earned by little work. Therefore sacrifice a few years on small wages & reap the benefit of hard study with low wages when you are older. Try not to take to drinking, by all means have a drink but not too much. Keep off smoking as long as you can, its an expensive habit & does you no good. If or when you smoke have a pipe, its better in all respects. Take mother out now & again, give her a little pleasure, I am sure she is worth it, & you will lose little by it. Try to be a man at all times and face hard times with a smile. Go in for all the sport you can afford to give time for. It helps keep you clean in mind & body. Be as honest as possible & don't be underhanded or selfish.

Well, Peter, this is about all I can advise you to do, I only hope I am there when you reach this age so I can help you & mould you into what I should like you to be. But if not, try and follow out what I have said here. I know it all sounds like a lecture to be forgotten, but it is the only way I can possibly have a say in your upbringing if bad luck puts an end to me in this war.

So I will close now, trusting you to look after mother & your sister if this should happen, hoping also you will turn out the man I think you will.

I Remain your Loving Father

My father, Frederick Louvaine Formidable Baker, was born on 1 January 1915, the day the Kaiser's Germans sank the British battleship Formidable and in the wake of the atrocities committed by them in and around the Belgian town of Louvain during World War I.

His father, Frederick Albert Baker, had enlisted as a volunteer at Woolwich on 13 August 1914 as a private in Kitchener's First Army. Serving in the Royal Signals for the East Kent Regiment, he was wounded and then sent back to the Western Front on four successive occasions. He once carried a badly injured mate over his shoulders for three miles, only to find on reaching the safety of the trench that his friend was already dead.

Following his last push over the top, he lay wounded for several days in a muddy shell hole and was forced to watch his dead companions being eaten by hungry rats. When rescue finally came, he was loaded into one of three ambulances to make the dangerous journey back behind the lines. He was travelling in the middle ambulance when those to the front and the rear were shelled, leaving no one alive. He was medically discharged at Hounslow on 12 July 1916, but remained scarred until his death not only by the shrapnel in his body but also by his experiences. His discharge certificate read simply: 'Unfit for duty. Aged 26 and five months. Height — 5ft 8 ½ inches. Butterfly Tattoo on chest. S Wounds — Chest and left wrist.'

The youngest of 13 children, my grandfather was born on 14 March 1891 in Shotley, Suffolk. In 1913, he had come to London to look for work as a bricklayer and was sleeping rough when he walked into a public house and fell in love with the barmaid. Sarah Louise Soper already had a three-year-old illegitimate daughter named Sue. He and Sarah married in 1914 on his 23rd birthday and Dad (known to all as Ted) was born the following January.

But after my grandfather returned to the family home in Mottingham from the carnage of the trenches with what would now be termed untreated post-traumatic stress disorder, home life became increasingly unbearable for my dad and at 15 he joined the army to escape. He stayed in the infantry for three years, but it wasn't a great success because he found it hard to accept the discipline and spent most of his time in the glasshouse. On one occasion, he even had a row with a sergeant about dishing out spuds, which ended with Dad bashing the guy with the potato ladler. His punishment while locked up was to clean a rusty chain which was then dropped into a bucket of water and the process would begin all over again.

My grandfather, who had his own building business, bought Dad out of the military so he could work as a bricklayer. Then Dad's best mate George Brimicombe invited him to his girlfriend Rose's house, where Dad met her sister Ruby, the girl who was destined to become my mum.

Ruby May Bayldon, born 10 August 1917, was the youngest of five kids belonging to Jessie and Harold Bayldon. The two had met while Harold lodged with Jessie's parents and they had eloped and married. Jessie became a mum and stayed at home, while Harold worked hard as a hod-carrier. Money was in short supply and Mum left school at 14 to go into service as a kitchen maid in a big house in Chislehurst where every morning she cleaned the scullery cupboard of its infestation of black beetles.

When she was 16, Mum got engaged to George Streatfield, a delivery boy who regularly brought groceries to the house. But once she met Dad she broke up with George, though he continued to try to see her. Dad was working on a building site on Green Lane and spotted George going by on his bike, so he confronted the hapless delivery boy and threatened to wallop him if he didn't leave Mum alone. My parents married in September 1937 when Mum was three months pregnant with my sister Pat, who was born in Lewisham on 18 March 1938. I followed on 19 August 1939.

A month later, World War II broke out and the bombing forced us to move from Lewisham to Greenwich and then to my aunt Sue's place. I was about 18 months old when my dad found us a huge flat in the upstairs of a house at 130 Southwood Road in New Eltham. It had a scullery, a kitchen, three bedrooms and a bathroom with a very large bath that had a gas copper to heat the water. Another room was used as an office by the owner of the property, Mr Banks.

Another strange occupant from downstairs was Mr Banks's niece, Miss Lynn. She frequently wandered about in the dark and we would hear her swishing down the stairs — she would put one hand on the banisters, one on the wall and manage to get all the way down without using her short legs. But we loved to go down to Miss Lynn's kitchen where she would feed us jelly fat from the top of the meat.

When we first moved in, Mum cleaned the room we would be using as a lounge and when she had finished she put Pat and I in there. We decided to help out by sweeping the choked chimney grate by hand. We carried the soot in handfuls across the room and threw it out of the window: the room was black, we were black, Mum put us in the bath and the water was black. On another occasion, we 'helped' Mum by cleaning the windows with a scrubbing brush and a pot of jam.

At the outbreak of war, Dad's best mate George, who had married Aunt Rose, had joined the Costal Command at the outbreak of war. In 1941, he was serving on board the Angolarity — a ship he never liked. Then when Rose was heavily pregnant she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, so George squared it with his captain that he could take an extra couple of days' leave to be with her. When he got back to the ship, the captain was away and, not knowing of George's prior arrangement, the person in charge had him locked up for being absent without leave.

The captain reappeared to confirm George's story and he was sent back to his post on the Angolarity which was sent out as convoy escort. On the journey she broke down, became a sitting duck for an enemy torpedo and George went down with her. Aunt Rose gave birth to her son John shortly afterwards and they came to live with us.

As a bricklayer, Dad had a reserved occupation, but he was so upset by his mate's death that he determined to join up without further ado. He tried everything to get in and was finally offered a post in the Royal Signals, like his father before him. At first he was sceptical, as he was already a trained Infantry man, but, once they explained to him that the job was pretty dangerous, he took it. He was very good at it too and became a member of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), the forerunners of the SAS, who went off to train in Algeria. His letters home are filled with his skilled drawings of Algerian scenes.

The only clear memories I have of my dad are when he came back on home leave. There was great excitement and when the time came for him to go back we went up to a big railway station in London to see him off. Dad was sitting by the window in a carriage full of khaki-clad soldiers with their forage caps and rifles. The train began to move off and I broke from my mother's grasp and ran down the platform with tears running down my face, almost as if I knew that I'd never see him again.

Early in 1944, I saw Mum's face turn ashen as she clasped a yellow telegram in her shaking hand. She let out one anguished sob and closed her bedroom door.


    Mum and Aunt Rose,
    Cooking breakfast in the kitchen
    At Southwood Road.
    We kids at the table,
    A loud knock
    On the front door downstairs
    Disturbs the happy scene.
    'All right, Rose, I'll go.'
    We all felt the tension
    Aunt Rose was so quiet
    I think that she knew.
    She had been there before;
    Uncle George was killed
    Early on in the war.
    Mum came in very pale
    Her shaking hand
    Held a yellow telegram.
    'All right, Rube, I'll carry on.'
    Mum nodded, grateful
    And fled the room.
    We heard her sob
    As she closed the bedroom door.
    We all got the message
    This was something real bad,
    Breakfast was silent,
    We'd just lost our Dad.

Dad had been killed on 15 November 1943, on the Greek Island of Leros. Under the command of Captain Jellicoe, the LRDG had been playing an active role in Churchill's 'folly' of the Leros and Dodecanese campaign. Churchill had opened the door for attack and asked Eisenhower for immediate back-up. Unfortunately, due to the distance they had to travel, it was impossible for the Americans to come to their aid in time. The last message out said simply, 'Situation desperate', and it could well have been Dad that sent it.

Mum and Rose pulled together, and in the autumn they picked all the apples and pears from the orchard behind the house that, along with the mulberry tree in particular, played a big part in our lives. They laid the fruit out carefully on the old office furniture that remained in Mr Banks's large room. Then Pat, John and I went in quietly, took a bite out of each one and carefully replaced them all bite-side down, in the vain hope that our naughtiness might go undetected.


    I lay alone upon my bed
    Anger and sadness, turmoil in my head
    A man's voice calls my name, it floats in the air
    I look out of the window, no one is there.
    The road below is sunset and still
    Perplexed and puzzled I quickly decide
    To leave my bedroom's strange eerie chill
    Down to the back garden, get back outside
    Where my sister and cousin play with my mum.
    I open the door and dash down the hall
    By the banister rail almost at the top stair
    I stop short and turn alarmed and aware
    A tall man in a night shirt
    With a bobbled night cap
    Sings a hymn at Mr Banks' open office door.
    The tables and desks behind him I see
    Covered with bright red ripe apples
    That Mum will soon bottle and store.
    He holds one in his hand
    Smiles and beckons at me
    And I turn and I run
    Downstairs three at a time
    Out into the warmth of the sun.
    Mum's face pales 'neath the mulberry tree
    I describe Mr Banks
    She knows this can't be
    For he was a man I had never seen
    He had died nearly two years before.

Inevitably, the war intruded upon our lives. I can remember the sirens going off and being huddled tightly in an air-raid shelter with my mum, Aunt Rose, Pat and my cousin John. After what seemed like hours of ground-shaking explosions and crashes, the all-clear sounded. Outside the shelter fires blazed, smoke was swirling and broken glass and pieces of shrapnel littered the ground, while the clanging bells of fire engines and ambulances filled the air.

The bombing frightened our pet rabbit so much that he ended up being eaten for Christmas dinner. My pet newt also died and I held a funeral for it in the orchard. Mum said a few words and told me that God would take it up to heaven. A few weeks later, they found me crying uncontrollably because I had discovered that my newt was still in situ and had deduced that God didn't want him after all.

I caught scarlet fever and, as I lay recovering in Shooters Hill Hospital one evening, bombs fell close by, causing the hospital to shake violently. Then there was silence and I continued to lie in bed fascinated by the huge flames that were reflected on the white wall opposite. Woolwich dockyard was ablaze a mile or so away.

As a kid, I have to say I loved the war. Opposite the pub in Green Lane was a 16-foot naval gun emplacement. I don't think it ever got anything but they fired it from time to time just to keep people happy. Whenever it went off, our windows fell out. After the war, when the gun was removed, we all spent ages playing in the gun pit with its grease and deep metal stairs.

One night on returning to the kitchen after the all-clear, I looked through the window and noticed that the night horizon was glowing red like a shimmering sunset. Woolwich again; with its docks and the Royal Arsenal, it was a prime target. Scenes of destruction were common, yet as adventurous boys John and I continued to enjoy it all. Whenever there was a loud explosion, I would pipe up, 'Is that the English, Mum?'

Then the Doodlebugs (V1 rockets) began to appear in the skies, often four in a day, always in daylight, puttering along at low altitude. Then the noise would stop somewhere overhead and we'd watch the bug glide downwards, then boom! Another house was gone. One day, I went out on a tricycle with John standing on the back and holding on to my shoulders. Our mission was spotting Doodlebugs and we returned feeling very excited because we'd seen three!

In the summer of 1944, Dad's parents acquired a pub called the Mason's Arms down in Knowstone in Devon. We were evacuated down to them, but they weren't that great with us. The old man would get drunk and beat us with his belt and the old lady often got us into trouble. We only lasted about three months there before Mum and Rose came down and brought us home. Old Fred stayed down there after the war and continued buying land and building cottages which he did up himself.

Many years later, in 1968, I took my family down to Tiverton in my new Jensen FF to see my grandparents for the first time in many years. Old Fred was very impressed with the car and as we drove around he showed me all the cottages he'd built. He got very annoyed when he saw one that had had the thatch replaced with corrugated tin. Then we went to the pub and he turned out to be shit-hot at darts. I liked him then and we got on fine.

Back in Eltham, on 18 February 1945, we celebrated cousin John's fourth birthday. At 8.30pm, just after us children had gone to bed, there was a strange whoosh, then the whole house shook and there were shards of glass all over the room. A V2 rocket had hit a block of flats just a hundred yards from our house. Our windows had been blown in, but all three of us had ducked under our bedclothes and avoided getting cut. We heard yells as Aunt Rose, who had been on the toilet, desperately struggled to open the door to John's bedroom.

Miraculously we were all unharmed but the four-storey block of flats over the shops on Sidcup Road was gone, as was half one side of Montbelle Road. Consequently, there were no lessons at Montbelle Road Primary for ten days. We spent the time watching the firemen digging for bodies as a huge crane lifted out steel girders that had been bent into fantastic shapes by the blast. When we did go back to school, several desks were empty.

After that a young merchant seaman named Gordon stayed at our place when he was on leave because his own house and his parents had been blown to bits. He often looked after us and we grew fond of him.

When the war ended, there was great jubilation, flags were flying everywhere and there was dancing in the street. I suppose this experience gave me a lasting hatred of war, but at no time was I afraid. I loved the explosions.


Excerpted from Ginger Baker Hellraiser by Ginger Baker, Ginette Baker. Copyright © 2009 Ginger Baker and Ginette Baker. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ginger Baker was born in Lewisham, London in 1939 and brought up along with his sister and cousin by his mother and aunt. After forging his reputation on the London jazz scene, he found phenomenal success by forming Cream with Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton in 1966. Ginger lives in South Africa, where he is an avid correpsondent to the letters pages of various polo publications.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Ginger Baker: Hellraiser: The Autobiography of the World's Greatest Drummer 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago