The rock supergroup Cream's universal popularity is unimaginable today.
Ginger Baker, the group's pyrotechnic drummer, died Sunday at age 80 in London. Baker, bassist Jack Bruce and guitarist Eric Clapton reached a new level of rock success with Cream, drawing huge crowds with their turbocharged music and selling millions of records. Their once innovative power rock today seems as old-fashioned as the big band era did in the 1960s. Fractured audiences and collapsing album sales now thwart widespread appeal.
Baker, who saw himself as a jazz drummer, hated Cream's ear-breaking sound as Clapton and Bruce accumulated more and more amps for stadium performances. While Baker looked down at rock music, he was acclaimed as one of rock's greatest drummers, fusing jazz and blues rhythms.
Cream's luminous career ended quickly, wrecked by animosity between Bruce, who died in 2014, and Baker, as his New York Times obituary recounted. Baker and Clapton joined Steve Winwood to form Blind Faith, which also flashed briefly.
Known for his unpleasant personality, Baker played with several more bands over the years, and reunited with Bruce and Clapton in 2003.
Several rock stars died early. Baker, who battled heroin addiction, survived the rock era's excesses. Two other aging rockers, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney hailed Baker as a consummate musician. Clapton continues to perform.