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Chester County Press

Son of a drummer

07/25/2017 10:00AM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

From his home in Indiana, Kofi Baker has just awoken at 4:30 in the afternoon to call a reporter on the East Coast.
As an accomplished drummer who has played concert halls all over the world for nearly three decades, the rise time is not uncommon for him. Baker has lived the hop-skip-jump life of a professional musician, one that includes airports and airplanes and hotel rooms. He is about to embark on yet another tour, one with 15 shows –  including one at the Summer Concert Series at Anson B. Nixon Park on Aug. 2 – but Baker didn't talk about the rigors of a being a touring musician.
Rather, he talked enthusiastically about the music he and his band mates will get to play from Wisconsin to New York City, from late July to early October. It's the music his father helped make famous and indelible, and it's certainly worth getting on the road for.
Baker's Cream Experience is an electrifying and improvisational nod to the short but ferocious life of a band that included Jack Bruce on bass, Eric Clapton on guitar, and Ginger Baker – Kofi's father – on drums.  For three years beginning in 1966, Cream sold more than 15 million albums and introduced audiences to a sound that combined jazz, blues and rock in songs like “Crossroads,” “White Room,” and “Badge.” Their live performances were both brutally honest and unpredictable, fueled in part by a horrible rift between Bruce and Baker that led to the band's demise in 1968. 
They re-formed briefly in 1993, but it was during their 2005 reunion that the younger Baker saw the magic of the band during a concert at Madison Square Garden – a show that inspired him to create the Cream Experience.
“To me, Cream is perfect because it's a jazz band that improvises all night over some pop, rock and blues songs,” Baker said. “The great thing about this music is that it's all about the jamming and the improvising, and that's what I love, and we play it differently every night.
“People don't realize that when you tour, you spend about 95 percent of your time traveling. I just did a tour of Australia, and it was 12 shows in two weeks, with a new airport and a new plane every day. But to be able to play this kind of music differently every night makes it all worth it.”
Baker's skills on a drum kit correlate to a potpourri of musical influences that range from African music, jazz and the music of blues bands like Cream, Blind Faith and Humble Pie – as well as his father – who was a pioneer of double bass drumming and injected African rhythms, bebop jazz and a variety of percussion instruments into his sound. The older Baker's reliance on his left foot behind the kit is considered atypical, but allowed him to create striking combinations. His son uses the same techniques.
“The first thing he taught me was that the left foot keeps the groove, and the other three limbs play around it,” Baker said. “He taught me to have my left feet keep a steady rhythm, and that gave me the independence to use my other limbs effectively.
“Through playing the Cream Experience, I've noticed that my dad ripped me off. He's doing all of the things I am doing. There must be something in genetics that people catch from their parents, whether it's a genetic imprint or not,” Baker said.
With every great rock band comes a roster of tribute bands, many of whom not only perform carbon copies of the original band's songs but dress like them, and in some cases, escape into the character of the musician they are portraying. Baker, who will be performing with Tony Spinner and Ric Fierbacci on the tour, said that the Cream Experience is far from a mere tribute show.
“You can't do a tribute to Cream, because they did it differently every night,” he said. “The only thing I want to do is to bring the music and the idea of that music, and how it was done, to the younger generation, and to the people who can't see Cream anymore. I want to carry on what they started. 
“You can't date great music,” Baker added. “The thing about Cream was that they were really good musicians, really intricate, and so you can listen to it and learn something new every time. All three were deep in the understanding of their instruments, so that comes across. That's what I get to make now. That's why I am so into playing it.”
Kofi Baker’s Cream Experience will perform in Anson B. Nixon Park Aug. 2 from 7 to 9 p.m., as part of the Free Summer Music Concert Series. Picnic suppers will be catered by Y'or So Sweet. For last-minute weather cancellation notices, call Historic Kennett Square at 610-444-1416.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].