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Cream scion Kofi Baker sidesteps his father's shadow

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Parents are a blessing and a curse, a subject on which Kofi Baker could undoubtedly hold court. The son of legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker, Kofi received a priceless early apprenticeship at the feet of a master. On the other hand, Dad was sort of an insufferable prick, as made clear in last year's documentary, Beware of Mr. Baker.

Speaking from his Santa Monica home, Baker relates the story of his first experience with cocaine at the age of 14. He and his dad were apparently stranded in Italy with a last-minute gig offering the money for their tickets home. Only Kofi was sick as a dog.

"I was throwing up and couldn't move," recalls Kofi. "I was just like, 'I can't play this show.' And he was like, 'Sure you can. Here.' And he drew me out a line of cocaine."

These days, Kofi's been collaborating with Malcolm Bruce, son of his father's Cream bandmate Jack Bruce, on a new album, which re-imagines the classic-rock band's catalog alongside some original tracks. The approach is similar to that of his previously touring Kofi Baker Cream Experience, but with a different lineup. The idea is not to recreate the music, but to use it as a leaping off point.

"We're not a tribute band. I hate tribute bands," he declares. "For one I can't play the same way two nights in a row anyway. You can't be a tribute band to Cream and play note for note. My dad would've been pissed off if he played the same way twice in a row. I take the arrangements and the songs, but I play them my own way. And I play them different every night."

As a connoisseur of his father's work, Baker understands what made his dad's solos so compelling, especially when compared to conventional drum solos that were as interminable as a root canal and only half as enjoyable.

"There's an amazing drummer, Thomas Lang. I watched his [instructional] video and I said, 'I can't wait to see this guy's drum solo." But it was awful. It was just exercise after exercise after exercise. That was the thing about my dad's drum solos: You could nod your head through the entire thing. You could groove to it."

Kofi also notes that, even though his father is considered one of rock's greatest drummers, Ginger actually considered himself a jazz drummer. The distinction between is one of the topics that Kofi will express during a Colorado Springs drum clinic he's holding the same week as his band's Sunshine Studios show.

"It's not all about licks. Have as much technique as you can get, but the technique is so you can tell a story clearer," he says. "If you have more vocabulary, you can really express yourself."

As for career matters, Kofi's biggest lesson is to do it for the right reason. "Learn an instrument for the fun of it. Don't do it for fame or money," he says. "Real happiness doesn't come from looking for something outside yourself."

scene@csindy.com

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