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Ginger Baker Is Still Alive (And Legitimately Dangerous)

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Ginger Baker (Courtesy of Frank Publicity / Ginger Baker)

When filmmaker Jay Bulger named his latest documentary Beware of Mr. Baker, he wasn’t exaggerating. The film begins and ends with its main character, legendary rock drummer Ginger Baker, attacking Bulger and breaking his nose with a metal cane. Known for his work in bands like Cream and Blind Faith – and, notoriously, for his drug use and temper – Ginger Baker largely disappeared from the music scene in the mid-1970s. But, surprisingly enough, his dramatic life carries on to this day. In the documentary, Bulger puts Baker’s otherworldly talent and tragic flaws on full display.

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On choosing Baker as a subject:

"I didn’t really know who Ginger Baker was — except by name — at that time. It wasn’t until I watched Tony Palmer’s very obscure documentary called Ginger Baker in Africa — that was about Ginger driving the first Range Rover ever produced over the Sahara desert to go and live and play and record and build the first 16 track recording studio in Africa. And when I saw him driving across in that documentary, I was like, “Oh my god. This guy is something else.”

On the backstory of Baker's decision to road trip to Africa:

Well the inception of the idea was, he was at a gas station driving his Jensen FF, which is like a Ferrari — English Ferrari type, very expensive sport car — and he’s getting gas and he’s like, “Jeez. I’m going to go to Africa!” And he just got in the car — totally high — and he got in his car and got as far as Algeria or something, and he saw some really beautiful girl, and he drove off a cliff. And there’s footage of the Jensen off the cliff — they pull it up. He’s like, “Then I went back. I realized I needed an SUV.” 

On Baker breaking his nose with a cane as they said goodbye after filming:

"His earliest memory is him going out to the tracks and watching his dad go off on the train [that carried him to his death]. And he [said in the documentary], “I knew that he was never coming back.” And he started crying. And he told me that he would never be left on those tracks again…. That’s what he does with people, and bands and music, too.”

On Baker being compared to drummers Keith Moon (The Who) and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin):

“They shouldn’t be put in the same context. Ginger’s up there with Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams. The guy was beyond rock and roll. And he grew up in the jazz era. He was much older than Moon and Bonham, and he grew up playing as a professional jazz musician. Those guys would have said the same thing. They looked up to him.”

On Baker’s poor financial decisions:

"I basically documented him blowing all that Cream reunion money. Five to ten mil. And when I got there, he bought 39 [imported Argentinian] polo ponies. And at the end, he had to sell the whole thing…. They have horses in [South Africa], too. That’s how ridiculous he is. He could have bought those South African ponies."

Guests:

Jay Bulger

Comments [6]

Cougar

How about Louie Bellson?

Oct. 30 2013 09:53 AM
Jonas from Boulder

I know Ginger baker. She is a sculptor in Minneapolis. I had no idea that, before she was born, she was a drummer and a man.

Feb. 08 2013 04:31 PM
Tim Ackerman from New York, NY

Excuse me, but Baker was quite the innovator in rock. His great chops comprised a very specific voice with a "heavy" texture that helped define rock drumming as differentiated from jazz. He took the concept of using the bass drum as a "third hand" to a new level in both backing and solo functions (remember the amazing live "toad" solo!). He revered Max Roach who was a marvelous bop drummer but never generated the kind of heavy artillery that was Ginger's signature. He also had a famous "drum battle" with the great Elvin Jones (I think he basically drowned him out with his double bass etc).

And don't underestimate Bonham. His chops were the equal of anyone's (check HIS amazing solo on "the song remains the same), Furthermore it was ultimately his sound which came to define the heavy rock ideal. Ginger's sound was a bit bottom-heavy and logy where John's was crisp, powerful and driving.

All these guys were 'Monsters" but to look for true freaky genius-level drumming IMO you have back to Buddy Rich and Tony Williams who seemed to belong to another species as far as speed and complexity.

Feb. 08 2013 01:56 PM
william fitzhugh from nashville tn

Actually, if you listen to Ginger Baker Trio CDs w/ Charlie Haden & Bill Frizell, or several other post-bop records he has made, the comparison w/ Tony William et al stands up fine. He was a drummer who played (plays?) jazz or rock depending on the gig - in other words, a musician. Same with Jack Bruce too to an extent - his stuff w/ Tony Williams and Carla Bley is great - but certainly not 'straight ahead' jazz. Clapton? Not so much......

Feb. 07 2013 04:02 PM
Parker from China

@Charles You should check out Beware of Mr. Baker to understand why they would bring up those names...

Feb. 07 2013 03:02 PM
Charles Imbimbo from Teaneck, NJ

Wow! Totally disagree with your guest. One cannot seriously put Ginger Baker in the same category as Max Roach, Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. Baker may be a good rock drummer but the three great jazz artists mentioned were jazz innovators. Roach was one of the founders of modern jazz drumming! Baker sounds like a character and he may be important in the history of rock, but his technique is lacking compared to Roach, Jones, and Williams. I think Mitch Mitchell was a much more interesting drummer than Baker.

Feb. 06 2013 09:57 PM

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