MOVIE REVIEW: Beware of Mr. Baker (2012)

“He influenced me as a drummer, but not a person.” – Simon Kirke, Bad Company

BEWARE OF MR. BAKER (2012 SnagFilms)

Directed by Jay Bulger

Cream.  Graham Bond.  Fela Kuti.  Blind Faith.  Masters of Reality.  The resume is one of the most impressive for any drummer of any genre.  It belongs to the one and only Ginger Baker, a phenomenon of a man, a loose cannon, and a rhythmic genius.  As you might guess, a documentary based on this wildman prodigy had to be tour de force.

From the start, you know this is not going to be your typical love-fest documentary.  It begins at the end, with Ginger Baker assaulting director Jay Bulger with his cane, cracking his nose over the issue of who else might appear in this film.  Indeed, Ginger was not happy about some people the director was interviewing, perhaps his ex-wives and arch nemesis but brilliant bandmate Jack Bruce (RIP).

MR BAKER 5

The bloodied director Jay Bulger

Bruce is one of many associates interviewed.  Bill Ward, Chad Smith, Neil Peart, Charlie Watts, Eric Clapton, Chris Goss and many more praise the drummer’s abilities.  His skill seemed to earn Baker many a free pass over the years, for his quick temper.  Poor Eric Clapton thought he was free of the fiery drummer with the end of Cream, but then Ginger joined his new band Blind Faith!  In this film, Baker seems like an incredibly difficult individual.  He barks at the director many times over questions he doesn’t like.  He’s purposely difficult.  Living a faraway life on a ranch in South Africa, Ginger Baker had isolated himself from his past.  It is a recurring theme in his life.  When things got tough, or when he went flat broke, he has always uprooted and gone elsewhere, starting over fresh.  Baker never had it easy, losing his dad in World War II when he was only four.

The constant uprooting and starting anew took its toll on Baker and his family.  While living in California in the early 90’s with his third wife, he hooked up with Masters of Reality for their landmark second album, Sunrise on the Sufferbus.  Though it was a good experience musically, Baker couldn’t hack starting over this time.  Opening for Alice in Chains, the drummer was pelted with crap by grunge fans that had no idea who the legend Ginger Baker even was.  The union did not last and Baker was off again to start over once more.

Through the mess that was his life, Ginger Baker was always one of the most brilliant drummers on the stage.  More a jazz drummer who played heavy, Baker learned to move all four limbs independently which created an illusion of a blur of speed.  He wasn’t physically moving as fast as it sounds, but the end result was a unique sound in rock that nobody else copied.  Jazz drummer Phil Seaman introduced him to African rhythms which led to a life-long quest.  Baker lived in Africa more than once, absorbing the local rhythms and playing with Fela Kuti, learning all he could from the birthplace of the drum.

Johnny Rotten, with whom Baker played in P.I.L., praised the drummer regardless of his personal shortfalls.  Whatever his personality might be, it is what was necessary for Baker to perfect his craft, argues Rotten.  The ends justify the means.  He could not have been Ginger Baker, if he was not Ginger Baker.  A very punk-like attitude.  Whoever Baker bruised and bloodied, the higher goal of rhythmic transcendence was achieved, and could not have been achieved if he was a different person.  That’s the way Johnny Rotten sees it, and since nobody can change the past, that’s a good way of looking at it.

4.5/5 stars

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8 comments

  1. In my opinion, Ginger Baker is quite possibly the best drummer there was (certainly within rock music!). This just served to strengthen that opinion – the footage of him with Kuti and on stage during the drumming duels is all very awesome.

    I did feel for him a bit. Especially when he was talking about Clapton and he was all “he was too bonkers for me” and relaying how gutted he was when Ginger joined Blind Faith after he quit Cream to get away from him!

    A cantankerous old bastard, though.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Excellent review, Mike. Loved this movie. As you can imagine, we drummers tend to be blown away by all the amazing work he’s done, but I certainly wouldn’t want to hang out with him. I’m glad you mention his brief stint in Masters Of Reality. I love that record, and I have a particular affinity for his vocal contribution on “T.U.S.A.” My biggest problem with Mr. Baker is the many times he’s put down other drummers of his era, especially John Bonham. There’s no doubt that Bonham (my all-time favorite drummer) lifted some things from Baker’s drum solos, but the many times Baker has slagged him off in interviews just comes across as sour grapes.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Well done, Mike! Once again, you nailed it!

    Shameless Self-Promotion:

    I really enjoyed this film. It got a blurb way back in KMA Sunday Service Week 2!

    “Beware Of Mr. Baker
    Ginger Baker documentary (watched in full on Youtube)

    I watched this incredible film on J.’s recommendation, after hearing the Baker Gurvitz Army LP last week. I say it’s incredible for all the reasons you likely already know. Baker was (may still be) one king hell of a drummer. Goodness gracious, the man can PLAY. He’s also one cantankerous, surly fuck of a man who must be absolutely repulsive to be around. I didn’t find him charming or funny at all, not in a cranky Grandpa sort of way like he might play well – no, he just comes across an ugly person. So I was torn. I loved the music, and I give all respect to his achievements in rock, jazz, world music… but the man was a total put-off. And to that he’d say good, be off with you then, you c*nt! Ha. I just think he’s a perfect example of tolerating an asshole to foster his genius, and even then most people stopped tolerating him. Glad I can just drop the needle and listen to him play, not actually have to deal with or think about the man.

    One great part was when Lars Ulrich (seriously, fucking Lars, is there a documentary you AREN’T in? Shutupshuptupshutup!) and he gives a quote about Cream being a precursor to heavy metal and it immediately cuts to Baker saying “the birth of heavy metal should have been aborted.” Oh man, that’s a rough statement since earlier he was talking about (unsuccessfully) trying to abort his daughter by giving her mother pills to do the job (see? bastard!), but I prefer to think it was the interviewer telling him what Lars had said and then THAT’S his response! Haha Lars.”

    The film is full of those moments. In another, he starts bashing Bonham and Moon because he was a jazz drummer first and his playing had swing, and so he says, for example, Bonham “couldn’t swing a sack of shit.” But for me the telling moment is when they ask his 4th wife if he’s a good step-dad to her daughter, and she just stares. You can see her thinking. The interviewer misses it, thinks she needed ‘step-father’ translated, but she didn’t. She just lets the question hang as she weighs how much she should say (and how much hell she’d catch if she said too much), and then gives a simple ‘yeah.’ But I totally didn’t believe her. Oh man.

    A great watch, if you’re in the market for a documentary about a mad bastard genius drummer. Thanks for the recommend, J.!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice. My dad used to get mistaken for him all the time in London in the very late 60’s – he was the spitting image of him at the time. He’s a much nicer man though…

    I loved the odd bit of Cream, I really like the Hawkwind LP he plays on and the stuff he did with Fela Kuti too.

    Liked by 1 person

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