“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).
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.