jack bruce

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

REVIEW: Bill Ward – Ward One: Along the Way (1990)

A companion piece to my previous Record Store Tale, a video blog, seen above!

BILL WARD – Ward One: Along the Way (1990)

To date, since leaving Black Sabbath (the first time) in 1980, Bill Ward has released precisely two full solo albums (plus the single “Straws”).   This is especially unfortunate, since both solo albums are particularly fine pieces of work.  The finest and most noteworthy was his first, Ward One: Along the Way, released a decade after his Sabbath departure.  A long time in the making doesn’t begin to sum it up.

Bill himself provides drums, lead vocals, and piano, but not on all tracks.  Some tracks feature guest vocalists (Ozzy Osbourne, Jack Bruce, guitarist Rue Philips) and a guest drummer (Eric Singer, also ex-Sabbath, but best known for being in Kiss).  Other notables include Marco Mendoza (Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake), Lanny Cordola (House of Lords), Gordon Copley (Black Sabbath), Bob Daisley and Zakk Wylde (both of Ozzy’s bands).  Jack Bruce of course also plays bass!  It’s a smorgasbord of integrity.

Aside from some production issues (this album could use a nice, clear remix) this is among the best solo products issued by any ex-member of Black Sabbath, including Dio and Ozzy.  It has its Sabbathesque moments (a few crushing guitar chords, pounding drums, peacenik lyrics) but it truly is an animal of its own.   Bill Ward received a co-writing credit on every original Black Sabbath song, and it’s clear why.  The man has a vivid imagination, creating swirling soundscapes of music.  There is nothing here that is outright commercial, nothing straightforward, everything is just slightly fucked up.  I think most likely it was Bill that gave Black Sabbath its oddball experimental edge in the early days.  An edge they have lost now that they have given him the boot.

The obvious standout track is “Bombers (Can Open Bomb Bays)”, the thunderous single featuring none other than Ozzy himself on lead vocals.  But even that is strange and offputting, as the pitch of Ozzy’s voice is manipulated in the mix, giving him an otherworldly sound at times.

But there’s nothing wrong with Bill’s own soft vocals (aside from being mixed too low), as he proves on the standout tracks “(Mobile) Shooting Gallery” and “Pink Clouds An Island”.  He often layers his vocals, thickening them up, but it’s a pleasing effect  “Pink Clouds” is a particularly great track, featuring some nice unusual percussion and vocal bits.

Jack Bruce’s “Light Up the Candles (Let There Be Peace Tonight)” is a beautiful song with a great little guitar melody that weaves in and out, but Jack really delivers on the vocal.  If you hate lyrics about world peace, avoid this album!  “Snakes and Ladders” is another standout track, perhaps the closest thing to a straightforward rock song, although Marco Mendoza’s fluid bass keeps it slightly off-kilter.

Ozzy returns to sing lead on “Jack’s Land”.  I heard a while ago that a reissue of this album was being planned, sans the two Ozzy tracks.  What a shame that would be.  Must be due to rights.  “Jack’s Land”  is a driving song, made all the more powerful with Ozzy behind the mic.  Once again, his voice is manipulated for effect.

The core riff of “Living Naked” could have found a home on many a Sab platter, but the song is otherwise very different from anything Sabbath have done.  This flows directly into “Music For A Raw Nerve Ending”, one of three songs written solely by Bill.  While there is a chugging guitar audible beneath the layers of vocals, piano and bass, it is not the driving force of the song.  Bill’s hypnotic vocal is.  And this song melds directly into “Tall Stories”, which continues the key hooks, adding Jack Bruce, even more hooks, and a soulful female backing vocal. There’s even a frickin’ didgery doo!

“Sweep” (also written solely by Bill) is a bright, fast little number, perhaps the most mainstream track on the album.  Bill’s speedy little drum pattern propels the song forward, all punctuated with an oddball guitar solo by Richard Ward (any relation?).   While the album is loaded with great tracks, it closes with one of the best, “Along the Way”, followed by Bill’s haunting “goodbye”.

There’s nothing straightforward about this album, but there’s plenty to be enjoyed.  Bill clearly had plenty of ideas to get off his chest, and often he chooses to load many ideas within a single song.  I remember it was one of the first major releases of 1990 and it definitely started the year off correctly.  (Thankfully, Bruce Dickinson followed it with his excellent solo album a couple months later!)

5/5 stars

Part 142: VIDEO BLOG! Quest For Bill Ward

RECORD STORE TALES PART 142:  Quest For Bill Ward

Full review of this CD coming soon…

REVIEW: Cozy Powell – Over The Top (1979 Polydor)

Next in line of my reviews from Record Store Excursion 2012!  Check out the video below if you missed it.  This one bought at Sonic Boom Kensington.

MIKE AND AARON GO TO TORONTO

Let’s boogie!

The lineup is impressive enough:  Joining Cozy are Don Airey on keyboards/moog and Jack Bruce on bass.  Guitarists include Gary Moore, Bernie Marsden and Clem Clempson.   So, that’s all good.

But Over The Top starts with the disco-sounding “Theme I” (written by George Martin of all people).  There’s too much of Don’s dated sounding synth.  That continues into the next track, “Killer” featuring Gary Moore.  Don’s ray-gun keyboard are too much, although Gary is brilliant, and a highlight to the track.

Cozy expertly steps his way through every track,  sounding like nobody but Cozy.  But these cheesey keyboard anthems don’t lend themselves well to his style.  Too much disco, too much funk, too much boogie and not enough rock.  Jack Bruce is great, of course, very few can do what he does.  His bass here is articulate and precise but for me, too much jazz fusion and not enough anchor!

Most of this is progressive-based rock, but the dated synth echoes too many things that nobody really liked anymore.  The songs are not especially stiking, and Cozy doesn’t really go nuts until the final song, “Over The Top”.  The producer behind this mess?  None other than Martin Birch!

Best Song:  “El Sid” which has some groove and stomp to it, the keys are toned down while Jack plays some beautifully stretchy basslines, and Bernie Marsden throws in one of those bluesy solos that you know and love from early Whitesnake.  (Bernie wrote this one.)  Second best is “Sweet Poison” which has moments that smoke.

I dig the cover art with Cozy jumping his drums with his bike!  Sweet.

2/5 stars.  I think it likely that if Cozy were with us, hey’d probably regret the keyboard-saturated sound today.

TRACK LIST:

Side One – “Theme I”, “Killer”, “Heidi Goes To Town”, “El Sid”

Side Two – “Sweet Poison”, “The Loner”, “Over The Top”