Beware of Mr Baker
It looks at the life of Ginger Baker, one of my drumming heroes. I wrote about Ginger Baker a while ago – based on reading his autobiography. As I said in that post, the book was not great but it did its job in sending me back to the music, to Cream and Blind Faith, to the jazz albums in the 1990s and the collaborations with Fela Kuti and his work with other bands and artists before all of that. There’s a star turn from Baker, totally incongruous on PiL’s “Album”. An album I’ve fallen back in love with recently.
I love Ginger Baker's playing. He might not be the best player. But he’s unmistakable. And that made him the best for me growing up. My ears were tuned to him; you could spot him in any lineup of drum fills; always easy to tell his kind of explosion.
And as a learner-drummer it was fun thinking you’d made it somewhere – actually got somewhere – when you learned a Ginger Baker groove or lick. Those rolling tom fills across songs like Sunshine of Your Love, Tales of Brave Ulysses and White Room – the power he put into that band, the way he propelled those songs...there was only (ever) one Ginger Baker. But it wasn’t actually all that hard to cop along to. And that was pretty cool. A nice progression from playing along to Beatles and AC/DC...
You wouldn’t ever get it quite like him. But you’d get close enough to taste that sweetness that is inspiration. Coming of course from perspiration.
Cream was it for me. For the longest time. I wanted to be in a Cream covers band. I wanted to play in that style.
I wore out copies of VHS tapes; I bought the albums and compilations across tape, CD and vinyl. I obsessed over Ginger Baker; so sure that his trio jazz album with Bill Frizzell and Charlie Haden (the dazzling, beguiling, beautiful, haunting, weird and wonderful Going Back Home) deserved a wider audience. You move on from that; realise that such albums are special for a reason – they’re special because not everyone knows about them and likes them. They’re nice to keep for yourself; if someone does want to get on board it’s a case of the more the merrier in a sense, sure, but part of the magic is in the discovery. And you need a reason to want to discover.
Ginger Baker’s playing gave me that.
I could name dozens of "better" players. None of them could play like him.
Ginger Baker liberated the drums; he freed them – in a rock/blues-rock context – from rigid timekeeping and boring patterns. He showed they could flow. His tip-the-boat style informs my own poor attempts at playing the drums – still. But more than that it informs so much of my listening.
He disappeared from rock music to follow his own journey of discovery – a journey that had him discovering "world music" long before it was the cool thing to do.
And as the poet and Cream lyricist Pete Brown implies in the trailer for this film, he was horrible to people – including himself.
A heroin addict, a drunk, a womaniser, a borderline sex-addict, gambler, thug, owner (barely) of a chaotic personality, of an impossible-to-tame spirit, Ginger Baker is a broken man. And a broke man.
I love Ginger Baker’s playing so much. I don't think I like him as a human being. That makes him all the more fascinating. It makes his playing all the more fascinating. It informs his playing.
The best characters are the ones that are flawed, often brutally so.
I haven’t been this excited about seeing a film in years. Absolutely years. This is my new Quentin Tarantino film. This is my Star Wars prequel. This is my Lord of the Rings trilogy. My Hobbit. This is my next Devil and Daniel Johnston.
Watch the trailer. Amazing. And please, watch this heartbreaking, devastating, grim Q &A from one of the festival screenings; it features Ginger and the film’s director. I was gobsmacked by that clip. I watched it twice, back to back. Then back to the trailer.
It is Ginger Baker’s fault that he is where he is – broke, busted, appearing in a documentary because of the promise of some coin. That’s my opinion at this point anyway. And I think we’re in for a real treat – sadness and joy – in watching parts of his life on the screen.
But, what do you think? Will you heed the warning? Are you aware of Mr Baker – in order to beware of him?
What do you think of Mr Baker the person? And what do you think of Mr Baker the player? And what do you think about this film Beware of Mr Baker? Is it a must-see film for you?
And if – for whatever reason – you have a copy of this movie either share it with me, or don't tell me that you have it.
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