Friday, January 09, 2015

Beware of Mr. Baker

Opening with Ginger smashing a friend on the nose with a cane and then Johnny Rotten giving a tribute and then a writer talking about Baker's home and adventures in South Africa and then his discovery of Max Roach, you know right away that this is going to be an unusual story for a rock biography.

Ginger says that he always wanted to be a drummer and so he did - simple as that! Early on, British jazz drummer and personal hero, Phil Seaman, turned him onto smack, but the birth of his daughter convinced him that he should straighten up, though he says it took him 19 years to do so! Ginger angers quickly and threatens the interviewer more than once, showing his famous temper.

One of his first "known" bands, the Graham Bond Organization was with Jack Bruce, which started a long legacy between the two - though Baker initiated a fight with him, pulled a knife and fired him. He then formed Cream with Eric Clapton, who asked for Bruce as the bassist, against Baker's wishes, though he obviously acquiesces, for the greater good and for rock history.

(BTW, there's some great animation throughout the film for parts that they want to dramatize without using actors - really effective and creative and the caricatures of Baker are spot on.)

After Cream broke up due to conflicting egos, Blind Faith was next and was supposed to be Eric and Stevie Winwood's baby but Baker basically crashed the party, which seems to have helped with the quick demise of the group. This is followed by Ginger Baker's Air Force - a big band named after the junkie section (because they were "high") of a jazz band, and that was groovy and experimental, but not very commercial and was very costly for Ginger.

A lot happens throughout his story, including drum contests between him and great jazz drummers, in the hopes of being considered a jazz man himself. I think he proved himself to the people that were important to him, though I don't remember even hearing about these, so I don't know if the public perception of him as Cream's rock drummer ever changed.

He ends up going to Africa to explore the rhythms there that Phil Seaman turned him onto but eventually has to come back to England to try to work, but plays polo, goes bankrupt, leaves wife #1 for an 18 year old who he marries. He ends up back on junk, heads to LA, can't get work, marries wife #3, a California girl, and joins Masters of Reality. He doesn't care for the reception that he received in that band, quits, starts a jazz band, quits again and moves to Africa where wife #4 is a beautiful black woman with two kids. He is seemingly too ill to play drums any longer but then he defies all odds, sells everything and goes out on the road again!

The ups and downs are numerous but he and his story are never boring - even if he is not all that likable, overall. This should give you a new perspective on the man and his playing, though.