Having seen drumming genius Reni in action of late, we’re in a drumming mood. So we’re taking a look at another British legend who, at 76, is still very much with us and as belligerent as ever: former Cream superstar drummer Ginger Baker.
When one thinks of Baker two things generally spring to mind: brilliant behind the kit, but very much indeed slightly off the rails and an unstoppable maverick.
Beware of Mr. Baker is Jay Bulger’s brilliant documentary about the man, myth, and legend, with Bulger quite literally taking a beating to bring to us arguably one of the best ever films about music.
Beware of Mr. Baker
Peter Edward “Ginger” Baker was born in August 1939 and as an infant listened to the sound of bombs crashing down on London during World War II.
Taking beatings from his abusive father and generally being a rebellious sort who wasn’t likely to fit into society, it’s just as well he soon discovered his natural rhythm.
We’ve all got a funky beat in us somewhere thanks to ancient humans thumping out a beat with sticks, stones, and the shattered skulls of enemies.
This primal instinct has stayed with us for millennia and brought with it a whole batch of crazed drummers eager to look like complete lunatics by flailing their arms around.
Beware of Mr. Baker exists to portray the rise and rise of a genius as he journeyed from chaotic early years into an even more chaotic life.
Inspired by drummers such as Phil Seaman (who you can see playing below), Baker would come to fuse Jazz with primal African beats to revolutionise rock drumming and generally stun the music world.
During this time he was also introduced to heroin, which set up Baker’s chaotic behaviour for the next few decades.
As a result, despite heading up rock giant Cream in the ‘60s (during which time he popularised rock drum solos) the supergroup only lasted for a couple of years as the trio of Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton couldn’t work together any longer.
This was mainly due to Baker’s dangerous and erratic behaviour, which included pulling a knife on Bruce, beating up Bruce (the pair did not get on), and turning up to a concert in America an hour late with a trail of police cars in the distance hunting for him.
Calmly walking on stage, his natural talent took over and he reeled off the gig with the police, having found his abandoned vehicle outside, waiting in the wings.
Such antics, of course, led to Clapton and Bruce wanting to end the band – they performed a farewell tour in 1968.
Baker’s Drumming Style
The documentary is full stories from Baker’s tumultuous, often bizarre life, but at the heart of it is his remarkable drumming ability.
Voted the third best drummer of all time in Rolling Stone magazine just last month, Baker was behind only Keith Moon (who he, to this day, doesn’t rate) and John Bonham (he claims Bonham had “rhythm” but no swing).
In the documentary, Eric Clapton states Baker is in a different league to those two as he’s a fully formed musician, but that’s a debate which will rage forevermore between rock music fans.
Turning to the man for an opinion on the matter, Mr. Baker’s attributed his genius to “a gift from God” – in reality, he simply has an exceptional brain which merges staggering limb independence with a phenomenal understanding of music, rhythm, and time.
Baker In the Modern Era
At 76, Baker is still playing and you can go and see him live. If you want to. With his health failing (he has a heart condition), he’s recently cancelled a batch of gigs and usually only plays for around 30 minutes when he’s up there as he gets knackered out.
At that age it’s understandable, but things certainly haven’t been aided by his lifestyle. Ironically, this is a similar situation Eric Clapton is now facing – the guitar god is struggling to play as his nervous system begins to play up.
What you can do is watch this fantastic documentary and see why Baker is rated so highly by his peers and those whom he inspired. You’ll have a laugh along the way, but you’ll also get an understanding into what being a cantankerous old git must be like.
06/10/2019: And we, sadly, have to report that Mr. Ginger Baker passed away today at the age of 80. An outpouring of respect followed, with so many people discussing his brilliance as a drummer and musician. RIP.