✹ Když mluvíme o těch prvních dnech, vybízím Bakera, aby vyprávěl příběh o tom, jak se poprvé dozvěděl, že je bubeníkem. „Byl jsem posedlý myšlenkou, že jsem profesionální cyklista. Byl jsem mladý a jezdil sem všude možně. Pracoval jsem v uměleckém oddělení reklamní agentury a každodenně jsem jezdil na kole.“
✹Above image: second left | Wild man: Ginger Baker (front, seated) in his Sixties heyday, with Jack Bruce (left) and Eric Clapton in supergroup Cream Photo: Dezo Hoffmann|Rex✹
Ginger Baker: heartbreaker, hellraiser, trailblazer
✹ Ginger Baker’s drumming — like his personal life — was the stuff of legend. Now 78 and back on the road, he talks to Ivan Hewett.
✹ Meeting Ginger Baker is a scary prospect. He’s the embodiment of the hell~raising rocker, the man once voted „the rock star least likely to survive the Sixties“, who left behind him a string of wrecked cars, failed marriages and busted supergroups. He has almost destroyed himself, too, with a drug habit he only kicked in the Eighties. His name alone brings two images uppermost to my mind. One is of Baker beating the hell out of a drum kit at a Cream gig in 1967 during one of his titanic solos, red locks and wiry arms flailing with crazed energy. The other comes from the documentary Beware of Mr Baker, which opens next week. The film’s maker Jay Bulger is desperately trying to close the door of his 4WD, while an old fellow flails at him with his walking stick, shouting „You fuck a hole!“
✹ „He deserved it. He lied to me,“ says the 78~year~old Ginger Baker mildly, when I finally get to meet him. He has the air of a convalescent, his thin and battered~looking frame stretched out on one of those orthopaedic easy chairs with a raised footrest. We’re in the living room of his modest detached house in a suburban road in Kent. I look around for mementoes of his tumultuous life, but see instead pictures of his fourth wife, a beautiful South African woman.
✹ He glares at me suspiciously through a haze of cigarette smoke.
✹ „You’re not going to do a Daily Mail on me, are you?“ he asks. Meaning? „Oh you know, ‘Rock star loses millions and comes back home penniless’. Makes a good headline,“ he says, in a tone that’s almost querulous. In fact, the headline is true. Baker is down on his uppers. What should have been a sunny semi~retirement in South Africa, playing jazz gigs when it suited him and breeding polo ponies, came last year to an unhappy end. He brought a court case against a bank clerk whom he says defrauded him of hundreds of thousands. Baker won the case, but it ruined him, and he had to sell the estate for a fraction of its value. Now he’s back in Britain and back on the road, just as he was in the Fifties.
✹ Talking about those early days prompts Baker to tell the story of how he first became aware he was a drummer. „I was obsessed with the idea of being a professional cyclist when I was a kid, and I rode everywhere. I worked in the art department of an ad agency, and I used to ride in on my bike every morning.
✹ „One day I had a smash~up on Duke Street St James’s, and the bike was a write~off. Well I had to earn some money, and this mate of mine said, ‘Why don’t you play drums?’ It’s funny, they all knew I was a drummer, and I didn’t. I was always beating rhythms when I went to jazz gigs, which I did a lot. Anyway, I went along, they sat me down at the kit, and I just did it. I remember one of the horn players turned to the other and said, ‘Christ, we’ve got a drummer.’“
✹ The whole of Baker is in that story: the need to live on the edge of disaster, the remarkable gift that allows him to perform complex feats of physical co~ordination at the first attempt, the strange lack of self~awareness. Another story reveals something else: the incredible drive that overcomes all obstacles. „I was looking for a paid gig, and I answered this ad in Melody Maker. I didn’t have a drum kit because my mum wouldn’t buy me one, so I bought a toy drum kit and sort of worked on it. I cut up my tent to put a front head on the bass drum, added a biscuit tin to one of the tom~toms, and took this kit with me to Leytonstone, and got the gig. I told them I’d been playing professionally for three years, and my normal kit was busted.“
✹ The arrival on the scene of this gauche, hot~tempered and oddly vulnerable~looking drummer caused a stir, and Baker was soon immersed in the jazz world of Fifties Britain. Later, he was a regular at Ronnie Scott’s, until his growing heroin habit prompted club owner Pete King to throw him out. As he reminisces, names now only remembered by serious enthusiasts come tumbling out: Acker Bilk, Terry Lightfoot, Diz Disley. „I had a lot of support from older drummers, like Phil Seamen, and later I met the great Americans, like Max Roach and Art Blakey and Alvin Jones. They accepted me and I played alongside them and it was very rewarding,“ he says, banging the chair for emphasis. This is what Baker wants me to understand more than anything: he got the respect of his heroes.
✹ The reason Baker didn’t join the ranks of these now almost~forgotten names is that he became part of the British blues movement in the late Fifties and Sixties, which prepared the ground for the explosion of British pop. One of these bands would eventually spawn the supergroup Cream. „That was the Graham Bond Experience, which was hugely successful.“ Along the way, Baker found time to educate himself about music. „I sort of picked up reading music when I was playing for a ceilidh band. This horn player said, ‘Christ, your reading’s bloody amazing, you should write your own stuff.’”
✹ On his advice, Baker devoured harmony books and The Schillinger System, the abstruse composition textbook that had inspired George Gershwin. I ask Baker whether he’d had music lessons at school. „Oh, how I wish I’d paid attention at school,“ he says. „I just used to take the push all the time, like the other kids. Though I did sing Oh for the Wings of a Dove in the school choir.“
✹ Playing in these bands led to some fateful encounters. One was with a young Mick Jagger („He had this long, floppy hair. I thought he was a bit of a girlie prat, to be honest“). The other was Jack Bruce, and, later on, Eric Clapton. With the last two he formed Cream, and suddenly Baker was thrust into a world of stretch limos, vast stadium gigs, girls on tap, and more money than he knew what to do with. Can he recall the first time he actually felt well off? He takes a greedy drag on his cigarette while he thinks. „Well, I bought my first car just before we formed Cream. The Who needed a song in a hurry, so I sold them one for £1,500. I bought a Rover 2000 and wrecked it in three weeks,“ he says with a laugh that trails away in a cough.
✹ The short~lived Cream era (1966~68) was vastly lucrative (though less so for Baker than for Bruce, who Baker feels hogged the writing role in the band, at his and Clapton’s expense). Was it musically rewarding too? “For the first 18 months it was great. But things got too bloody big, and too bloody loud. It was what I call the Marshall problem. They kept piling these huge Marshall speakers one on top of another. That’s why my hearing’s wrecked.“
✹ After Cream, in 1969, came another short~lived supergroup, Blind Faith, and then Baker’s long peregrinations around the world began. The first was to Nigeria, where he moved to set up a studio. „I did a lot of rally driving, and someone said to me, ‘The way you drive, you should play polo.’ Well I got on this pony and someone whacked it and when I came back my beard was on one side of my face and my glasses on the other, but I was still on the horse. I got really good at polo, but I’ve had a lot of falls which have wrecked my body. They had to take a piece of my hip bone out and screw it into my neck here,“ he says, pointing to a scar.
✹ Meanwhile, Baker had teamed up with Nigerian superstar Fela Kuti, with whom he collaborated on the 1971 album Live!. It set the pattern for the next 40 years; driven onwards by another falling~out, or a desperate need to kick his heroin habit, or another failed marriage, Baker would pitch up in a new place, seek out the local musicians and form a new band. It’s a feat few rock drummers could pull off, and when I mention this to Baker I get a glimpse of the Ginger fury. „I hate fuck rock music!“ he shouts, and bursts into a parody of a bog~standard rock backbeat. „It’s so banal. I’m a jazz drummer.“ What’s the difference? „You have to swing. There are hardly any rock drummers I know who can do that. That’s why I can fit in with other musicians, like Fela Kuti, and the jazz musicians I played with when I lived in Colorado [in the Nineties]. People go on about how many beats I put down, but it’s not how many beats you play, it’s where you place them. Also it’s what you don’t play; you have to leave spaces in the music. The job of a drummer is to make the singer or guitarist sound really good. So it’s all about listening, and it’s all about improvising, responding to what’s going on around you.“ |
✹ By Ivan Hewett | 12:20PM BST, 16 May 2018 | https://www.telegraph.co.uk/ |