Former Cream and Blind Faith member Ginger Baker is arguably the greatest drummer in rock and roll history. Another argument could be made that he’s the most difficult drummer to deal with. A new documentary, Beware Of Mr. Baker, looks into both aspects of his life and career.
The film features interviews with former bandmates (Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Steve Winwood), peers (Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones, Bill Ward of Black Sabbath) and disciples (Stewart Copeland of The Police, Neil Peart of Rush, Chad Smith of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lars Ulrich of Metallica), as well as family members — many of whom have a bone to pick with the man.
The film focuses on Baker’s career with Cream and Blind Faith, as well as with The Graham Bond Organization (the band where he first played with Jack Bruce), the Baker Gurvitz Army, the hard rock band Masters Of Reality, the Denver Jazz Quartet, and his collaboration with Afro-beat legend Fela Kuti.
It’s a fascinating documentary, whether or not you like Baker’s music. And we don’t want to give too much away. Instead, Radio.com spoke with director Jay Bulger about some issues that weren’t addressed in the film.
Bulger considered a much more controversial title than Beware Of Mr. Baker:
Throughout the film, Bulger attempts to get a rise out of the notoriously cranky Mr. Baker. He reports: “There were times where I said, ‘Look man, [the film] might be about you, but I’m in charge of coming up with the name of the movie. The name is going to be Ginger Baker, The World’s Greatest Lesbian Drummer. I just think it’s areally catchy title.’ He said, ‘You can’t do that!’ I said, ‘I can do whatever the f*** I want! Now let’s get this interview going!
Ginger Baker has a lot of issues with former Cream bandmate Jack Bruce. How come they reunited (sans Clapton) in the ’90s?
Again, we don’t want to give anything away. But the film didn’t mention the fact that the two of them reunited — without their superstar bandmate Clapton — in the ’90s. Sticking to the Cream-trio format, they worked with guitarist/singer Gary Moore in the imaginatively titled group BBM (they also had a trio with six-string prodigy Blues Saraceno). So if there was such animosity, why did they get back together? Bulger says that the answer is simple. “Money, man!” And, as it happened, Jack Bruce wasn’t Baker’s least favorite bandmate in that group: “He hated Gary Moore more than he hated Jack Bruce! Maybe that made Jack more bearable for him. But they (Ginger and Jack) have such a bizarre relationship. They have the most adversarial but yet musically symbiotic relationship. And by the way, I think Jack lent Ginger money recently! Jack’s used to Ginger by now and doesn’t take (his rants) seriously.”
Towards the end of the film, Baker mentions that he might have to sell his home, a ranch in South Africa. What happened next?
Bulger reports, “He sold it, he had to sell everything,” including several horses that lived on the ranch. “He’s back in England now.”
Bulger interviewed two of his three ex-wives. He’s seen in the film with his fourth wife, Kudzai, a woman from Zimbabwe who he met online. Are they still together?
Bulger says: “He’s still with his wife.” She and her daughter moved to England with him.
The film discusses Cream’s May 2005 concerts at The Royal Albert Hall (which went well) but not the shows in October of that year at Madison Square Garden (where things went south). What happened at the New York shows?
Supposedly the issue at the New York shows was one of the things that Baker and Bruce fought about in the past: Bruce playing too loud for Baker’s liking (Bulger wrote about it a bit in a Rolling Stone piece on the drummer that preceded the documentary). “Yeah, they had a plexiglass barrier to split up Jack and Ginger,” Bulger says. But as Baker said in the aforementioned story, “The reunion was 1968 all over again.” Bulger confirms, “They got back into that mode and egos started getting involved. I guess it was a disaster.”
In 2007, Clapton reunited with Steve Winwood for a tour that featured a lot of Blind Faith material. Was Ginger angry that they didn’t invite him?
“I’m sure he was pissed off,” Bulger says. “Plus, he could have used the money, but he would never admit that.” Semi-spoiler alert: Baker, an equine enthusiast, spent an alarming amount of money on horses over the years, and this is discussed in the film.
Bulger interviewed Baker’s first and third ex-wives, but not the second. Why?
Bulger tried to get her in the film, but she declined. “She said, ‘I’m not going to have anything positive to say, and I know he’s not going to have anything positive about me.'”
Neil Peart famously avoids interview, barely doing press for Rush’s albums and tours. Yet, Bulger got him for both the Rolling Stone profile and the film. How?
Bulger reveals that the mercurial drummer’s quotes for the Rolling Stone piece weren’t from an actual interview. “He just sent me a 10-page Word document [about Baker]!” But Peart was game to meet in person once the documentary was in production. “He was the easiest interview that I ever had. He said, ‘Do you want to interview me, or should I just do my monologue?’ I said, ‘Let’s try the monologue!'”Were there any interviews with legends that didn’t make the film?
Beware Of Mr. Baker opens this week in select theaters; check the film’s official site for more details.– Brian Ives, Radio.com