Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ginger Baker

I finally got around to watching the 2012 documentary about Ginger Baker, Beware of Mr. Baker. To all appearances he's a very simple man, possibly mentally ill, definitely a Grade A son of a bitch, which—well, whatever— a lot of artists are not good human beings. But so, while we're usually not about making critical opinions here, I'll feel free to go ahead and make some.

In a category with John Bonham and Keith Moon, he was one of most famous drummery-drummers to come out of rock in the 60s, but his star has faded in comparison. Moon had more likable energy, both musically and personally, and Bonham— where do we start?— was the future of rock drumming. You could argue that Baker has more ability: he has played a wider variety of music than Bonham or Moon, and is an actual jazz musician. He's just not a very good one. I think that whatever narcissistic personality disorder helped him attract a lot of attention to himself and advance his career is also messing with his musicianship.  

I did once own an album he made in the 90s, which had Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden playing covers of some great tunes from earlier in their careers— things I was playing myself, or wanted to play— it's basically the same type of fanboy record I would have made at the time if somebody gave me $50,000 to make the record of my dreams. I can't fault his taste in listening.

All the ingredients are there for a rocking, Paul Motian-like concept, but it is just not happening. I'm not going to expend a lot of effort analyzing it, the frequent, Bam-Bam style, mono-dynamic, mono-rhythmic tom tom tom fills are a large clue— a gross indication that we're missing something fundamental.

Here's the movie:


R Valentine said...

I thought I was the only one to think this. Never understood the "Ginger is actually a jazz player' thing. Mono-dynamics, YES. Thanks for making me feel less crazy.

Anonymous said...

That concert with the 12 and More Blues tune was just strange. Very off sounding. Unfortunate that he manages to get the audience he does for that type of music considering what's out there otherwise, but that's that I guess. As you say, it's probably got something to do with his narcissistic personality.

Anonymous said...

He's ok but does seem overrated. Part of documentary also seems to be crediting him as being the only or first western musician to take a keen interest in African music/drumming. What about all the black Americcan musicians who were playing some of those rhythms years before him ?

Anonymous said...


I really think you've done Mr. Baker an injustice here. Don't try to pigeon hole him and don't listen to him talk. Check out his many recordings. They are on YouTube. Graham Bond Organisation. Ginger Baker's Airfore. Baker Gurvitz Army. etc etc.

A good album to start with be: Eleven sides of Baker.

Said my piece.

Ivor Bigun.