Ginger Baker is gone.
October 6, 2019 7:33 AM   Subscribe


Here they are in their prime the Royal Albert Hall in 1968. I would have loved to have heard and felt those double bass drums live in concert. Love all the people air drumming in the audience
posted by octothorpe at 7:58 AM on October 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

The man was an asshole (read any interview with him) but his live album with Fela Kuti is the work of legends and utterly unforgettable. Farewell, and thank you for the beats.

posted by nightrecordings at 8:13 AM on October 6, 2019 [12 favorites]

For the life of me, I thought he was already gone.

posted by Thorzdad at 8:18 AM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Beware Mr. Baker is available on YouTube. Great film.
posted by stevil at 8:21 AM on October 6, 2019 [8 favorites]

posted by terrapin at 8:23 AM on October 6, 2019

Awful human being. Great drummer.
posted by tommasz at 8:23 AM on October 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

I still remember clearly the night my friend first played me Tales of Brave Ulysses and I added Cream to that list of good from before my time music.

posted by zengargoyle at 8:28 AM on October 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Guardian obituary says he played on Hawkwind's Levitation in 1980. That means the recording sessions for that album must have sucked up something like 50% of the UK's heroin imports for that year. Most approachable Hawkwind album, anyway.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 8:39 AM on October 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Beware Mr. Baker is available on YouTube. Great film.

A non-region-locked version

posted by myotahapea at 8:54 AM on October 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I mean, I'm cranky as fuck, but he seems too cranky even for me. “Oh, for God’s sake, I’ve never played rock.” Sheesh... That said, there was a time in my youth when I could fully rock out to White Room and Sunshine Of Your Love, so I gotta say thanks for that.

posted by Sing Or Swim at 9:16 AM on October 6, 2019

Cream was/is definitely one of my favorite bands; now only Eric Clapton remains.

posted by TedW at 9:19 AM on October 6, 2019

I'll say this: he wanted to be considered among the greatest. He played against (and I very much mean against) the likes of Elvin Jones, Tony Allen, Art Blakey, Max Roach and Tony Williams and he may not have scored any victories there were a handful of draws. He was an absolute master of the instrument, completely revolutionized the use of drums in rock music and played in legendary outfits from the Graham Bond Organization to Fela Kuti's band to Cream/Blind Faith to Public Image Ltd. It didn't matter what genre of music he was supposed to be playing, he could jump in and either adapt or force everyone else around him adapt. If he wanted to talk smack about the skills of John Bonham and Keith Moon, well he earned that right.
posted by HunterFelt at 9:32 AM on October 6, 2019 [7 favorites]

posted by detachd at 9:32 AM on October 6, 2019

Blind Faith - Do What You Like - Live from Hyde Park - 1969

glad we had him, glad I didn't know him

posted by philip-random at 9:39 AM on October 6, 2019 [6 favorites]

.....The article, titled "Elvin Jones' Kinesthetic Trip," included some cutting criticism directed at Baker. "Nothing's happenin'," Jones told Albert Goldman. "Cat's got delusions of grandeur with no grounds. They should make him an astronaut and lose his ass."

Well that's going in the repertoire.
posted by thelonius at 9:41 AM on October 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

He played the hell out of the drums, treated everyone around him like complete trash, and managed to live 80 years, looking like he was at death’s door the ENTIRE TIME. He was a trainwreck, but a swingin’ one.
posted by wabbittwax at 9:45 AM on October 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

posted by Splunge at 10:03 AM on October 6, 2019

posted by hippybear at 10:11 AM on October 6, 2019

“Oh, for God’s sake, I’ve never played rock.”

and yet he played in a lot of rock bands - this is why some of us think he's a bit overrated - he tended to play too much for the music he was playing at times - it was tolerated in cream because it was a 3 piece band and they ALL overplayed, so it worked

oh, well

posted by pyramid termite at 10:13 AM on October 6, 2019

For the life of me, I thought he was unkillable, like Keith Richards.

posted by jonp72 at 10:25 AM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I saw Ginger Baker play a masterclass at Musicians Institute in 1988 or 1989 to a packed room of a couple hundred student drummers, and he was amazing -- breaking down everything he did for our benefit in the simplest terms, but without talking down to anybody, and showing us (as he did the world in his music) the possibilities of the instrument. After the class he jammed with some of the instructors. Maybe he was an asshole to interviewers, but to would-be rock drummers he was incredibly generous and kind.

posted by pH Indicating Socks at 10:26 AM on October 6, 2019 [31 favorites]

I saw Ginger Baker play a masterclass at Musicians Institute in 1988 or 1989

Was it this clinic?
posted by thelonius at 10:39 AM on October 6, 2019 [11 favorites]

Holy shit Thelonius it was! Thank you for finding it!
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 10:54 AM on October 6, 2019 [8 favorites]

posted by Rash at 11:03 AM on October 6, 2019

My husband was raised Mormon, and spent his high school years in the suburbs of Denver. Apparently Mr. Armeowda and his mom were at a ward dinner one evening in the ‘90s, seated across the table from a pretty, sociable Mormon woman, and her husband: a presenile, drooling creature old enough to be her father.

It was only after the fact that my mother-in-Law even heard of Cream; someone took her aside and said, “That was Ginger Baker!” with the inevitable follow-up of what that meant. The guy really hadn’t said much at all.

posted by armeowda at 11:18 AM on October 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Thank you for finding it!

MI has a whole lot of those up on Youtube!
posted by thelonius at 11:23 AM on October 6, 2019

Any excuse to trot out this clip again - I never knew he was ever this young.
posted by YoungStencil at 11:24 AM on October 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Only the good die young - and there's the proof.


posted by dbiedny at 11:28 AM on October 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine slept with him after a Maltese gig on a 1980s tour. She told me that he was absolutely as obnoxious as his public persona indicated, but a memorable fuck nonetheless. So I've got one degree of Ginger Baker (and doubtless some of his microbiome).

Beware Mr Baker is an excellent documentary. Watch it drunk or stoned or off your tits on your favourite neurochemistry adulterant.
posted by Devonian at 11:31 AM on October 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

> “That was Ginger Baker!”

Ginger Baker marrying into the Mormons is as weird as the idea of William S. Burroughs converting to Catholicism.
posted by ardgedee at 11:48 AM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mormons rarely marry outside the faith, but I guess when they do rock exogamy, they rock it all the way down. I never knew that lady, Karen, but I get the sense she was a true optimist.
posted by armeowda at 11:56 AM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I loved Cream as a teenager. Having Disraeli Gears on repeat in those days meant that I played it over and over again on my (monaraul, no external speakers!) turntable. RIP, Mr. Baker.
posted by Lynsey at 1:08 PM on October 6, 2019

Never liked Cream, but fuck if this guy wasn't fucking punk rock. Obnoxious as hell but no kind of racist. All right Mr. Baker. You go.

posted by evilDoug at 1:14 PM on October 6, 2019

As a follow up to my previous comment about how he was amazingly talented but nevertheless one of the bigger assholes of our time, here’s an article where his son Kofi explains what life was like with Ginger Baker as his dad [original source interview from Rolling Stone]. I’ve highlighted some of the more noteworthy quotations below:

Kofi Baker called his dad “an asshole”, claiming that that Ginger “smacked him around a little” during drum lessons when he was a child.

“Taking lessons from my dad wasn't the easiest thing,” said Kofi. “If I didn't get something right immediately he'd shout and swear at me and smack me around a little bit.”


Baker outlined the strained relationship he and his sisters, Nettie and Leda, have with their father. He claimed that his family were evicted when Ginger left, and that Kofi ended up sleeping on the streets. Baker says that he last saw his father two years ago, when both men were playing shows in Chicago.

“I went to to see him at his show and went backstage and he basically told me to fuck off and leave him alone,” he said.


Asked how he would feel when his father dies, Kofi Baker replied: It's kind of like he's already dead. He's disowned me so many times in my life. It's like he's been dead to me for a long time anyway.**

**Important to note that this interview is from June 2018, prior to Ginger Baker’s death.

I distinctly remember a week in (2013? 2015?) when both Ginger Baker and Harrison Ford had interviews published online. A news feature aggregator mentioned both interviews and said that while Baker's interview was nasty and repulsive, Harrison Ford's own interview responses were so hostile that, by comparison, he made Baker look like just a slightly grumpy old man. (I disagree but the similarities are close enough that it's worthy of debate.) Now, for some context, I know Ford's back story is that - if I recall, and please do correct me if I am wrong - he was a movie set carpenter who was unexpectedly recruited by Lucas into his role as Hans Solo. He doesn't strike me as someone who was ever seeking out fame, let alone the public-worship side of fame. I had once mentioned to my husband the "nastier-than-even-Ginger-Baker" Ford interview comparison and he rightly pointed out that while Ford's public presentation / interview demeanor is unkind and therefore far from acceptable, one explanation (not excuse!) might be that Ford deals with more than just one set of aggressive fandoms - Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Blade Runner. And that he probably decided, somewhere along the line, that his way of dealing with that would be to take on a gruff and impenetrably unfriendly exterior when dealing with fans or journalists. OK, that's fair, I don't have to like it but that's fair. I know I wouldn't want to deal with the worst and most extreme members of the Star Wars fandom either.

That being said, what was Ginger Baker's "excuse"?
posted by nightrecordings at 1:41 PM on October 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

The distinction I would draw is how they treat the people they know around them, rather than how they treat the public and press. I haven’t heard many stories of Harrison Ford attacking his colleagues with a knife or abandoning his children.
posted by ardgedee at 2:33 PM on October 6, 2019 [7 favorites]

"Oh,where has my baby gone?" The angels replied

Oh, your baby has gone down the plug hole.
Oh, your baby has gone down the plug.
The poor little thing was so skinny and thin,
He should have been washed in a jug, in a jug.

Your baby is perfectly happy;
He won't need a bath anymore.
He's a-muckin' about with the angels above,
Not lost but gone before.

Do you want to do it again?
posted by a humble nudibranch at 2:58 PM on October 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

posted by jquinby at 3:03 PM on October 6, 2019

He was truly amazing and I really enjoyed his trio work with Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden. His hybrid style made that album stand out from a lot of pretty technically good but dull jazz (I’m a rock guy). But he was a dick, and talked shit about my favorite band of that era, Led Zeppelin. They wrote better songs and came off better as a unit than he did with most people. He couldn’t understand why others had more fame even though he had the best chops. That’s not how music works. Like why do you like Hendrix, his guitar’s out of tune, this random classical guitarist is more perfect, blah blah blah. So what? Maybe if he wasn’t such a jerk he’d have figured that out.
posted by freecellwizard at 3:12 PM on October 6, 2019

Cream was a big part of my teen-age-hood.
posted by MtDewd at 3:21 PM on October 6, 2019

51 years ago, almost to the day, Chicago Coliseum, Cream (openers were by excellent local fellas Conqueror Worm), probably one of the top 3 concerts I ever attended. Ginger looked, to my young eyes, about 50 years old. Someone told me that he was actually the baby of the group. Speed kills.
posted by Chitownfats at 3:28 PM on October 6, 2019

That being said, what was Ginger Baker's "excuse"?

superstardom at a very young age, in an age (the 1960s) when superstardom was sometimes confused with godhood. Also, what do we know of his childhood etc?

As for Harrison Ford, an actor friend worked with him on some big deal movie a while back and had nothing but good things to say -- the kind of guy who did everything he could to relate to his fellow cast members on a more or less equal level. Which doesn't speak to how he may treat his fans, but how is one supposed to deal with fanatics?
posted by philip-random at 3:51 PM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

If anyone hasn't seen that film from the 70s of him traveling through Africa and running into various misadventures, look it up. Its got some animated parts and he ends up in a studio in Nigeria (I think) jamming it out with the locals in the end. I can't recall the name of it.
posted by Liquidwolf at 4:08 PM on October 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

One of the most cantankerous and volatile figures in rock history...

Someone invited me to the Madison Square Garden reunion concert, tickets $600. The music was transcendent. Halfway through they paused for each of the members to make a little speech/statement, which for the most part where inspirational and nostalgic. When it came around to Ginger Baker, he gave a vitriolic diatribe about counterfeit T-shirts. It was a little weird.

He played great though.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:42 PM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by riverlife at 6:14 PM on October 6, 2019

We are gathered here today to celebrate the life and look back with happiness at the outstanding contributions of a remarkably talented but unhappy, embittered, spoiled artist who regardless his misery was able to be productive and to re-create himself many times throughout a very, very long career in a field where many don't make it out of their twenties.

posted by dancestoblue at 6:40 PM on October 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by hap_hazard at 8:18 PM on October 6, 2019

Never heard of him until now, but of course have heard him all my life.

Thanks for the link, just watched Beware Mr. Baker.

Tangential, but it is interesting to me: guy was always "broke" and in terrible financial straits, but living on a huge compound in South Africa with a stable of horses? Does not compute... I guess "broke millionaire" is different from broke poor person.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:50 PM on October 6, 2019

Pretty much? Those things can cost enough money that it doesn't leave much over for everyday stuff and you feel poor. Like being an addict - the addiction sucks up so much of your resources that if you didn't have it there would be plenty, but the addiction is almost invisible, forming the base on which the other stuff is built. It may seem odd, but everybody's life ties them into a restricted view of the world, and one would need to want to change one's entire life to address it. It's similar to saying "if only poor people saved up they wouldn't be poor any more". Well, no, that's not how it works and if those people move to a slightly less poor place they still don't spend responsibly until they change the way they see the world (and their experiences provide them with very good reasons not to).

There are some classes of people we tend to have sympathy for - the poor and addicts - and some not - the rich - but everybody is constrained by the model of the world they've been conditioned to expect.

As I've mentioned before, I actually saw Hawkwind with Ginger Baker. It was... odd. Apparently the story was that he or his manager wanted to take the band over and use it as a platform but obviously that didn't work out. Not the first person to underestimate Dave Brock, or the last.

With some artists the urge to do the thing - whether it's music, or dance or whatever - is so great that the fact that so much of the job is reciting the expected answers to the same idiot questions to a string of disinterested journalists that only the very forbearing can get out of it not looking like an asshole. And if you are an asshole in the first place, that goes double or triple. On the other hand, the sense of relief at doing the thing that drives you can be so great that it mitigates a lot, if not all, of the assholeness.
posted by Grangousier at 1:20 AM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

For those who watched the documentary- is this the one with an audience member shouting "Are you dead yet Ginger" at him, in the 60s due to already seeming decrepit? (I watched something as a teenager where this line was shouted, and my mates and I thought it was hilarious- that he survived another half a century is quite amazing.) Saw him live as part of BBM back in the day. Gave me a lot of audio pleasure in various guises.

posted by Gratishades at 4:17 AM on October 7, 2019

I loved his work with Bill Frisell. I don't have to like artists as people in order to appreciate their work. But he sounds like he was an aggressively miserable sod.


posted by biscotti at 5:15 AM on October 7, 2019

I've seen "Beware Mr. Baker". Unfortunately, he seems to have made himself miserable as well as others. But he was a great, great drummer.

posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 6:22 AM on October 7, 2019

At age 16, in one of the highlights of my youth, I saw Cream in concert in Miami at a venue known as Thee Image, a converted bowling alley. Despite the pedigree and legitimately legendary skills of Eric Clapton on guitar and Jack Bruce on bass, I remember more about Ginger Baker than the other two combined. He was riveting: so freaky looking, with a head of long, wild red hair swinging about; and with long, wild flailing limbs thunderously and furiously pounding two bass drums at once (nanoseconds apart) while he played every other drum and cymbal in an amazing, rolling fashion. He was as an apparition....
posted by swlabr at 8:41 AM on October 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Here is five minutes of Mr. Baker teaching, in 1968, how to do it! Ginger Baker drum clinic 1968. SLYT If you are interested in rock drumming, you owe it to yourself to see this old gem!
posted by swlabr at 8:46 AM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I heard of Ginger’s passing from Mike Scott of The Waterboys at their show last night in Vancouver. Their drummer played a fitting tribute (Blues for Ginger).

posted by not_that_epiphanius at 10:59 AM on October 7, 2019

posted by filtergik at 6:56 AM on October 8, 2019

A friend from NJ came visiting today, and among the subjects of discussion was the perennial issue of getting a good cup of tea in the US. She has spent some time in Northern Ireland and thus has been converted to righteousness on the subject.

Which put me in mind of this song by Masters of Reality, with Mr Baker on drums and vox, which is a heartfelt hymn to the problem. I feel it deserves an airing here.
posted by Devonian at 11:47 AM on October 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

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