beware of mr baker
beware of mr baker

Ginger Baker is often cited as the best rock drummer in history. This a description that sends Mr Baker into fits of rage; he considers rock legends like John Bonnham and Keith Moon with contempt – not fit to lace his shoes – because he is not a rock drummer, he is a jazz drummer.

Beware of Mr Baker is a well constructed documentary tells the story of the rollercoaster ride that Baker has ridden for the last seventy plus years. Warts and all. And boy are there some warts.

To make the film Washington based journalist and director Jay Bulger travels to Baker’s current home in South Africa to carry out a number of interviews with him on his ranch, then tops it up with interviews with family members, musicians he has worked with and those he has influenced. It appears the idea of other people featuring in the film was not something Jay had run past Ginger in advance. When he finds out that is the plan we see Jay getting a viscous crack on the nose with a walking stick. The sign on the entrance to the ranch, ‘Beware Mr Baker’, is clearly more than just a joke.

Born in 1939, three weeks before the outbreak of war, Ginger became obsessed with hitting things from an early age, soon diverting that obsession towards drums.

His early influences were Jazz drummers like Art Blakey, Phil Seaman, Elvin Jones and Max Roach – there is a very moving scene in the film where Ginger breaks down into tears of joy when he reflects on the fact that he has been fortunate enough to become close personal friends with these guys. Phil Seaman introduced Ginger to African drumming and heroin. Both of these would go on to play a major role in the life of Mr Baker.

There were no rock drummers around to influence Baker, as Clapton puts it, “he was the first, he influenced everyone else”. Kicking off with Blues Incorporated, he beat his way through a succession of bands that often burned brightly for very short periods, such as Cream, Blind Faith, Graham Bond Organisation, Baker Gurvitz Army, Fela Kuti’s Africa 70 and Ginger Baker’s Air force. There are too many bands to fit into the documentary, so we sadly miss tales of his exploits with Hawkwind, Atomic Rooster and Public Image Limited (although John Lydon does feature in the film). Latterly we get to see him with Masters of Reality and Ginger Baker and the Denver Jazz Quintet-to-Octet.

On the personal side, we get to see a trail of wrecked relationships, ex wives, abandoned children and former band mates that he has had fiery relationships with. Just about no one has a good word to say about Ginger the man, but there is universal admiration for his talent as a drummer. Simon Kirke of Free sums it up when he says he was influenced by him as a drummer but not as a person.

We see him travel the world in search of adventure and rock and roll, he drives across the Sahara in a Range Rover, sets up his own Studio in Nigeria, sets up his own Polo Club in America, flies his car out to Jamaica and flies a string of horses to South Africa.

John Lydon, himself the archetypal awkward git, says that anyone that plays drums that well should be admired, no matter how bad their behaviour; whilst Eric Clapton reflects on the concept of ‘legends’. “I am cynical about the so called rock legends that die young. They aren’t around long enough to prove themselves. But with Ginger Baker, he has been at it for a long time and no one can dispute that he is a true rock legend”.

Combining contemporary interviews with live footage and animation this is an eye opening insight to the life and times of a man generally regarded as one of the best drummers of his generation – in any style of music.

Directed by Jay Bulger

Insurgent Media production