“Beware of Mr. Baker”: Give the Drummer Some Slack

“Bonham had technique, but he couldn't swing a sack of shit,” says great drummer and sack of shit Ginger Baker to interviewer Jay Bulger. This is one of many aperçus in Bulger's documentary Beware of Mr. Baker. Baker, who first distinguished himself as a jazz drummer, became a member of influential '60s Brit rock acts, including the Graham Bond Organisation, Cream, and Blind Faith. (This period is represented with copious vintage footage in which Baker appears behind the traps with a mad, Mephistophelean grin.) Although he prefers to be regarded as a jazzman, Baker's influential syncopated double-bass drumming has sometimes singled him out as a father of heavy metal — an honor he declines. “The birth of heavy metal should have been aborted,” Baker says, shortly after recollecting the botched abortion of his first child. Breaking away — from families, from countries, from bands — is Baker's signature move. When Bulger asks Baker if he regretted leaving people behind in his move to Nigeria in the 1970s, Baker responds “What people I left behind?” With his shark-like restlessness, Baker displays “the questing spirit of a true artist,” as Rush's Neil Peart says, one of a gallery of celebrity drummers — including Lars Ulrich — who stop in to give their two bits so that Ginger won't be the worst person in his movie, an engaging tussle over what is permissible with the excuse of art. One former collaborator of Baker's, John Lydon (aka Rotten), comes up with the most eloquent absolution: “I cannot question anyone with end results that perfect.”

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