Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Difficult bandmate, terrible husband, amazing drummer

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NO one could ever accuse director Jay Bulger of making a hagiography of virtuoso drummer Ginger Baker.

There's a couple of reasons for Bulger's insistence on portraying both light and dark sides of his subject. One is that Baker's raging temper and his outrageous behaviour are the stuff of rock legend, too pervasive to ignore.

The other reason: in the first minute of this doc, we see the now-elderly Baker whack Bulger on the nose with his cane.

The probable cause emerges for that outburst. Having wrapped up his extensive interviews with Baker, Bulger makes his intentions known that he plans to interview many of Baker's friends and associates. And the drummer is not enamoured of the notion.

With good reason. The man has torched a lot of bridges.

If you thought the late Keith Moon of The Who was the pre-eminent madman of Brit rock percussion, you'll need to meet the still-living Baker. As a drummer, he is revered onscreen by numerous peers in the film, including Stewart Copeland, Neil Peart, and Nick Mason, all of whom called Baker a primo inspiration. More importantly (to Baker anyway), he gained the respect of a host of jazz drummers, such as Max Roach and Art Blakey. Their good opinions of Baker's musicianship mark the one time in the film you see Baker overcome with tears.

The only guy given to defending Baker's toxic personality is Johnny Rotten, which probably should tell you a lot.

Away from the drum kit, Baker was a bit of a bastard, serially abandoning family and friends, nursing decades-long drug habits, and attempting to solve problems with violence. (If you wonder why his band Cream only lasted a couple of years, listen to bass player Jack Bruce describe Baker threatening him with a knife, or Eric Clapton confess to emotional breakdowns wrought by the tension between Bruce and Baker.)

If he was an uncontrollable bandmate, he was a terrible husband and father. (Bulger conscientiously subtitles certain interview subjects as Wife #1, Wife #2 and so on.) Vanilla Fudge drummer Carmine Appice recalls that, at the height of his fame, Baker's demands to concert promoters included "a case of beer, two black hookers and a white limo."

A terrible man, yes, but Baker is a great subject for a rock doc, and Bulger duly supplements the talking heads with abundant concert footage and some terrific animation.

Beware of Mr. Baker (the title is taken from a warning sign on his property in South Africa) is valuable as a document of Baker's contribution to rock drumming. It may constitute the best possible means of getting to know him: from the safety of a cinema seat.

Clearly, one doesn't want to be in striking distance of the man himself.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2013 D6

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