London-born drummer for two High Sixties rock bands, Cream and Blind Faith, Ginger Baker gets the full sacred monster treatment in Jay Bulger’s energetic “Beware of Mr. Baker,” deserved winner of the best documentary last March at SXSW. The title is adapted from a sign marking the entrance to Baker’s South African estate and is amply justified in an opening sequence wherein the movie’s irascible subject swings his crutch to bash in the filmmaker’s nose.
Baker, enthusiastically endorsed by the far more calculating former punk Johnny Rotten (among others), was—in his commercial heyday and, perhaps even more thereafter—a brilliantly innovative musician and, a long-time junkie, a supremely self-destructive survivor. Scarred by the world war that broke out the month he was born and influenced more by bebop than Elvis, Baker began his career playing with British blues bands (he replaced Charlie Watts as the drummer for Alexis Korner’s outfit when Watts joined the Rolling Stones). In the late ‘60s, he joined forces with two other virtuosi—bassist Jack Bruce and guitarist Eric Clapton–to form the power trio Cream. This volatile combo was not only the avatar of stadium rock and heavy metal but arguably the most successful fusion ensemble this side of Miles Davis.
As demonstrated by footage of Baker in his frenzied “Disraeli Gears” heyday—wasted, wide-eyed, gauntly demented, and crowned with an explosive orange frizz that signifies pure static electricity—he was something like the Paganini of percussion. Indeed, whacking the drums left him with energy to spare; he took up polo and, more productively, Afrobeat.
Bulger, who comes on as an obsessed fan, tracked his quarry down to South Africa and cornered him in his lair. To judge from Baker’s ever changing outfit in his often enraged, on-going interview, the movie must have required hours of footage and a monumental persistence. The beat goes on.
Images: SnagFilms/Insurgent Media.