Development of the British Blues and Rhythm--- show 20 --- 12-10-2014
Fleetwood Mac (Live)
Much of the Ginger Baker story has already been documented in our presentations of the Graham Bond ORGANization and Jack Bruce, but for clarity please allow me some redundancy here. Born Peter Edward Baker in Lewisham, London, on August 19th, 1939, later acquiring the nickname "Ginger" because of his red hair. In his youth, bicycle racing was his passion and his first instrument was the trumpet. “From earlier than I can remember, really, I always liked the drums. I always used to tap with my knife and fork at the table and drive everybody mad.” At age fifteen, Ginger wanted to get a drum kit but his parents had just bought him an expensive bike and couldn’t afford the new expense, so Ginger went to work in commercial art and advertising and got a cheap set.
When he was sixteen, Baker answered an ad in Melody Maker looking for a drummer for the Storyville Jazzmen, a Trad band that took him on the road for the year. “The way I play – I know now, more than ever – is something I was born with.… I could always play. When I joined the Storyville Jazz Band I told them I’d been playing for three years. In fact, I had only been playing three months.”
During that year, he also did recordings with (the?) Dobells and Acker Bilk, which led to his joining Terry Lightfoot’s Orchestra. “I was with Terry Lightfoot for six months before I couldn’t stand it anymore. We had a big row. I have rowed with everyone … I’d got a gig in Copenhagen with (guitarist) Diz Dizley. I was there three months including a tour in Scandinavia with Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the gospel singer.”
Trad Jazz had been good to pay the bills, like buying his new second-hand drum kit that got him through those first gigs, but Ginger was truly devoted to modern art and contemporary jazz. “,,, when I started playing, Trad Jazz was the thing, and it was the easiest thing to play and the best music to start off with as a young drummer. But things started to go awry when I started to play Max Roach style. As soon as this happened, Terry Lightfoot nearly swallowed his clarinet. He’d say, ‘I want four to the bar on the bass drum, nothing else!’ So I told him to get lost.”
“Then I got fed up with my kit. I got this great idea for using Perspex. It was like wood to work on, but it was smooth, and it would save painting the inside of the drum shell with gloss paint. So I bent the shells and shaped them over a gas stove …. and pieced them together with proper drum fittings. I made it in 1961 and used it up until 1966 when I got my first Ludwig kit,”
Back from the Scandinavian tour, Baker returned to his parents’ home and was able to use the vacant house next door to practice nine hours a day, essentially from when his parents left for work until they returned. Gigs were sparse, so for about three months Ginger got work at a factory loading trucks. After moving to Cricklewood, he finally got a steady gig playing mostly Big Band music at the Galtimore, an Irish Dance Hall. He had to learn to read music for the job. “I was there for eleven months and I could read anything when I came out …. I used to read off the tenor parts – used to sit up behind and read over the shoulder. Very good for your side drum playing.” About a month after getting the gig he married a girl named Liz.
“Then I got a job with the Les Douglas band. Used to work on all the American bases. Went to Germany in a paratroop plane. I left after another row. I started them all usually.” “I’d gone through the Big Band thing and was on to very modern Jazz. 1961, I started working in the Ronnie Scott’s club. I worked there for about eighteen months then went to Germany with (the) Bert Courtley Band. I also used to work in the Flamingo all-nighters.” Some of the members of the Johnny Dankworth Band, perhaps the most prestigious of the UK’s modern Jazz ensembles, wanted him in the band, but his attitude history kept that from happening. “I know I’m a bit of a monster. I have always been big-headed, but people whose playing I liked always liked mine, and that kept me going.”
Ginger had come to idolize Phil Seamen by the late 50s. “Phil heard me play in the All-Niter Club which used to be the Flamingo on Wardour Street. Tubby Hayes (the sax player) had apparently been in there and heard me and ran over to Ronnie Scott’s Club and told Phil to come down and hear me. When I got off stage I was suddenly confronted by my hero.”
In 1962, Ginger changed his focus toward the growing R&B scene, replacing Charlie Watts in Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, joining with the bass player Jack Bruce. “We actually found Jack earlier with Bert Courtley. It was in Cambridge and this guy wanted to sit in on the bass. I was very against it. Everybody was a bit – you know how Jazz musicians are … Ever since then anything we did we got Jack on the bass.”
Dick Heckstall-Smith was already in Blues Incorporated and was representative of the Jazzier influences Korner was looking for that led co-founder Cyril Davies to leave and start his own group, the All Stars. To replace Cyril’s vocals and harmonica playing, Alexis went with alto saxist Graham Bond, who also played keyboards. “Graham was in the band about two months and we did a gig in Manchester – just Graham, Jack and me. Went down a storm, so we thought -- this is it. We gave our notices in in March, 1963. Dick Heckstall-Smith joined us about six months later.”
After a brief time as a trio, Bond brought in guitarist John MacLaughlin but Baker disapproved and soon fired him, opening up room for Heckstall-Smith in the quartet now going under the name the Graham Bond ORGANization. These were tumultuous times for the band members and Baker’s attitude wasn’t the biggest offender – it was Graham Bond’s drug problem and his general personality issues. The enmity between Baker and Bruce certainly didn’t help as they would go as far as physically attacking each other on stage or sometimes just going after the other’s instruments. Ultimately, Baker fired Bruce, but when Jack continued to show up at gigs it took Ginger pulling a knife to convince him to cease. Jack went on to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Manfred Mann before he would again team up with Baker in Cream.
I’m not sure who covered the bass duties after Bruce was displaced or if it might even just have been Bond supplying the bass lines from his Hammond organ much like the American Rock band the Doors, but by 1966 the band was beginning to unravel. They were still able to draw good crowds but the travel involved just got to be too much and Baker was looking for other opportunities. Still, a poster for the ORGANization was visible outside the club where the Yardbirds (with Beck and Page) performed in the movie Blow Up.
Apparently, Baker already knew Clapton from a Bond jam session he had participated in back in 1964. “I was getting fed up with Graham and the band after three and a half years, sometimes working 16 and 17 days on the trot, Glasgow one night and London the next …. So I went to see Eric at Oxford and I said that I fancied splitting (from) Graham, was he interested and he said ‘Yes’ right away …. He said ‘Let’s get Jack’ and I thought about it and decided alright, because without a doubt Jack is the best bass player about and I thought personal things should not get in the way. I went to see Jack and he said ‘OK’ …For a few months everything was perfect and then it started getting heavy and I don’t think it has ever stopped.”
“Jack has got a very fiery personality. My reaction to it is immediate anger, always has been. I have a great problem with my temper anywhere; I usually hit doors or furniture. I have broken up a few hotels in a drunken rage. I’d rather do that than hit people.”
“On one occasion many years ago I lost my temper with Jack and if I wasn’t pulled off him by a couple of bouncers I might have done him considerable harm. From that day I promised him and Graham that it would never happen and it hasn’t. I’ve walked through a few glass doors. I kicked one in with one blow in New York on that tour. It was really good.”
We already know that Bruce was getting about two thirds of the writing credits because he was the only one to bring record-ready material to the studio, but Baker saw it another way. “I would rather go into the studio with a rough idea and hear how it’s coming out. The amount it changes in the studio is unbelievable. This I have learned through experience of writing and doing sessions since 1957 …. I got nothing for the idea (of starting the band) and nothing for looking after the managerial side of the band. When you’re on the road you’ve not got everyone there all the time to look after that side. I check the books regularly.”
Following the breakup of Cream, Clapton and Baker stayed together as Blind Faith with the addition of bass player Rick Grech from the band Family and, most notably, former child prodigy Stevie Winwood. Stevie was already a veteran of the Spencer Davis Group and Traffic while mastering keyboards and guitar in addition to having one of the most distinct voices in the music world. It had long been speculated that he would join Cream, but even his skills couldn’t overcome the lack of material the band had. After all the hype surrounding the band’s formation settled down, the reality was a dismal failure, putting out only one album in a mere seven month existence.
Clapton would begin his solo career, Winwood rejoined Traffic, and Baker formed Ginger Baker’s Air Force. I’m afraid this is where I’ve run out of first-hand listening knowledge of Baker’s endeavors. Although I’ve often wondered how he progressed, there were always too many other options including a strengthened focus on the American Blues artists. It is here, then, that I will express my gratitude to Bruce Eder for his write-up from the All Music Guide, its Blues version having long been my most looked at reference book and now the biographies are even more available online.
The Air Force was assembled with two live English shows in mind, but grew into a full-blown tour. Among the ten-piece ensemble was Baker’s idol and mentor Phil Seamen (and, I think, even a third drummer or percussionist) and Graham Bond. Eder reported on the band’s eclecticism, “embracing jazz, traditional African music, blues, folk, and rock. The ten-piece band lasted less than a year before breaking up, leaving behind a genuinely fascinating and exciting live album and an interesting studio LP (both combined on the Ginger Baker double-CD set Do What You Like)”. I looked into purchasing at least one of the CDs, but was warned repeatedly on-line about the first disc’s only available version’s terrible re-mastering, saying it was taken from a well-used LP that actually skipped in one segment. Still, the reviewers felt the music was almost worth the annoyances, but I’ll wait until the double CD set becomes once again reasonably priced.
Ginger’s interest in the African music and culture led him to move to Nigeria in 1971, where he set up the first modern recording facility in western Africa. During the three years he was there, he recorded many diverse musics, most notably Paul McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run LP which Baker still claims McCartney stiffed him on. Eder also particularly mentioned a solo album, Stratavarious. I wish I could remember where I recently read a quote by Jack Bruce during this time where he said he was having no conflicts with Ginger. Baker was in Nigeria and Bruce was in England. But he was thinking of asking Baker to move again because he was still a little too close. It was a lot funnier the way Jack said it.
Quoting Eder again, because I have no knowledge of Ginger’s efforts past this point and don’t feel comfortable in just rephrasing it: “During 1974, Baker formed the Baker-Gurvitz Army Band with guitarist Adrian Gurvitz and bassist Paul Gurvitz, which made an initial splash in America before fading out commercially over the next three years. From the late '70s until the mid-'80s, he re-emerged with bassist/guitarist Bill Laswell on the album Horses & Trees. By that time, a new generation of star drummers had emerged, most notably Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Bill Bruford of Yes and King Crimson, but Baker's reputation, thanks to the continued catalog sales of Cream's work, continued to resonate with fans and casual listeners. Over the next few years, Baker reappeared through various projects, including Ginger Baker's African Force and Middle Passage, that freely mixed African and Western musical influences. And in 1991, Baker surprised all onlookers with the release of Unseen Rain, a free-form instrumental album done almost entirely on acoustic instruments. Finally, in 1994, he returned to Atlantic Records -- which had been the U.S. outlet for Cream's recordings -- and to what he realized were his jazz roots with the triumphant Going Back Home, which featured the Ginger Baker Trio. Baker has hooked up with jazz trumpeter Ron Miles on Coward of the County, a hugely successful showcase for his jazz side and also includes a tribute to the late Cyril Davies, the British blues enthusiast who co-founded Blues Incorporated in the early '60s.”
*************************I was hoping to have a write-up about Fleetwood Mac ready for this post but there was just not a lot of time. We’ve got two, maybe even three more shows with Mac to follow so I am sure it will get done by then. I will say this now: their music presented here today is all live, recorded over a three day stay at the Boston Tea Party in February of 1970. The intention was that it would comprise their next album, but Green unexpectedly dropped out from the group so the project was shelved for decades. It features Mick Fleetwood on drums, John McVie on bass, guitarist Jeremy Spencer doing his Elmore James tunes and on a later show his 50s Rock renditions, and Peter Green being joined on guitar by Danny Kirwin who had been with the band for about a year and a half. I think you will find it a very welcome addition to their early history.
I would also like to mention the book Eric Jack and Ginger: The Cream Complete, actually a music book with a little over 45 pages of profiles and photos of the trio including each giving their own story, although it doesn’t really have the sheet music for all of Cream’s songs. It provided many of the quotes used here for Ginger Baker and two weeks ago for Jack Bruce.
I Can’t Hold Out
Got to Move
Red Hot Mama
The Sun is Shining
I Feel Free
Four Until Late
World of Pain
Outside Woman Blues
Take It Back
World in Harmony
Like It This Way
The Green Manalishi
(with the Two-Pronged Horn)
On We Jam
As You Said
Those Were the Days
Born Under a Bad Sign
Doing That Scrapyard Thing
What a Bringdown
Coming Your Way
Jumping at Shadows
If You Let Me Love You