By Dirk Sonniksen | February 26, 2013
Director: Jay Bulger
Writer: Jay Bulger
Director Jay Bulger began his foray into Ginger Baker territory operating under the guise of a writer for Rolling Stone magazine. Baker bought into the ruse and Bulger’s story was actually published in said magazine. But mere words were not enough and Bulger returned to Ginger Baker’s South African ranch/compound to delve even deeper into the man idolized by seasoned drummers around the world, in what would become Beware of Mr. Baker.
Bulger’s documentary follows the famed drummer through childhood, his teenage years, the formation of the Graham Bond Quartet (later to become the Graham Bond Organization), and Cream, the band that would place Baker at the forefront of ’60s experimental rock and roll. Baker’s early love for jazz and his interest in African percussion would prove to be crucial elements in forging a style that would set him apart from other drummers of the period, eventually propelling Baker to the pinnacle of rock and roll stardom.
But even the greats of the world have bad days and Ginger Baker seems to have had plenty, with addiction, financial woes, and a general listlessness contributing to the derailment of his music career. When Bulger tracks down Baker in South Africa, his finances are waning and any money made during his heyday with Cream (even the reunion money) is gone. Baker spends his time in a recliner smoking and watching crappy television as a perfectly good drum set collects dust in an adjoining room.
Bulger does an admirable balancing act, showcasing Baker’s talent and exposing his faults that led to a decline in his career. At first glance, we see a Ginger Baker that is a very unlikeable individual, and while Baker won’t go down in history as the world’s biggest sweetheart, Bulger does touch on events in Baker’s life that help explain his behavior. Most notably, Baker discusses his father who died when he was quite young, a recurring theme throughout the documentary. What one might glean from these moments is that Ginger Baker is a man held hostage by memories that cannot be laid to rest — and so the cycle continues.
Beware of Mr. Baker is an entertaining look at one of rock’s most influential drummers, and those that love the era will likely find Bulger’s documentary a nostalgic look at a time when rock and roll bands were, well, cool. That said, Beware of Mr. Baker will likely do little to endear Ginger Baker to those that aren’t in the know, although perhaps a bit of leeway is deserving for a guy that is still searching for home — a painful search to be sure, but an admirable journey nonetheless. Sympathies aside, after a while I just wanted to shake him and scream,”Shut up and play the damn drums!” Perhaps Mr. Baker still has it in him. Let’s hope so.
Beware of Mr. Baker is available on VOD, February 26, via SnagFilms.