MUSIC WRITER IN JAPAN
22nd September 2014
There is a 2012 documentary about one of rock’s greatest drummers called Beware Of Mr Baker made by Rolling Stone journalist Jay Bulger. It opens with Ginger breaking the filmmaker’s nose with his walking cane and he spends the majority of the rest of the film insulting and belittling Bulger, telling him to ‘fuck off’ whilst occasionally relating an interesting anecdote but even when he does that, he’s obviously more interested in watching TV than telling the story. It’s a well known fact that Ginger hates interviews and particularly stupid questions although he’s never actually said what he thinks a stupid question is so avoiding asking them is an almost impossible task. I spent twice as long as I normally do preparing for this interview, writing questions, avoiding ones that he had been asked before and re-reading his autobiography to try and find something that has never been answered; there was nothing so I wrote what I could and set off to meet one of rock’s genuine wild men.
I met Kiyo at the Cotton Club and we were both obviously nervous. The staff there were as gracious as ever, welcoming and friendly but even they seemed a little unusually anxious as they guided us backstage and asked us to wait for the man to arrive. A few minutes later, Ginger, his band and Road Manager, Doug, walked down the corridor and just as they were approaching, Doug turned to Ginger and gesturing towards us said “These are the guys for your interview.” “What fucking interview?” replied Ginger and ignored us. Kiyo and I looked at each other and wondered what the hell we were doing there. A few minutes later, now quaking in our boots, Doug came out and greeted us warmly confirming that we were not videoing and that photos were ok but no flash. We were then ushered into the dressing room. I sat down in front of him and said “Mr Baker, thank you for this.” He didn’t offer to shake hands, looked at me with disdain and carried on eating a sliced baguette (which he continued to do throughout the interview). He then noticed Kiyo’s camera and glared at Doug who reassured him it was photos only. I then started the interview…
Q: Welcome back to Japan.
Q: On behalf of all your fans in Japan, I’d like to thank you for coming out here and playing given all your health issues. Travelling must be difficult…
Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion
Q: I saw the show last night and you’re certainly 100% when you play. Is this the most satisfying band musically you have been in?
GB: Yeah - One of them.
Q: Why did you decide not to have any chord instruments in this band?
GB: God. It was ordained by Allah.
(His band sitting behind us, laugh at this answer)
Q: The album covers a lot of ground; fifty years of music from Sonny Rollins’ St Thomas in ’56 onwards. Were they all your selections or was it a group choice?
(Ginger turns to Doug who repeats the question in a loud voice)
GB: We all decided what were going to do really.
Q: The track Why? is autobiographical..
GB: What? Speak up for fuck’s sake.
(Feeling a bit self conscious, I repeat the question in a louder voice and continue to do so for the rest of the interview).
Q: The track Why? is autobiographical…
GB: Oh is it?
Q: Well it seems to be, I’m asking you…
(No answer forthcoming, I move onto the next question)
Film and Book
Q: Reading Hellraiser, your autobiography, it is astonishing the ups and downs you’ve had. When all is said and done though, do you consider yourself to be fortunate or unfortunate?
GB: No I don’t think so. More bad parts than good parts. (Ginger chuckles to himself at this answer.)
Q: The film about you makes you out to be cantankerous with occasional pleasant moments; do you think it was a fair representation of you?
GB: I’ve only seen it once and I’m not going to see it any more.
Q: Is there a more compassionate side to you that never made it into the film?
GB: I don’t know.
(One of his band members shouts ‘Yeah!’)
Q: There is?
(Ginger struggles for an answer and the entire room bursts into laughter)
Off the road
Q: You can’t ride horses or play Polo anymore so what do you enjoy doing now?
(More laughter from the band)
Q: Are you a football fan?
Q: Who do you support?
Q: Did you see the game last night?
(The current Premier League leaders Chelsea had played the current title holders Manchester City which resulted in a 1-1 draw.)
Q: What did you think of it?
GB: Well it’s a pity they bought Frank Lampard.
(Frank Lampard was a Chelsea player, scoring 147 goals for the club and was then inexplicably sold to Manchester City at the beginning of this season. He was brought on as a substitute in this game and scored the equalizing goal).
Q: I’ve heard you say on numerous occasions that time is the most important thing to being a musician but you joined Hawkwind which must have been a nightmare for timing.
Q: So why did you join?
GB: I needed some money.
(The band laugh again)
Q: Was Doug Smith the manager?
Q: I did some work for Doug Smith, he never paid me.
GB: I didn’t get any money at all. They promised it and then I found out that there wasn’t any money. It was the most difficult band and I split.
Q: You’re old drum tech from those days Billy Fleming sends his best regards to you.
(Billy Fleming was featured in our Meet The Staff issue No.171. He worked for Ginger when he was in Hawkwind and also lived with him for a few months on his olive farm in Italy.)
(Ginger has a confused, quizzical look on his face)
Q: Billy Fleming – his nickname was Goom. He’s a friend of mine and was your drum tech for Hawkwind and lived with you for a while in Italy. He asked me to say hello to you.
GB: Oh ok.
(Ginger obviously has no idea who I am talking about so I move on)
Music, drums and playing
Q: Are there any drummers you admire these days? Not in Rock but in Jazz?
GB: I don’t listen to music.
Q: Nobody at all?
GB: I don’t listen to music so how would I know?
Q: Good point. Is your current kit customized in any way?
GB: Well this isn’t my kit.
Q: I know but the one you usually use is it in anyway customized?
GB: Yeah. That’s why I have to bring the bass drums on the road because the normally manufactured bass drums for my kit don’t work.
Q: What’s the difference?
GB: They’re narrower.
Q: Is it true that you have your original cymbals from when you toured with Cream?
GB: Yeah. Three of them.
Q: Is there a reason you kept them? A special sound or something?
GB: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
(This is an old English expression meaning that if something is working well, there is no need to change it)
Q: I think if you auctioned those cymbals you ‘d make a fair bit of money.
GB: Would I?
GB: Didn’t do very good when I sold the old drum kit.
Q: Oh ok.
(Once again the band burst into laughter)
Q: You were away from England for a long time and now you’re back; Have you and your family settled in ok?
GB: For the time being.
Q: Is England better or worse than when you left?
(Ginger gives a ‘thumbs down’ sign)
Q: Why’s that?
GB: Terrible. It’s the British public’s own fault because they allow themselves to be conned. You know, democracy is ‘The biggest con-man wins’.
Q: One last question: Would you care to comment on what happened to cause the Cream reunion being cancelled or would you rather keep it private?
(In April 2014, Jack Bruce talking to The Guardian newspaper in England said that a Cream reunion scheduled for 2013 had been cancelled because Ginger had upset Eric Clapton in some way but no other details were given)
GB: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Q: Well Jack Bruce said…
GB: (said rather nonchalantly) Oh Jack Bruce…Jack Bruce lives on his own little planet. If you don’t hear it from me or Eric, forget it.
Q: Mr Baker, thank you very much for your time and have a great show.
We stood up to leave. Again no handshakes were offered and Ginger carried on eating, seemingly happy now that the annoying distraction of an interview was over. The whole thing had taken just eight and a half minutes and as we exited the dressing room, the band complimented me on the questions I asked. That was a nice, comforting gesture on their part as they had obviously seen Ginger far more annoyed and aggressive with other writers. Outside, Doug told us that it went very well. I had my doubts but reading it back now, it doesn’t seem as bad as when we were doing it. I seem to have avoided the ‘stupid questions’ and given the fact that I doubt we’ll have another chance to meet him due to his health issues and his loathing of interviews, I think Kiyo and I can walk away from it safe in the knowledge that he will remember us – if he remembers us at all – with a modicum of respect, rather than somebody he’d like to hit and I’m very proud to say ‘We survived Ginger Baker’.