Belfast Telegraph

Ginger Baker: The cream of drummers true cymbal of rock'n'roll survival

By Grania McFadden

The sign that used to hang outside Ginger Baker's home in South Africa got it right, perhaps: 'Beware of Mr Baker'.

Once the baddest boy in rock, who achieved massive fame during the Sixties, ingested tidal waves of narcotics and enjoyed the company of dozens of "tasty chicks", the drummer and founder member of Cream has lost neither his bark nor his bite since.

In a career that spans 50 years, he was the Stones' first drummer, and has gigged with every heavyweight in the business. Together with Jack Bruce he formed Cream, and made rock 'n' roll history.

Baker was famously voted as "the musician least likely to survive the Sixties', but he's still surviving in his 70s, and preparing to set up shop with his Jazz Confusion Band in the Festival Marquee tonight. But don't expect him to look pleased about it.

The band he formed with funk and jazz giant Pee Wee Ellis on tenor sax, Alec Dankworth on bass, and percussionist Abass Dodoo have wowed audiences since their early appearance at Ronnie Scott's, with a musical combination of Thelonius Monk, Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins, as well as some originals from Pee Wee and Mr Baker.

Previously the sticksman was living in semi-retirement on his ranch breeding polo ponies, soaking up the sun.

But then he was defrauded out of hundreds of thousands of pounds. Although he won his case, legal fees crippled him.

Now he's back on the road.

The Jazz Confusion are winning accolades everywhere they play, and Ginger's flamboyant drumming has lost none of its punch.

He claims to have practised last in 1959 – now he just turns up and plays.

Musicians, he believes, are born not made. "You either got it or you ain't", as he wrote in autobiography, Hellraiser.

He said: "I was always tapping and banging at things when I was young. We used to go to all the jazz clubs, like the Hot Club in Woolwich. I'd go to watch the drummers, like Lennie Hastings, and try to learn from them.

"At this party, there was a little band and all the kids chanted at me: 'Play the drums!'. I'd never sat behind a kit before, but I sat down – and I could play! One of the musicians turned round and said: 'Bloody hell, we've got a drummer', and I thought: 'Bloody hell, I'm a drummer'."

Ginger says it's not about how many beats you play, it's where you place them. "The job of a drummer is to make the singer or guitarist sound really good. So it's all about listening, and it's all about improvising, responding to what's going on around you."

The Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion, Festival Marquee, tonight, 8pm

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