That’s 74 years of age – not 74rpm or 74mph! Who am I talking about? Legendary drummer Ginger Baker, that’s who; the famed sticksman of Cream, Airforce, Baker Gurvitz Army and (now) Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion.
Back in June I was privileged to see Ginger Baker drumming in person at Kingston’s Rose Theatre in an excellent set with his Jazz Confusion pals.
It’s a wonder Ginger is still alive, never mind drumming! His ups, downs, trials and tribulations are well documented throughout 60s/70s rock history – including the infamous anecdote about giving up heroin 27 times! (28 times lucky perhaps?)
Fast-forward to the present day and the 74-year-old Mr Baker requires the support of two people to be helped (virtually carried) to and from his drum kit (as he was at the Rose Theatre) and further requires periodic inhalations from an oxygen tank (the after-effects of a respiratory infection picked up in Japan) but, amigos……….he is STILL drumming!
Those who know me (or have read this blog before) will know that Ginger Baker was one of the main influences on me when I began drumming (as a kid in the late 70s); well, we both had red hair and we both played the drums – obviously peas from the same pod! Across twenty (or so) years of drumming I became really rather good (though I do say so myself – which I know one shouldn’t!). However, I never quite reached the sheer brilliant heights of Ginger Baker. Thus, I tripped over my feet to finally see him in performance!
One interesting anorak detail I noticed was that Ginger has now swapped his adherence to Ludwig drums (for me, the all-time Rolls Royce brand of drum kit) for the dedicated jazz kit of DW (Drums Workshop). I don’t know much about DW myself (it’s been many moons since I wielded the sticks) but I guess Ginger knows what he’s doing. They certainly sounded OK!
It was a gig of two halves. I was a little surprised that, in the first half, Ginger did nothing that I myself (at my very best back in the day) couldn’t do. I reminded myself that he was now a 73-year-old-man (he was 73 at the Rose Theatre but a birthday in August makes him 74 now!). However, after Ginger left the stage (for some oxygen…and a ciggie break…..yes, both!) he returned to produce some blistering stick work that I could never hope to match! Superb stuff. A memory to treasure. The legend in action!
I realised very young that it was jazz drummers who had the greatest level of technical proficiency – and that, if you can master jazz, you can master rock. (And this was something I realised while drumming for a succession of Punk bands!). Ginger subscribed to this credo too – and still does. Thus, he has returned to his first (and true) love of jazz drumming – fused with African sounds and rhythms. Hence, the name of his present day quartet, Ginger Baker’s JAZZ Confusion.
The Jazz Confusion quartet are all excellent – both a support and an equal match for Ginger in their own way. They comprise the brilliant bassist Alec Dankworth (son of Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine), tenor sax Pee Wee Herman and Ghanaian percussionist Abass Dodoo playing the bongos (and other drums) like a poly-rhythmic maniac (and I mean that in a good way!). Check them out on youtube.
Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion is playing tonight – in Stratford, East London. A drumming friend of mine (a session player in the 70s who travelled the world supporting household names) is making the pilgrimage across town to see Mr Baker (who will likely be on stage as I type these words). It’s sure to be a good evening – and here’s to another 74 years wielding the sticks!