If you’re looking to see Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith die in real-time, you’re in the right place. Ginger Baker may well be one of the most iconic and accomplished drummers of the 1960s and ’70s, but he’s also one of the grumpiest. The notoriously reclusive artist rarely sat down for interviews and when he did, he tended to be impenetrable, coarse and non-communicative. Here, fellow drummer Chad Smith attempts to get to know Baker in an in-depth interview about the former Cream member’s life in music.
Baker is to drummers what Hendrix is to guitarists. For any drummer, let alone one as passionate as Smith, securing an interview with someone like Ginger is a big deal. The Red Hot Chili Peppers member was aware of Baker’s aggressive personality but leapt at the opportunity to sit down with the Cream curmudgeon nonetheless.
Baker happened to be in New York for a string of shows at the Iridium Club with his newly-formed group Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion, featuring bassist Alec Dankworth, saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, and percussionist Abbas Dodoo. Smith attended the opening night in the company of documentarian Jay Bulger, who made the 2012 documentary Beware of Mr Baker. Bulger likely warned Smith about Baker’s temperament, having felt the hard end of his cane during the early stages of the project.
Bulger and Smith joined a reclined Baker in the penthouse suite of the Dream Hotel for an extensive conversation covering everything from living with Bulger during the making of Beware of Mr. Baker (which was a “fucking nightmare” as it turns out) to his distaste for rock ‘n’ roll drumming. Chad and Jay do a good job of placating the antsy Baker by providing him with a cushty Barcalounger and enough cigarettes to kill a small horse. Bulger also reveals himself to be surprisingly thick-skinned, batting off Baker’s insults with ease. “You guys have a nice relationship,” Smith observes at one point. “I like this – it’s like an old married couple or something.”
Smith concludes the interview by reflecting on his meeting with one of his greatest heroes. “Ginger is a complete, one-of-a-kind original, love him or not,” he said. “Personally, I wouldn’t put him in the lovable category, but what he did for drumming is undeniable. With Cream and the way he helmed that band, it was incredible. There was Blind Faith and more supergroup music, and then he drops out to go to Africa and plays with Fela Kuti. And had his own bands – all the time burning through musicians, women and drugs. I think Ginger was the original ‘most interesting man in the world.’ The fact that he’s still alive is a tremendous feat considering his lifestyle.”
Make sure you check out the full interview if you haven’t already.