WHEN it comes to rock music, really and truly there are but a handful of bands the words ‘iconic’ and ‘legendary’” can be truthfully attributed to, without exaggeration. Cream, the three-part psychedelic feast comprising Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, are one of them.
But Cream turned sour in 1968, and those who broach the subject of Cream with Ginger get a curdlesome reaction – we know, because we’ve read the interviews with those that have.
There were other celebrated bands too, of course – prior to Cream he was part of the Graham Bond Organisation, post-Cream Blind Faith and Airforce took his beats.
But, as much as he is considered the beat-master for the rock side, it is jazz that well and truly floats Ginger’s boat.
Always has been, always will be, and it’s what will bring him to the new city on September 21 – when Ginger ‘s Jazz Confusion play The Stables.
“It’s a very original line-up,” he says with an almost disinterested sounding drawl, “We do play a Thelonious Monk tune, but we play a lot of original stuff too...quite a lot of my stuff, some of Pee Wee’s, and things like Sonny Rollins, a Dizzy Gillespie tune, Wayne Shorter, that sort of thing.
“Everywhere we’ve played it has gone down incredibly well, and been well received...I enjoy the music very much.”
Aside from saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, the Confusion also features percussionist Abas Dodoo and bassist Alec Dankworth.
Rewind the clock, and as a young man, Ginger almost got the gig with Alec’s dad, as drummer for the John Dankworth Big Band.
We say almost, because things didn’t pan out as hoped.
“The rest of the band were all very keen,” Ginger says, “But I didn’t get the gig, because I had a drug problem.
“It was a pretty bad time in my life because everyone told me I had got the job...the funny thing is Ronnie Stevenson got the gig and he turned into a worse junkie than me!”
Alec, a noted jazz ace himself, is enjoying stage-sharing with the elder statesman: “He has a very melodic nature to his playing, and there’s quite a lot of African and Jazz influence to it.”
We speak to Ginger just a few days before he reaches his 74th birthday. He hasn’t mellowed with age.
In fact, some might say it’s made him a little less than accommodating.
But, despite the sharp, short answers and the fact this is far from the easiest interview ever conducted, I like him.
His talent could never be in question, and he is a real character: Someone you want to speak with, and learn from.
Even if I sometimes get the impression I might be keeping him from something more pressing – the television in the background, maybe.
But, while a little intimidating, his stark honesty is also refreshing. Press savvy, squeaky clean, talent-bereft ‘artists’ are such a yawn to speak with, and Ginger is a highly interesting character: Read his autobiography Hellraiser for confirmation.
Music is still his passion (“It’s the only thing I’ve got left that I can still do”), but it’s more of a trauma these days.
“I don’t know how much longer I can carry on,” he admits, “It is getting very demanding and I’ve got lots of physical disabilities now.
“It’s old age, I’ve got osteoarthritis and it’s very painful at times, but it’s the travelling that really does me in, you know?” And yet, when the master sits behind his kit, it’s as if the ailments float away, and the skins get hit just as Ginger has always hit ‘em: “It’s extraordinary,” he admits,
“I’m amazed I can still play, and I’d like to do more while I can...”
Ginger has recently returned to the UK from South Africa, where he left his beloved horses: “I miss them very much,” he reveals, and you can hear as much in his voice.
So, what’s it like being held up as this iconic rock drummer when your first love is jazz?
“Jazz is my only love, really,” Ginger says, “...and Cream was improvisation.”
But the adulation you still have must be nice.
“It is very nice,” he counters, “But I wish it would translate into money!”
It’s fair to say that Ginger isn’t rolling in cash. But isn’t that so often the case – that the ones with the real talent are often the ones with the empty wallets? “That sadly, is very true,” he agrees.
Interest in the man and his music has never waned, mind – indeed a new film, Beware of Mr Baker, had its debut screening earlier this year.
It transpires he hasn’t seen the film, and cares not a jot what is put into words, or on film, about him: “I’ve given up!”
He has already cut off some of the press. So we are lucky.
“Speaking to people like you is a necessary evil” he tells me.
‘I’ve not been called a necessary evil all week’, I say. The jazz man laughs, and there we leave it, and Ginger, to get back to doing, by his own admission, ‘as little as possible’, and wish him all the best for the show.
We’ll be watching on the night.
“If I survive that long, I’ll see you...”
> Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion play The Stables at Wavendon on Friday, September 21.
Tickets are £22.50. Call MK 280800 to make a booking.