Ginger Baker: Losing Faith

When Cream folded [in 1968] I got back into my drug habit big time. But Dr. Robertson helped me get clean again by prescribing Physeptone. It is a good way to come off – I did it 29 times in all, over a period of 21 years!

I was in limbo, so I was hanging out a lot in the Speakeasy club in Soho or visiting Eric [Clapton] at Hurtwood Edge, his home in Surrey. One day he was on his way out when

I arrived. He explained he was going over to Stevie Winwood’s cottage, and asked if I wanted to come. We ended up having this incredible drive down country lanes to Stevie’s place with Eric driving his Ferrari and me in my white Jensen FF. The lanes around Eric’s house are very narrow, and all of a sudden we came across one of those grass-verge-cutting machines blocking most of the road. I jammed on the Maxarets (anti-skid brakes) and squeezed past with a fag-paper’s width to spare. Then I heard squealing behind me as the Ferrari very nearly piled into both the grass-cutting machine and my Jensen. We just laughed and raced on, ending up in a little lane, which opened out into a large, ploughed field.

As we got out of our vehicles, an old Land Rover bounced madly across the muddy field with Stevie at the wheel. We piled in, and joined some of his friends in a little cottage that couldn’t be seen from the road. A drum kit was already set up for a jam session and I really hit it off with Stevie musically. There is a magic with him – he’s a jazzer and one of the best keyboard players I’ve ever worked with.

After that I started going down to Stevie’s quite regularly with Rick Grech, the former bass player with Family – he was pretty good and he could swing.

Then Robert Stigwood [Cream manager] and Chris Blackwell [Island Records head] got together and we decided to make a record at Olympic Studios.

Denny Laine [guitarist] turned up in the studio on the first day and we got into a fantastic jam. It was really happening. I waved to Chris in the control room: “Record this!”. I thought he’d twigged and we went on for five or 10 minutes more. When we’d finished, Chris’s voice came over: “Yeah, man, that was great. Can you do it again so we can record it?”. I exploded! Chris was then removed from the recording of the album and Jimmy Miller came in.

The Blind Faith album was brilliant, one of the best. For the cover, we decided we wanted to feature a young chick holding a winged phallus. Sleeve artist Bob Seiderman found a nubile girl on the tube (we used her younger sister on the cover), and the jeweller Mikko Milligan fashioned a silver aeroplane – that he presented to me after the shoot. This cover caused a bit controversy in the States so we had to change it for the American market.

Unfortunately there was a lot of hype surrounding the band, and I became a bit puzzled by Eric’s behaviour, especially at the Hyde Park gig in June 1969. On the DVD, you can see that the crowd was huge, but Eric seemed very laid-back and strange about it. It turned out that he didn’t really want me in the band. It was because I got on so well with Stevie that I was there. Eric says in his book [Eric Clapton The Autobiography] that he was upset because he thought I’d picked up some smack, although at this time I was straight.

The record did extremely well and a tour was booked. It was a strange musical mixture, with other bands on the bill such as Nazareth, and Delaney & Bonnie with whom Eric started hanging out almost immediately. In Detroit I met up with Signe the air hostess once more, and together we picked up a big bag of coke before heading to a party. We were hurtling down the road in a hired supercar when we passed a state trooper lurking in the bushes. He put his lights on and came tearing out after us. I pulled into a lay-by and Signe shit herself, knowing that there was not only coke in the car but also all the usual paraphernalia for smack in my briefcase in the boot. The trooper asked for my ID, so I got my brief case out and casually left it open as I pulled out my passport and the big Blind Faith book I had in there. He was impressed and waved us on our way, saying that his kids had been to one of the shows.

We arrived at the island on which the party was being held and hooked up with Stevie and Rick, but Eric was nowhere to be seen. He was off with Delaney & Bonnie as usual. At one point on the tour he said to me: “Delaney & Bonnie should be the top act”. And I thought, you’re fucking crazy! Delaney & Bonnie were a reasonably good white band trying to play black music. I thought they were okay, but Eric was totally enamoured with them and I couldn’t understand it. For virtually the whole tour, the only time we saw Eric was when we were on stage.

There was an extraordinary happening when we did a gig in Phoenix. The police gave Eric a hard time when he went outside for a smoke. They had this, ‘We don’t want you fucking long-haired hippies here’ attitude. We played on a small, rickety stage and everyone joined us on it for the finalé. Bonnie somehow managed to fall over the edge, and Delaney jumped off to help her but he was immediately attacked by the local thug police department in their black jackboots. Afterwards I phoned the police to complain and was told: “Oh, I’ll tell the sergeant when he comes in”. I wanted a leutenant, but couldn’t get anywhere at all.

At Madison Square Garden I broke a drumstick. As it rolled to the front of the stage, a kid ran from the front of the audience to grab it and a copper immediately started wading into him. I totally forgot where I was for a moment, and with a handful of rings I rushed up and boshed the copper on the head, which caused a complete riot, the like of which you’ve never seen. The whole place erupted and getting off stage was a nightmare. I had the crowd on one side trying to rescue me from the police, and the police on the other side trying to pull me away from the crowd. It was horrendous the things that started happening on this tour. The same thing happened again out in the Midwest somewhere. A kid ran up to the stage and a copper started beating him up.

I saw all this while I was playing, so I bounced a drumstick off his head. Bosh! Only the audience saw it. By the time he turned round I’d got another stick. The crowd were delighted with this one.

According to the media, I also managed to ‘die’ on this tour! One day, I was driving along the coastal 101 route from LA to San Francisco with three tasty chicks in a Shelby Cobra. The radio announcer said: “We’ve stopped the music to tell you that Blind Faith drummer Ginger Baker has just been found dead from an overdose of heroin in his hotel room”. I looked round at the chicks and thought: “Fucking hell! I must be in heaven!”.

]Chris Blackwell joined us for part of the tour. He had bought a Pontiac Firebird in which we drove to a gig in Canada. I had all my drugs in my new Super 8 camera box, and when we went through Customs I nonchalantly showed them the box and they didn’t even take the camera out. When we got back in the car, I handed Chris the box and grinned: “Look what we just brought through Customs, Chris”. “Oh no! Don’t show me!”, he exclaimed. I was totally fucked up again by then. One time

I even had a policeman delivering me smack. The guy I was getting my cocaine from in LA was the first person they arrested as a suspect in the Sharon Tate murders, because he’d gone up to deliver the coke for her party. He phoned me up as soon as he knew they were after him: “Fucking hell, man, I’ve just seen my name on the television!”.

“The best thing to do is give yourself up,” was my reply.

“Yeah, but I’ve got all this coke still. Will you take it off me?” (Very cheap it was too.)

Later he left a message, calling himself Ben Franklin, and came round to the hotel.Then I went to see Stevie in his hotel and told him all about it. He was amazed. “Ginger, how do you get into these things?”, he asked.

I’d taken all the coke off the guy, so I had a pile of it. Then the guy with the smack kept not turning up, and so now I had no heroin but a huge amount of cocaine. It was August, it was my birthday and we were flying to a gig in Texas.

When we emerged from the hotel to go to the airport, there were plain-clothes police in all the doorways, due to the murders. It was very odd.

I had a fix of coke on the plane and fucked it up. There was claret all over the toilet and red dots everywhere. It was a total nightmare. We got to Texas, did the gig, then the entire audience stood up and sang Happy Birthday. When I got back to the hotel, I realised that if I kept all this coke I was going to kill myself, and I tipped the lot down the toilet. My family were due to come out soon, and so I phoned Liz [Ginger’s wife] and asked her to bring me out some Physeptone.

Liz, Gill [a girl who was part of a tricky triangular relationship with Ginger and his wife] and the kids flew into Utah, and so high was my social standing that the local Sheriff drove me down to meet them. We took in all the sights, including the amazing Bonneville Salt Flats where all the land-speed record attempts were held.

My family witnessed yet another unsettling incident that occurred at the Fontaine Hotel in LA. I drove into the parking lot underneath, where the smooth concrete surface caused the tyres to squeal as I drove slowly in. I parked the car and we all got out. As we walked to the lift, I was confronted by a guy in Bermuda shorts who flashed his police badge and got his gun out.

He berated me for driving too fast. And when I attempted to explain, he shouted: “You’re a fucking loudmouth!”, before whacking me on the shoulder with his pistol, ignoring the fact that I was holding a baby in a carry-cot. The two women kept close and pulled me out of it, and we let the copper go up first. It was very close, and if I’d attacked him he would have shot me for sure. Again I made complaints to the police and again I got absolutely nowhere. At least in England your complaints are listened to.

The last date of the Blind Faith tour was in Honolulu. I was coming off [heroin] once more, and decided to stay on for a family holiday, which I documented with the Super 8 camera. We booked into a smart hotel on Waikiki Beach. And then Gill and Nettie [Ginette, Ginger’s daughter] decided to commit suicide!

We were driving around in a hired, shiny, white Ford convertible when we found a beautiful little beach with a waterfall flowing into the sea beside it. Liz and I were sitting on the sand because I wasn’t feeling too good, and Nettie and Gill were swimming. Suddenly, Liz said: “Oh look, they’re waving”. And, sure enough, we could see these two little figures waving at us. We were happily waving back to them, when Liz exclaimed: “Wait a minute, they’re in trouble!”, and, throwing her clothes off, dashed into the sea. Only then did we realise that the waterfall caused a huge out-tow.

Liz got out to them very quickly because she was going with the current. She managed to get Nettie and started back. She was making progress, but I could see she was really struggling so I ran into the water. But I’ve never been a good swimmer and

I knew if I went too far I could easily drown. I waded out as far as I could, and whenever a wave came I jumped up to keep my head clear of the water. Liz was getting nearer and I shouted: “Come on! Come on!”. I grabbed hold of her hand. She was exhausted by now. But Gill was still out there, so I ran down the beach, where I approached a local guy and pointed to Gill. He swam out immediately. That was quite an adventure.

I soon realised that there was more heroin on Hawaii than anywhere else in the world. Bodies were coming in from Vietnam packed full of the stuff. Everywhere you looked, there it was. “This is not the place to be coming off”, I thought.

So we decided to fly over to Jamaica, and checked into an exclusive resort called Tryall near Montego Bay. Finally I was coming off and it was an amazing holiday. I had a very good time and got well into scuba diving. The family went out in a glass-bottomed boat and marvelled at the creatures beneath. We had our own chalet with a swimming pool, and 18-month-old Leda [Ginger’s daughter] charged in, disappearing under the water. I rushed in and dragged her out, spluttering but quite unperturbed. “I fwimmed

to the bottom!” she crowed triumphantly.

The car I’d hired wasn’t too good so I decided I would fly my Jensen out for the last week of my stay there. This, of course, was total insanity. It took about a week to arrive, and when it did it had no windscreen wipers, because the FBI had been all over it. They thought I was importing marijuana into Jamaica, which seems a bit odd as the place was awash with it already. I went with a friend to Kingston to collect it. I managed to get some tiny Land Rover wipers and we drove back along the undulating roads in the darkness towards Montego Bay. Suddenly, from out of the limited vision afforded by my dipped headlights, a huge cow appeared in front of me. I just about managed to stop, but the bonnet went under the cow, which then somersaulted, leaving a gentle dent in the hood. What a disaster!

Nettie was due back at school, so she and Gill flew home to England as I stood and watched the tail lights of the jet disappear into the sky. Liz and I had decided to return by sea with the two smaller children and the car. By now I had bought a lot of grass and commissioned nine hollowed-out wood carvings into which the dope was carefully packed.

The carvings were then sealed up with wood glue and packed, ready to leave with the rest of our stuff. At Morgan’s Harbour I went to book on to the boat. I got into a row with

the dockers when they banged the gate into the car. Then I noticed a guy standing nearby holding a briefcase with ‘Captain’ written on it. Another American approached me and began talking about dope. “Is this guy a copper?”, I thought. At his invitation, Liz and I went down to his cabin, where he took several little packets of dope from his wardrobe. We lit up a joint. “I thought you were Old Bill”, I said. “No”, he replied with a laugh, and pointed to a large yacht moored nearby. He explained that his movie-location company was really a cover for marijuana smuggling, and the whole yacht was packed with dope on its way to the States. His accomplice, the ‘captain’, was one of his pilots who’d just returned from Cuba, where he’d been forced down for accidentally trespassing in their airspace. They thought he was an American spy, but when they found out he’d got dope on board they let him go!

The next day we boarded the Prince Der Nederlands. The car was safely loaded and we had First Class cabins. A Jamaican policeman arrived with his gun, but he just said: “I hear you had some trouble earlier and I’ve come to make sure you come to no harm”. He then presented us with a bottle of Appleton rum and came to our cabin for a chat, which I found to be a very nice little touch.

Shortly after this we discovered that although the ship was going to London, it was first bound for Curacao, Aruba and then Paramaribo, where we went for a walk around and I filmed the town and scenery. Then we got some local guy so stoned that he just collapsed.

Next stop was the Azores, where they had to unload the car to get something else on. They came to ask me to move it, but I was drunk as a skunk.

I managed to knock over a huge pile of pallets that were stacked at the side, clipping the bottom one so the whole lot went over behind the car, so I got another dent in it. What a trip!

At one point they thought I’d gone overboard, because they couldn’t find me after I’d climbed up into the crow’s nest and passed out. One day I wore a T-shirt with a swastika on it. This did cause some offence, but I explained: “Look, we won the war and so we’re entitled to wear the flag of the enemy”.

On the last night before we docked at Southampton we were sitting at the Captain’s table when he began his speech: “Ladies and gentlemen… and Mr Baker…”.

At Southampton a Customs official remarked that with all the drums and masks we’d bought we’d probably been ripped off, unaware that several of them were full of Jamaican ganja. Once back home I chiselled them open, removed the dope then squashed them back together and placed them on a shelf where they stood for years. I did up a nice little bag and drove down to Stevie’s with the present.

I hadn’t been in touch with anybody for 10 weeks, so that’s when I discovered that Blind Faith was no more. Stevie told me that Eric was getting a band together with Delaney and Bonnie (which horrified me), and that he was thinking of getting Traffic back together. So I said I’d like to get a big band together for just a couple of gigs,and Stevie and Chris Wood [Traffic’s sax and flute player] agreed to do it.

This was published in Classic Rock issue 140

Ginger Baker celebrates his 75th birthday on August 19

The extract comers from _Hellraiser:__ _The Autobiography Of The World’s Greatest Drummer

You can read an interview with Baker where he moans about everything right here