Thursday, July 18, 2013


Caught this 2002 documentary, which I had seen bits of (like my recent post of Joan Osborne from it) and which I thought was titled THE FUNK BROTHERS because that's what it's about, the heretofore mostly unrecognized musicians who made the Motown sound and backed up more hits than The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Elvis combined.

I'm easily moved the older I get by talent and the gifts creative talent has given me and to the world in general. But this documentary about men so humble and so accepting of their mostly unsung efforts in creating the sound of a generation that still continues today in samples and most of our digital music libraries will probably move you too. 

Some I'd known of because musicians lauded them even if the general public had no idea who they were, like the great Motown sound bassist James Jamerson who many consider to be the best base player in soul and R&B and pop music ever. Unfortunately he was already gone when this doc came out. But it's still a tribute to him in particular as it is to the rest of the musicians who created and innovated and articulated and in fact were the sound of Motown music.

There are moments in the film—like Joan Osborne's work with the musicians still alive on "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" or Chaka Khan's jazz scatting on "What's Goin' On?"—that are worth watching it just for them, each performance brought tears to my eyes, because of the surviving members of the band's humble gratitude at playing together again these classic songs of their era that they were the heart and soul of.

But the story of Motown told from the perspective of these mostly unsung heroes of that story is even more moving. If you ever dug a Motown record, you owe it to yourself to check this documentary out: STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN.

BEWARE OF MR. BAKER is a more recent documentary (2012 I believe) made by an American, Jay Bulger, who insinuated himself into the great drummer Ginger Baker's life and ended up living for a time with the man in Africa as well as filming him and eventually interviewing him for this flick and eventually getting a bloody nose from the then 71-year-old Baker because he was angry that Bulger was going to include other people's perspective in the movie, not just Ginger's.

I was still playing jazz when Cream made their first album and the drummer I had worked with years before who was the greatest drummer I'd ever worked with or encountered when I was young and who hated "rock" was visiting. When I played the record for him his jaw literally dropped. He sat there open mouthed shaking his head as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing.

Ginger Baker was not only the greatest drummer ever in rock'n'roll and what came out of that, as this documentary proves to my satisfaction (backed up by assertions in the flick from some of the greatest musicians in not just "rock" etc.) he was also one of the greatest arrangers and musical strategists, as well as strong competition for one of the top ten, maybe even five, greatest drummers of all time.

But he also wins the most cantankerous drug and booze addled bastard possibly ever in rock'n'roll and what came out of it. Experts in this doc attribute the creation of "heavy metal" as well as "jam bands" and more to Ginger Baker's innovations as a drummer in rock'n'roll. But even if none of that were true, or you personally want to contest it (and go up against musicians a lot more accomplished than me or most likely you) BEWARE OF MR. BAKER is worth watching for a ton of other reasons.

One of them is just the uniqueness of Baker's personality and history. Here's a redheaded English lad born before WWII, experiencing the blitz—one of the early highlights of the film is a montage of newsreel footage of planes dropping bombs and the sound of their impact laid over the sound of Baker's drumming, which caused an immediate epiphany as to the now obvious source of his amazing drumming. Another comes later in the film when after enormous success with several bands all of which mostly ended due to Baker, he drops everything and moves to Lagos, Nigeria, in the 1970s (!) when things were extremely precarious for natives let alone tall redheaded foreigners sticking out literally like a sore thumb, because he wanted to be in the heart of Africa where he believed the best drumming in the world was.

It's an extraordinary story, a lot of it frustrating (mostly due to his creative bullheadedness combined with his obvious alcoholic/addict self-centeredness) but all of it revelatory and worth watching no matter how much it might make you cringe. And the musical highlights are, as you can imagine, truly amazing.  


-K- said...

I can't wait to watch "Beware Mr. Baker." And thanks to Amazon, I'll be able to do this in just a few hours.

Bob said...

I kind of like the typo. MOTWON has kind of a nice ring to it. I've seen that documentary but not the one on Baker. I'll have to keep an eye out for it. I always like watching documentaries that involve the creative process of different kinds of artists.

Anonymous said...

that's where in the 70's (!) he disappeared to

anybody who has ever seen him 'wail' on his outrageous drum-set will NEVER
forget him or doubt that he was The Best .... ever.

-K- said...

"Beware of Mr. Baker" was fascinating from beginning to end.

It reminded me of Chet Baker in his documenary "Let's Get Lost" except Baker didn't take five years off at the height of his fame so as to study his insturment better - in Africa.

FYI - Africa '70, the complete album with Fela, is on YouTube.

Lally said...

felt the same way K. I'll check out the Fela. and Bob, I'm correcting the heading, it's the old brain thing (and I used to be a copy editor!)