Ginger Baker vs Levon Helm

This has been a big year for movies about music. You had ” 20 Feet From Stardom”, ” Muscle Shoales” and in the theaters now, ” Inside Llewyn Davis.”

I’m going to talk about two others, that featured two of the great personalities of rock and roll from the ’60’s, Ginger Baker and Levon Helm.

early Ginger “Beware of Mr. Baker” was released in late 2012. It was made by Jay Bulger, who met Baker when he was a youngster trying to get a sttory published by Rolling Stone. Years later he revisits Baker.

I wonder if he thought Ginger had mellowed through the years? Surprise!! He hasn’t.

At the time of the filming, Baker was living in South Africa with his fourth wife and 29 polo ponies.

We meet a lot of his former bandmates,  including guitar God, Eric Clapton. He talks about his admiration for Baker’s talent but also how he tried to avoid the constant fighting between Ginger and Cream bass player, Jack Bruce.  Cream

The fighting goes back to the early 60’s in their Graham Bond Organization days.

The famous Bruce quote, ” We’re happily co-existing in different continents. I’m in England, he’s in South Africa. I was thinking of asking him to move. He’s still a little too close.”

That seems to be the relationship Baker has with everyone. Interviews with past wives and his children show how angry they are at his treatment of them.

It really is amazing that Baker is still alive. Decades of drug abuse and financial problems haven’t slowed him down.

At age 74, Baker has a new band and is out touring.

Levon Helm-1 “I Ain’t In It For My Health” was released in April of this year. It’s a documentary by Jacob Hatley about The Band’s drummer-singer, Levon Helm.

It’s shot over a two year period as Helm is putting together his first studio album in 25 years.

The film is very bittersweet, especially for us Band aficionados. You’ll see shots of Levon’s time with The Band. He’s young, healthy and vital. His singing and drumming is strong. The Band

Compare that with the Helm of this film. His voice is shot due to lung cancer and years of smoking. He wears a glove on one hand to help with his drumming. He’s also switched from the traditional grip to the matched grip style.

For those of us who love the Levon of The Band days, this look at him will bring you close to tears.

There are a few touching moments where Levon talks about his sadness at the suicide of Richard Manuel.Then there are the scenes where he visits his throat doctor. He goes through painful tests trying to fix the pain in his throat and the weakening of his singing voice. You can almost feel Levon thinking about his own mortality.

Baker today LH  One interesting thing in common is both feel they were robbed of lots of money in song writing residuals.

Baker talks about how Pete Brown, who was Jack Bruce’s song writing partner, made more money from Cream than Baker did.

Helm has long felt that he should have been given writing credits for many of The Band’s songs. It led to a long lasting feud with guitarist, Robbie Robertson.

What the two movies come down to is that Baker started out raging and uncontrollable and he’s staying that way to the end. Helm may have started the same way, but he learned to let go. He mellowed with age. The important things for Levon were his family and his music. He took that to the end.

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