For this week’s Throwback Thursday, Giant Step President/CEO Maurice Bernstein shares with us about our December 1991 show with Ginger Baker, Jonas Hellborg, and Jens Johansson at SOBs. What do you remember about this night? Any crazy Ginger Baker stories of your own?
Jonas Hellborg is a very talented Swedish bass guitar player who came to prominence in the early 80s. At that time, he was the bassist in the reformed Mahavishnu led by guitar player John McLaughlin. He settled in New York, and I was a big fan of him.
I believe the initial connection came in the form of a call where he called to say he wanted to work with us, which was a big surprise and a thrill for me, me being a fan. I think he noticed the work we were doing at Giant Step with the club and had heard about us from others. Around then, he was working with producer and bass player Bill Laswell who had the Axiom label on Island Records. Laswell would produce records with people like Bootsy Collins, Bernie Morell, Ginger Baker, etc.
Jonas decided that he wanted to do a show with Ginger Baker and Jens Johansson, who was the keyboard player in Yngwie Malmsteen’s band.
I was super excited about working with Ginger Baker who is a music legend; he was the drummer in Cream with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, and was the drummer in Blind Faith. Ginger was also famous for his albums with Fela Kuti in the 1970s, and a notorious drug addict as well. He didn’t appear very often.
We put on the show at SOBs – it was a Sunday. And my job for the day – besides making sure everything was fine – was to make sure Ginger was happy, which was not an easy feat. While he was in the dressing room, I ended up making the mistake of asking him if there was anything I could get for him. And he said, “Yes, Maurice,” in a British accent, “you can get me the finest black tar heroin you can find.” And I looked at him and thought, “I hope he’s joking.”
He was certainly a lively individual. I remember when he would drum, he would keep a cigarette in his mouth ‘til the very very end and smoke it down to the filter. And when he was finally finished and ready to get rid of it, he would knock it out with his drumstick and keep drumming.
I think everyone’s got to have an experience working with someone like a Ginger Baker. He was actually very nice. There are stories about him where he’s an absolute horror to be with, but I actually found him to be quite affable besides his strange request for drugs.
And that was the first and last time I worked with Ginger Baker.