Still, “Beware of Mr. Baker” invites you to listen again, and to attend to the rhythmic power and complexity that this drummer brought to the group’s thunderous (and often ponderous) variations on the rhythm and blues playbook.
Mr. Baker was a rocker, in a sense, by accident of birth and association. If you were young, musical and British in the 1960s, rock ’n’ roll was an irresistible career path, and Mr. Baker certainly, at least for a while, lived out the rock star legend to its fullest. But he was by taste and temperament more of a jazzman, captivated at an early age by African polyrhythms and the expansive approach of American drummers like Max Roach and Elvin Jones.
Rather than keeping the beat, Mr. Baker opened it up, adding layers and nuances without sacrificing his innate, unerring sense of time. He was wilder than steady rhythm players like Charlie Watts, and also far more disciplined and subtle than showboating wild men like Moon and Bonham.
My favorite record on which he played is, far and away, Sunrise on the Sufferbus by Masters of Reality. I first heard it on March 22nd, 1994; the date is fixed in my memory by virtue of the immediate impression it made on me as I stood there at the listening center where you could bring any CD in the store to hear before buying. It only took me the first three songs to consider this one a keeper. The jazzy drum fills, which did so much to set the unique mood of that record, reminded me of Bill Ward’s work in Black Sabbath (perhaps unsurprising given the reverential nod toward Sabbath inherent in the band’s name). You kids should check it out on the Spotify or the Eyetoons or whatever it is you do these days in lieu of listening to CDs.