At the Crossroads

Celebrity drummer Ginger Baker prepares to leave Colorado. Will he be gone for good?

On top of such worries, Baker's got serious tax difficulties. "According to the immigration department, I do not live here," he says. "But the tax department has decided that I do live here and therefore wants to take a large amount of tax out of money that I don't even earn in America. Well, I don't think that's very fair. They fought the American Revolution because of taxation without representation, which is the exact position I'm in. Not only do I have no representation, but I'm paying for armed thugs to walk onto my property and threaten me. That's why I've point-blank refused to pay taxes since all of this happened. I refuse. And if that means I can never return to America, I'll never return!"

Compared to the colonies, South Africa is looking awfully fine to Baker. In his words, "It's the most beautiful place I've ever seen. My land has a quarter of a mile of river frontage along one side of it, a tremendous house, fruit trees of every description, and more water than you can dream of. And it's so high up that there's no mosquitoes, which is very rare for Africa. Plus, if I get temporary residence in South Africa, the money I don't earn there I don't pay tax on. That, to me, is sensible."

Also appealing about South Africa is the polo scene, which Baker regards as far superior to the one in Colorado. So disgusted was he by other polo organizations here that he formed the Mile High Polo Club. Featuring personalities such as journalistic eccentric Hunter S. Thompson on its board of directors, the club staged matches that regularly concluded with jazz sessions anchored by Baker. But his enthusiasm for the concept waned after his groom was deported. Because of his contention that American grooms are incapable of meeting his high standards, he decided to do all the work himself and wound up damaging the rotator cuff in his shoulder and cracking three ribs in an accident that inspired the name of his Falling Off the Roof disc. "I had to have two major operations," he says, "and the one on my arm was a big operation. Now my ulna nerve doesn't go where everybody else's does; they had to cut my arm open, take the muscle out, move the nerve over and put it all back together again. It was major reconstruction that was completely tied to what happened with my groom.

"When we were making the new album, my right arm was only at about 75 percent," he adds. "It was very painful--and so was recovering from the surgeries, because I didn't want to stay on drugs any longer than I had to. The anesthesiologist used three times the normal dose to put me under because I'm so resistant to this stuff, and after the surgery was over, the doctor was very happy to prescribe whatever I'd need to kill the pain. I could have gotten more, too, but I said no, because I knew what could happen. See, I still like it. It makes me feel good--so I stopped."

Today Baker's arm is in fine shape, and he's looking forward to touring in support of Coward of the County--but probably not in the U.S. "Jazz isn't very big in America, which is very sad, because this is where it was born," he says. "Europe is where you can make money playing jazz, so that's where we'll probably be going, either late in the spring or in the summer. And since it costs the rest of the band the same to fly from Denver to Europe as it does for me to fly from South Africa to Europe, my being there doesn't really affect anything."

If Baker sticks to this schedule, his upcoming Denver appearance will be the only opportunity in the near future for Americans to hear the Coward material performed live without first traveling over an ocean. But although the thought of leaving Colorado, and his many dogs, makes him a tad sentimental, it hasn't softened his resolve.

"I've done so much work on this property that I haven't really finished," he notes. "I've built two wonderful barns, and the house was beginning to look good, and I've fenced everywhere and planted over two hundred trees. I thought it was my home, and I'm going to be very sad to leave it. But I've done a lot of thinking over the last two years, and several last straws were broken. So I'm going to do what I have to do."

Ginger Baker. 7 p.m. (drum clinic) and 9 p.m. (concert) Monday, March 29, Herman's Hideaway, 1578 South Broadway, $10 for clinic and concert/$5 for concert only, 303-756-5777.

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