Corky Laing and Kinky Friedman perform at the Bay Street Theater on Monday, August 24th, 2015
Two masters of the drum kit, Corky Laing and Kofi Baker, will take to the Bay Street Theater stage in Sag Harbor on Friday for an evening billed as “The Ultimate Classic Rock Experience.”
Mr. Laing is a member of rock band Mountain, and Mr. Baker is the son of Cream drummer Ginger Baker. Both men promise to play Mountain and Cream songs the way they were played in the ’60s and ’70s—the way they were meant to be played.
The concert is the first in what Bay Street Theater managing director Gary Hygom hopes will become an ongoing series focused on drumming, featuring Mr. Laing and guests, that blends music and interviews with audience Q&A.
Since relocating from Toronto to Greenport a few years ago, Mr. Laing has played several shows at Bay Street Theater, in various formats. He envisions The Ultimate Class Rock Experience as a drum seminar. But rather than a technical seminar on how to play drums, the subject will be the mind of the drummer, and the seminar will answer the question “Why do we play drums?”
“Every drummer has his own reason—there is a causality,” he said. “In my case, it’s because I am a showoff.” He grew up in a family with five kids; he had one sister and triplet brothers. He played drums to get attention.
He said he told his father, “When I grow up, I want to play drums.” His father told him, “You’re going to have to choose—one or the other.”
He chose drums.
Mr. Laing was not a founding member of Mountain, but the band did not hit its stride until he joined. He brought songs from his previous band Energy, such as “Mountain Queen,” which, in 1970, became Mountain’s most successful single.
The pace and pulse of rock bands back then set the tempo for a generation, Mr. Laing said. And he sees the drummers as a large part of that. “People these days look to guitar players—I think the drummer is the thing. It’s the it in any rock band,” he said. “If you don’t have a great drummer, you don’t have a great rock band.”
Mr. Laing and Mr. Baker see eye to eye on this, and Mr. Baker said he is looking forward to being part of a show all about drummers. “It’s about time there’s a focus on the drummers, because the drummers are the most important members of a band,” he said. “You’ve got a crappy drummer, you have a crappy band.”
Last year, Mr. Baker went on The Extreme Guitar Tour, headlined by Scorpions founding guitarist Uli Jon Roth, but it was not a good fit. “It worked out okay, but he had a hard time, because he wasn’t used to a drummer being so out front,” Mr. Baker said of Mr. Roth. “That’s the way it is with these guitar players. They want to be the focus of attention—it’s got to be all on them.”
He went on to say, “I like to play in a band when each musician gets to highlight themselves. Music is really about a feeling, and doing what you love doing.”
Mr. Laing said that since he got his start back in the 1960s, the paradigm has shifted. Drummers now follow click tracks. He appreciates that the younger generation has some drummers like Mr. Baker who share his view. “They’re playing drums the way drums should be played—from the heart,” Mr. Laing said.
“I grew up on stage,” Mr. Baker said. Now 46, he was just 6 years old the first time he drummed in public. He appeared with his father on British television show “The Old Grey Whistle Test.”
“I learned from my dad at the beginning, then self-taught myself, then took lessons with everybody I could around London,” he said.
Music stores today teach students how to play songs, according to Mr. Baker. “That’s not how I learned how to play,” he said. “Learn how to play the instrument—don’t learn how to play a song,” he instructed. “Then you can play any song, and you can make your own song.” He is still learning, but he’s also a drum teacher himself now. He said he tells his students, “Don’t follow me … make it your own.”
It wasn’t until his father’s band briefly reunited in 2005 that Mr. Baker thought to form a tribute band, which he named Kofi Baker’s Cream Experience. “They decided that was it, so I thought I would keep it going,” he said.
But he and his band don’t play the music the way Cream did in 2005. They aim to jam, the way Cream played in the 1960s. He said it’s “like a Cream show in the height of their career.”
In addition to Mr. Baker’s father, the Cream power trio included guitar legend Eric Clapton and the late Jack Bruce on bass. Mr. Laing was in a band with Mr. Bruce in the early 1970s named West, Bruce and Laing. Rounding out that trio was Leslie West of Mountain. “It was an amazing experience playing with Jack,” Mr. Laing recalled. The band had a revival in 2009 with Mr. Bruce’s son Malcolm taking the place of his father on bass guitar.
The younger Mr. Baker and younger Mr. Bruce have performed together as Sons of Cream.
“These guys have quite a job, to live up to their dads,” Mr. Laing said.
He enjoys playing with younger musicians. He said they have a lot of energy, and he loves to keep up. The February 26 concert will be his first time performing for an audience with Mr. Baker, who is 22 years his junior.
Mr. Baker encouraged younger people to check out how music used to be. “This is a chance for them to see real musicians playing real music and really improvising and doing their thing.”
The Ultimate Classic Rock Experience will take place at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor on Friday, February 26, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. Call (631) 725-9500, or visit baystreet.org.
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