Master Blasters
Article by Paul Rees
Photo by Pete Cronin
Originally appeared in Raw (1993)

We are in a factory workshop on a baking hot day. At the far end of the room a series of sculpted glass panes are hanging from the roof. In the middle of this structure three men are playing poker on a revolving platform. They are oblivious to the cameras, director, technicians, make-up girl and assorted onlookers. They are Masters of Reality, and they are filming a video for the song '100 Years'.

Chris Goss and Googe could probably walk up to you wearing name tags and you wouldn't bat an eyelid. Drummer Ginger Baker couldn't; he is - in his own and everybody else's mind - a living legend. Goss and Googe were introduced to Baker by one of his former polo partners at a barbecue a couple of years ago. The three agreed to jam together.

"I didn't want to get involved with a band at all at that time," Baker recalls during a break for lunch. "It was put to me to have a jam with the guys, and I really didn't want to do it. My wife sort of convinced me to give it a try. I wasn't expecting to enjoy it at all, but I was absolutely amazed. We found instant freedom."

Ginger contacted us a few days after the jam and asked if he could join the band," Googe beams. "Everybody in that room had felt the vibe."

Listening to '100 Years' echoing around the factory walls, the vibe is very much intact. Baker's drumming is quite phenomenal.

"Honestly, musically the man has a lot going on," Goss insists. "He's stayed in touch with the salt of the earth over the years. He really isn't some old burn-out."

He is, however, professionally 'difficult'. It is official: Ginger Baker has no time for young whippersnappers asking irritating questions about his memories of Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce in Cream ("I've been in lots of trios"), or inquiring if the Masters of Reality set-up might somehow remind him of those halcyon days ("No"). One is advised, therefore, to turn the other cheek when confronted with this grumpy old goat.

Together, the unlikely combination that is Masters of Reality has recorded the astonishing Sunrise on the Sufferbus album. It emerges three years after their critically acclaimed but commercially ignored debut The Blue Garden.

In the interim, Goss and Googe lost their original guitarist and drummer, Tim Harrington and Vinnie Ludovico (Baker: "What do you mean, lost? Did they go to Siberia and disappear?"), in a less than amicable split (the departed duo formed the Bogeymen, whose There Is No Such Thing As album was - surprise, surprise - critically acclaimed but commercially ignored), joined forces with Baker, and became embroiled in all manner of music business red tape.

"That wasn't our fault at all," Baker explains. "When we first got together our intention was to have this record out in three months. However, we got stymied by not being able to get studio time, right? Do you know what studio time is? Well, that's what you need.

"We got the tracks down very quickly when we finally got studio time. Then it sort of got fucked up production-wise, in that we found we were not agreeing with Daniel Rey where his views on production, and his choice of engineer, were concerned."

Legal problems, a change of management, and a label switch (from Def American to Chrysalis) ensued; delaying the album still further. None of which pleased the already jovially-challenged Baker.

"It's been a fucking obstacle course, big time," he groans. "A lot of it was because people didn't quite understand where we were coming from. They had their own picture of what they wanted us to be, and we weren't that. The music we play comes from our heads, and we think it's good."

Sunrise on the Sufferbus is better than good . A 'classic rock' album in the best sense of the term, it picks up a ball dropped in the 70's and runs with it. Masters of Reality do not like people who dismiss them as just another retro band.

"They can kiss my fat ass," says Goss, pointing to his sizeable posterior. "That's my response to that. It's passing it along. As far as what 'it' is ; 'it' is the songs. The songs that ended up on the record are good, and if that's what people mean by 'classic rock' then that's fine, I'll do that. It really is all about songs.

"There's no posing going on. There's no peace signs, or bell-bottom pants, or any of that bullshit. We have lives, you know what I mean? We don't go to clubs at night and pose as the leaders of any kind of movement. We all have home lives and things we're interested in. So , when we get together to play music, it's purely for that reason. There's no accroutement labelling going on."

"It's introspective, blues rock, psychedelic... you know, all this bullshit," Baker adds somewhat confusingly. "What are they? Are they heavy metal? Are they blues? Are they... are they? We are the Masters of Reality."

Which means?

"The music talks," Googe sums up.

The music has been talking since 1980, when Goss and Googe first hit upon the Masters of Reality concept in the clubs of New York state. More than a decade on, they're still promoting the idea of 'real' music.

"There's more of a gamble doing things this way," Goss expounds. "You've got three musicians, and you go out, and sometimes performances are magic and sometimes they're not. It's almost like a sport. People never see it the same way twice. It's the dynamics, man - that is everything.

"It's a foolish deception right now, this heavy, aggressive attack which a lot of hard rock music, especially, has. That whole philosophy has been used and flushed down the drain. You can hear fast, screaming whammy-bar solos in any Pepsi commercial now. If you can groove as a group and draw people into your dream that night, that's a lot more radical than any of the shit that's out there.

"They should hand out remote controls at shows, 'cos it's a fast-edited musical media world that people are being given a glimpse of now. I wanna put on a record and escape with it for a while. It's like a seduction."

So, in this automated environment, are Masters of Reality and their old-fashioned values vitally important?

"Rock n roll, even when it gets all very hectic and confusing, it's still a gnat on the world's ass," Goss shrugs. "It isn't meant to be psycho-stress, Freudian, hit-the-couch kinda shit. You can go in that direction, you can be analytical and have entire group therapy sessions in your music, but this band isn't into that - we're into grooving."

"The grooves, the riffs, the vibe and our songs, yeah, they are important," Googe interjects. "It just means people of this generation can hear different ways that music and rock n roll are made."

With their talk of grooves and vibes, and their sour faced percussionist, Masters of Reality aren't the sort of band you initially expect to suffer from intermittent outbreaks of humour. Sunrise on the Sufferbus throws two comic turns at the listener, though. 'T.U.S.A.', a spoken monologue by Baker bemoaning the quality of the average American cuppa, and 'Madonna', a cheery jibe at the Material Girl.

"There is humour in everything we do," Baker opines. "For me there is anyway. I think every song on the record has got a humorous twist - nothing's terribly serious."

Have you heard anything from Madonna?

"No, but I'm waiting for a message on my answering machine," Goss offers. "You know, 'Come on over and flatten me!' I'd be packed."

"I'm sure your wife would let you go," Googe chuckles.

"It's very fashionable these days to confront trendy issues - to write about condoms and Uzis - but I use music as an escape," Goss continues. "I don't wanna hear the news in a song; we already know the news."

What do you hope people hear in Sunrise on the Sufferbus?

Goss: "I hope it makes people realise that we are probably the best band in the world right now. You know, nothing very much."