“THIS WHOLE JOURNEY is based on right-place, right-time, and luck, for the most part,” says Bad Religion guitarist Brian Baker about playing music for a living. “I didn’t realize I was a professional musician until I’d been one for 20 years.”
That may come as a shock to fans who have followed Baker through his time with punk legends Minor Threat and Dag Nasty, as well as the underrated late-Eighties L.A. sleaze-rock band Junkyard. But it wasn’t until he landed his current gig with the O.G. SoCal punk crew that he was able to give up his day job.
“In Junkyard [who were signed to Geffen Records], I think we got a thousand bucks a month for a while there,” he says, “and that was just from stupidly selling our publishing and merchandise rights. Just being drunk and dumb and in your early 20s. I didn’t realize I was a professional, doing-itfor-a-living-guy until I was in Bad Religion for a little while.”
Baker could argue that his career began as early as age 12, when he was thrust onstage at a Santana concert in Detroit. He and some friends had scored backstage passes, and when Baker, then a budding guitar player, walked past a room full of guitars, he picked up one and started playing. Some members of Santana’s crew saw him, and during the band’s encore a roadie handed him a guitar and ushered him out of the wings.
“I’m standing in the middle of the stage in the spotlight, and Carlos Santana comes to me and goes, ‘What’s your name?’ Like, ‘Oh, Brian.’ And he walks me to the front. I got this guitar on. It’s live. And he says in the mic, ‘This is my friend Brian!’ They start playing ‘Black Magic Woman,’ and I just remember kind of noodling along. I know I found the key, whatever it was, and was playing my child solos.”
Perhaps more remarkable, though, has been Baker’s ability to adapt his guitar playing to the dozen or so bands he’s performed and recorded with during his career, although he’s prone to deflect. “I basically have played the same way in every band, because I’m not that complicated,” he deadpans, brushing off the suggestion. “I don’t really know much more than what I do, which is minor pentatonic scales that sound like Gary Rossington. I mean, not even Allen Collins.”
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