AUSTINTOWN Cop's calling leads to a new beat
Baker's new CD, 'Land of Tigers,' is scheduled to be released in March.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- The soundtrack to Tom Baker's police career probably would start with something fast-paced and exciting to illustrate the feeling of working as a dispatcher.
By the fourth or fifth song, the soundtrack would become inspirational, marking the time Baker spent organizing Austintown's neighborhood watch program.
The soundtrack would then slow down and close with dark songs infused with heavy bass. It would paint the image of a retiring detective worn down by investigating domestic violence cases for seven years.
Baker, however, isn't interested in his own soundtrack. Instead, he wants to create music that will tell the story of places he's visited and people he's met.
Upcoming release: On his fourth CD, "Land of Tigers," Baker, 56, has used New Age instrumental music to tell the story of endangered tigers living in Asia. The CD will be released in March.
In one of the songs, "Tigers in the Sun," Baker used the sounds of an orchestra to describe tigers saying goodbye to a group of researchers in the jungle.
"You will hear that, in that song -- that sort of bittersweet song -- because it's an orchestral song," he said.
Choosing to retire: Baker will have more time to create music beginning Feb. 1, his first day of retirement from the Austintown police. He has worked in the department since 1977.
"At 25 years, I'm faced with the choice of allowing my other career [as a musician] to blossom or to stay here," Baker said. "I can't do both.
"I just chose to step into the other career."
Baker will be presented with a retirement plaque at Monday night's township trustees meeting.
Police Chief Gordon Ellis praised Baker for his work as the coordinator of the township's former neighborhood watch program. He also called Baker "a true advocate for domestic violence investigation and enforcement."
Ellis noted that Baker is the first police officer he's known who has decided to retire to pursue a music career.
Baker's wife, Dianna, said she is glad that her husband will be able to nurture his creativity after he retires.
"I'm happy for him because he's very creative," she said.
Getting started: Baker said he first discovered his love for creating music when he was a 16-year-old student at Fitch High School. At the time, he was playing guitar in several high school rock 'n' roll bands.
The bands' set list included Van Morrison's "Gloria," a song that Baker felt stifled his creativity and demonstrated the limits of rock 'n' roll.
"Do you know there's only three chords in 'Gloria'?" he said.
Eventually Baker decided to quit those bands in order to play his own guitar compositions at local restaurants and bars.
"I found that the people liked the stuff I composed myself," he said. "They actually paid me, it was so exciting."
After graduating from high school, however, Baker realized that he wouldn't be able to support himself on the money he earned from his music. He decided to put away his Gibson guitar and take a job in assembly at General Motors' Lordstown Assembly plant.
Offered a job: Meanwhile, several of Baker's friends began working for the Austintown police. Baker said he would often visit his friends at the police station, and in 1973 he was offered a part-time job as a dispatcher working Saturday nights.
"I knew everyone and I figured it would be a lot of fun," Baker said. "At the time it was exciting, people calling in, screaming and yelling."
As years passed he became more involved in the department, taking a job as a volunteer reserve officer who patrolled the township with a full-time officer.
"I was so gung-ho. It was a magnet, drawing me into it," he said.
In 1977, Baker quit GM to work full-time as a patrolman. It was a position he held until 1984, when he was promoted to detective and assigned to create the township's first neighborhood watch program.
Over 10 years, Baker built the neighborhood watch into an award-winning program that included about 4,400 families.
"It turned out to be, to my surprise, probably the most satisfying part of my career," Baker said. The residents "really, really enjoyed it and told me they enjoyed it.
"You get a lot of thank-yous [from residents], something you don't get in this line of work."
New assignment: Yet Baker's success did not secure his position as head of the program, and in 1995 he was given a new assignment: Investigate the township's domestic violence cases.
The assignment was a result of a change in state law that allowed police to file charges against domestic violence offenders. Before 1995, the victim in a domestic violence case was responsible for filing charges.
As he began work on his new assignment, Baker also started creating new music. His inspiration was a computer program he purchased in 1994 that allowed him to combine four separate recordings of keyboard sounds into one song.
"For the first time, I could be my own whole orchestra, my own whole band, and I didn't have to deal with the personalities of other people," Baker said. "And that's where it started."
Baker eventually sold his old Gibson guitar, which he learned was a rare model. The proceeds from the sale allowed Baker to build a studio in his home.
His first CD, "Nautical Miles," was released on his own label, MagMusic Recording, in 1997. It was sold at independent music stores in Ohio, as well as a few local Borders Books stores.
Frustration at work: Meanwhile, Baker was investigating about 70 or 80 domestic violence cases each month. He said only about half of the victims in those cases agreed to testify, and as a result, charges against many of the suspects were dropped.
"It becomes very difficult because half the time, the spouse does not want the other spouse to go to jail," Baker said. "You see that this person is probably in jeopardy to get hurt again, and you're powerless to prevent it from happening."
After spending his day confronting domestic violence, Baker would head to his studio at night to create New Age music. His second CD, "Solar Winds," was released in 1998 and was sold in 20 states. A year later, he released "Valle Del Sol," which sold 1,500 copies and earned an award as the best independent New Age album at the 2000 Global Resource Music Contest.
Leading to his decision: Yet the success of his music didn't change the horrors of domestic violence that he faced during the day. "I did it as well as I could, I tried to help the people as best I could ... but it got tiring," Baker said.
Eventually, the success of his music and the demands of his job led Baker to decide to retire.
Baker said that his retirement will give him the opportunity to work on several music projects he's already started, including the production of a children's CD.
"My music is calling," he said.