Long John Baldry

"Long" John (William) Baldry. Singer, guitarist, songwriter, b East Haddon, Eng., 12 Jan 1941, naturalized Canadian 1980, d Vancouver 21 Jul 2005.

Baldry, "Long" John

"Long" John (William) Baldry. Singer, guitarist, songwriter, b East Haddon, Eng., 12 Jan 1941, naturalized Canadian 1980, d Vancouver 21 Jul 2005. Nicknamed "Long" John for his height (6 feet, 7 inches) and slim build, John Baldry was an early proponent of the British blues movement, although for many years remained commercially unrecognized. As a child, he demonstrated a sophisticated and varied musical taste. He sang in his church choir and listened to classical and English folk music, Dixieland jazz and American blues. At age 12 he started a jazz and blues society at school. Imitating his idols Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters and Lead Belly, Baldry taught himself the guitar in his early teens and developed the deep, gravelly voice that became his signature. At 16 he attended the Hornsey College of Art and held a graphic design job (about 1957-60) while playing solo shows at night. He made his debut on BBC Radio in the late 1950s, and 1957-61 he played in jazz bands and toured with the Bob Cort Skiffle Group and folksinger Ramblin' Jack Elliot.

Collaborations 1962-6

John Baldry made his first major breakthrough with Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated, which included Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger. With that group he played the Ealing Jazz and Marquee clubs and in 1962 released the first British electric blues album, R&B from the Marquee (ACL 1130 Decca). The same year he played in the Horace Silver Quintet in Germany, before joining Cyril Davies' R&B All Stars in 1963. Baldry led the All Stars briefly following Davies' death in 1964 and subsequently reformed the group under the name Hoochie Coochie Men with Rod Stewart. The group released one album, Long John's Blues (ULP 1081 United Artists), in 1964. In 1965 Baldry formed the popular R&B group Steampacket with Stewart, Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger, Mickey Waller and Vince Briggs, and following its dissolution in 1966, headed Bluesology, introducing Reggie Dwight (Elton John) on piano.

Solo Career 1967-79

In 1967 John Baldry made a break with the blues, releasing the number-one pop ballad "Let The Heartaches Begin." A less successful album of the same name was produced in 1968 (NPL 18208 Pye Records), followed by the hit Olympic theme song "Mexico." Returning to his musical roots, Baldry made the blues-rock album It Ain't Easy (WS 1921 Warner Bros, 1971), co-produced by Rod Stewart and Elton John. The album, featuring the song "Don't Try to Lay No Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock 'n' Roll," was well received in the US but failed to gain an audience in the UK. Baldry's next albums, Everything Stops for Tea (WB 46 160 Warner Bros, 1972) (also produced by Stewart and John) and Good to Be Alive (GML 1005 Casablanca Records, 1973), were considered artistically strong but suffered disappointing sales. Struggles with alcoholism, depression and finances led Baldry to hospital in 1976, and in 1979 he recovered with the release of Baldry's Out! (ST 6459 Capitol-EMI); his single "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin" was a minor hit in Canada, the US and Australia.

In Canada

John Baldry moved to Canada in the late 1970s and lived in Dundas, Ont, 1980-4. He performed at Toronto clubs and recorded the album Long John Baldry (SW 17038 Capitol-EMI, 1980) with Bob and Daniel Lanois before settling in Vancouver in 1985. In the early 1990s Baldry made regular appearances at folk festivals in Canada and the US and lent his voice to the animated series "Nilus the Sandman" (1991) and "The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog" (1993). He made three albums 1991-2001 with Stony Plain Records, including the 1997 Juno-winning Right to Sing the Blues (SPCD 1232, 1996). John Baldry received the Toronto Blues Society's Maple Blues Award for lifetime achievement in 1997 and in 1998 won a Grammy nomination for his narration of the Disney recording The Original Story of Winnie the Pooh (Walt Disney Records, 1997).

The documentary Long John Baldry: In the Shadow of the Blues (Soapbox Productions) was broadcast on Bravo! Canada in 2007.

Selected Solo Discography

Looking at Long John. 1966. ULP 1146 United Artists

Wait For Me. 1969. NSPL 18366 Pye Records

Rock with the Best. 1982. ST 6490 Capitol-EMI Canada

Silent Treatment. 1986. ML 0001 Musicline Records

It Still Ain't Easy. 1991. SPCD 1163 Stony Plain Records

A Thrill's A Thrill: The Canadian Years. 1995. S22Z 29609 EMI Music Canada

Live: Long John Baldry Trio. 2000. SPCD 1268 Stony Plain Records

Remembering Leadbelly. 2001. SPCD 1275 Stony Plain Records

Further Reading

  • Stambler, Irwin, ed. "John Baldry," The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul (New York 1989)

    Larkin, Colin, ed. "Long John Baldry," The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (3rd ed), vol 1 (London 1998)

    George-Warren, Holly and Romanowski, Patricia, eds. "John Baldry," The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll (3rd ed) (New York 2001)

    Meyers, Paul. It Ain't Easy: Long John Baldry and the Birth of the British Blues (Vancouver 2007)