Long John Baldry was once described an “entertainer, world traveller, opera expert, antiques collector, rock and roll legend. And, more than any of the above, blues singer.” Along the way he also encountered alcoholism, depression and financial problems, before seeing out his days in Canada, where he lived in reduced – but happier – circumstances. He died today in 2005.
Vocalist John William Baldry aka Long John Baldry was born in Haddon, Derbyshire (not Northamptonshire as claimed by some sources). Relocating to London and immersing himself in the burgeoning blues scene there, Baldry sang on the pivotal 1962 Blues Incorporated album “R&B From The Marquee.”
Stints with Cyril Davies All-Stars (who became The Hoochie Coochie Men to back Baldry after Davies’ death), Steampacket and Bluesology then followed, as John – making no real secret of his homosexuality – shared the stage with a who’s who of UK musicians including Rod Stewart, Ginger Baker, Jeff Beck, Alexis Korner, Brian Jones, Elton John and Brian Auger.
Commercial pressures saw Baldry diversify into more mainstream material, appearing at the 1968 Royal Command Performance on the back of his hit single “Let The Heartaches Begin.” However, he quickly grew dissatisfied with the audiences who came to see him expecting more of the same, not the blues material that he preferred to play live.
The second part of Baldry’s career would see him relocate across the Atlantic, following the release of his 1971 album, “It Ain’t Easy”. Living in Toronto before settling in Vancouver and taking out Canadian citizenship, John scoring a minor hit in his adopted country with the fantastically-titled, “Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll”.
Retaining the accent and diction that made him the embodiement of Englishness (to non-UK ears at least), John also did voiceover work for commercials and voiced the character of Dr. Robotnik for the “Sonic The Hedgehog” cartoon. Edmonton-based independent label Stony Plain encouraged him to record the albums ”It Still Ain’t Easy”, “On Stage Tonight” “Right to Sing The Blues” and “Remembering Leadbelly.” He passed away at the age of 63.
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And here’s some footage of John in action: