Born John Baldry on January 12, 1941, in London, England; moved to Canada, 1980. Addresses: Record company---Stony Plain Recording Co. Ltd., P.O. Box 861, Edmonton, Alberta, T5J 2L8, Canada, phone: (403) 468-6423, fax: (403) 465-8941. Website--Long John Baldry Official Website: http://www.johnbaldry.com.
Born in Britain during World War II, John Baldry reached his teens just as rock music was becoming popular in the United States. By then he had reached his full height (six feet, seven inches), and was nicknamed Long John. In the 1950s when Elvis Presley and Bill Haley were enjoying phenomenal success with rock and roll, Baldry's interests involved other American musical forms, mainly the blues and folk music. At this time, he was playing guitar and singing in small folk clubs in England.
During this period, Baldry became close friends with the American folk singer, Brooklyn-born Ramblin' Jack Elliot. The meeting was fortuitous for Baldry and the two singers embarked on a number of tours of England and continental Europe between the years 1957 and 1961.
American country blues and rhythm and blues were becoming increasingly popular with English pop musicians in the 1960s. Turning away from traditional folk, Baldry embraced something new called "bluesrock." Baldry's talents for discovering new musicians and creating partnerships became evident when he organized Alexis Korners Blues Incorporated. The group included Rolling Stones founding members Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts.
Baldry moved to Germany in 1962 where he played with various groups in major German rock centers. Returning to England later that year, he joined another pioneering British blues-rock group, the Cyril Davies All Stars. Davies, a harmonica virtuoso, died suddenly in 1964 and the band broke up. After this tragedy, Baldry formed his own band, the Hoochie Coochie Men, which featured Rod Stewart, then an unknown London vocalist. In 1964, United Artists released an album in the United States of the group's songs, Long John's Blues.
The Hoochie Coochie Men lasted just one year. Baldry then created yet another group, Steam Packet, retaining Rod Stewart who was joined by Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll, drummer Mickey Waller, and guitarist Vice Briggs. During this period, Baldry recorded a number of R&B-style solo singles for United Artists, although some like "Cuckoo," were in the style of Tom Jones.
Once again, members of Baldry's groups splintered off to form new variations. Auger and Driscoll became two-thirds of Trinity, while Mickey Waller played with a number of top bands, including one led by Jeff Beck. Vince Briggs ended up as the guitarist for Eric Burdon's successful band, The Animals.
In 1966, Baldry organized a new band called Bluesology. He retained his knack for introducing up-and-coming stars--among his sidemen was a young pianist/organist/singer named Reg Dwight, later known as Elton John. The group dissolved in 1967.
Ballad Style Lead to Chart Hits
At this point, Baldry switched to the British record company Pye, and with a change of labels came an abrupt change of style. Abandoning group work and now backed by a large orchestra, he began singing middle-of-the-road ballads. This soaring ballad style was perfectly suited to his powerful voice and quickly provided him with a series of chart hits. "Let the Heartaches Begin" stayed in the number one position on English charts for weeks, before it was ousted by a Beatles tune. More hits followed, including "Mexico," "When the Sun Comes Shining Through," and "It's Too Late Now." Baldry earned a gold record for "Let the Heartaches Begin." He was featured on major British TV variety programs of the day and sang at a Royal Command Performance.
In the early 1970s, Baldry went back to his blues roots. It Ain't Easy, his first album in seven years, was released by Warner Brothers in 1971. Rod Stewart produced one side and Elton John produced the other. Throughout the summer of 1971, It Ain't Easy stayed on the charts in the United States, but that was the last time Baldry was able to maintain popularity there. His big hit single was "Don't Try to Lay No Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll."
Restless in England, Baldry moved to Canada in 1980, settling first in Toronto, and then in Vancouver in 1995. Now a naturalized citizen, he lives in a spacious Kitsilano penthouse which he hates to leave. The only sign that the penthouse is a musician's home are the hand-painted guitar case in one corner and the photograph in the hallway of Long John, his arms slung over the shoulders of Rod Stewart. It was taken in the mid-1970s, so both men look appropriately androgynous, their heavy makeup glistening in the light.
Long John Baldry could have been a big North American music star, but due to a combination of personal choice, poor health, and minor phobias, it never happened. For example, he hates to travel in airplanes. As Stephen Godfrey quoted him in the Globe and Mail, "The idea of plummeting thousands of feet terrifies me. I'd rather go by bus." He's also not willing to play the stardom game: "I don't seek out press coverage. I'd be embarrassed to be written about in public like some people are. Even if it's just personal smears, they just chortle. I'd be mortified." Living in Los Angeles has never been an option either. Baldry is prone to "bronchial and sinus-type problems, and places like L.A. are so poisonous they're terrible for me."
Baldry has found that rock stardom since the 1960s has made for a sporadic existence. In fact, he now makes four times more money from voice-overs for TV and radio commercials than he ever did for his albums. His voice has graced campaigns for Levi's, Ralston Cat Chow, and Sunoco Oil, among others. Baldry also earned money providing the voice for Dr. Robotnic in Sonic the Hedgehog, a Saturday morning TV cartoon show.
In 1988 Baldry was asked to play the role of Captain Hook in a stage production of Peter Pan in Vancouver. Of this perfect match of actor and character, Deirdre Kelly quoted Long John in the Globe and Mail as saying, "With Captain Hook being the larger-than-life character that he is, he easily fits in with the Baldry persona, if you know what I mean ... [the only thing he has to do is tone down the snarl] ... I'm supposed to play him larger than life, but not so that I'm scaring the children."
Baldry released a tribute to blues legend Leadbelly in 2002, titled Remembering Leadbelly. On his official website, Baldry praised the influenece Leadbelly had on him and on blues as a genre: "His songs touched me when I was a kid; they still talk to me, all these years later. His music is timeless; they can be tackled in many different ways, and there is an amazing variety in the topics and themes he wrote about."
Although he still performs live, Baldry is somewhat disappointed with the current state of pop music. As Mike Ross noted in the Edmonton Journal, Baldry takes a dim view of modern chart toppers: "Where have all the good pop tunes gone? There aren't any. The current crop of middle-of-the-road-type people, I suppose, is dominated by the British these days, but it really leaves me very, very cold. Even modern R&B and soul, I think really leaves me cold compared to how I remembered it with Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding and people like that. The modern-day folks like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston--there are too many notes, and you can quote me on that: Too many notes!" Regardless of Baldry's curmudgeonly opinions, if it wasn't for his sense of what sounds good, the world may have missed out on superstars like Rod Stewart, Elton John, and the Rolling Stones. Long John Baldry is truly deserving of the title "One of the Founding Fathers of British Rock Music."
Long John Baldry's Career
Toured England and continental Europe, 1957-61; played with the Cyril Davies All Stars, 1962-64; formed Hoochie Coochie Men, 1964; released Long John's Blues, 1964; organized Bluesology, 1966; played Captain Hook in a stage production of Peter Pan in Vancouver, 1988; released tribute album Remembering Leadbelly, 2002.
- Selected discography
- Long John's Blues United Artists, 1964.
- Looking at Long John United Artists, 1966.
- Let the Heartaches Begin Pye, 1968.
- Let there Be Long John Pye, 1968.
- Wait for Me Pye, 1969.
- It Ain't Easy , Warner Brothers, 1971.
- Everything Stops for Tea Warner Brothers, 1972.
- Heartaches (Golden Hour) Pye, 1974.
- Let the Heartaches Begin PRT, 1988.
- Beat Goes On PRT, 1990.
- Mexico Spectrum, 1995.
- A Thrill is a Thrill: The Canadian Years Stony Plain/EMI, 1995.
- Right to Sing the Blues Stony Plain/Hypertension, 1997.
- Long John Baldry Trio Stony Plain/Hypertension, 2000.
- Remembering Leadbelly Stony Plain, 2002.
- Contemporary Canadian Musicians, Gale Group, 1998.
- The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Rolling Stone Press, 1994.
- Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Viking, 1989.
- Edmonton Journal, May 31, 1996.
- Edmonton Sun, May 29, 1996.
- Globe and Mail, May 28, 1987; March 5, 1988.
- Sing Out!, Spring 2002.
- Vancouver Province, March 31, 1996.
- Long John Baldry Official Website, http://www.johnbaldry.com (November 23, 2004).