Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Long John Baldry

At a height of six feet,seven inches and the first name of John, the nickname and stage name of "Long" John Baldry was inevitable. He is best known as the voice of Dr. Robotnik on the cartoon series The Adventures Of Sonic The Hedgehog. What is not so widely known and should be, is his huge influence on and mentoring of quite a few artists who later became superstars, not to mention his own huge talent. He never really sought the spotlight, but it would often find him as he made his way through the early British blues scene.
John William Baldry was born January 12,1941 in East Haddon, Northamptonshire, England and was one of the first British vocalists to sing the blues in clubs. He appeared many times at the Station Hotel in Richmond, one of the Rolling Stones' earliest venues. In the early 1960s he sang with Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated and at stages his bandmates were Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Jack Bruce, Keith Richards and Brian Jones. On the 1966 Rolling Stones live album Got Live If You Want It, Baldry was the announcer introducing them. He was invited by friend Paul  McCartney to perform on The Beatles 1964 TV special, Around The Beatles, where he perfomed "I Got My Mojo Workin" as The Beatles sang along in the audience.

Gifted with a rich, deep, gravely baritone that brings to mind that of Tom Waits, Baldry joined Cyril Davies RnB All Stars in 1963 which included Nicky Hopkins on piano. After Davies' death in 1964, Baldry took over and the band became Long John Baldry And His Hoochie Coochie Men which featured a young Rod Stewart as a second vocalist. After seeing a street performance of Stewart singing a Muddy Waters song at Twickenham Station, Baldry immediately recruited him.

The Hoochie Coochie Men became Steampacket in 1965 with Baldry and Stewart and included Julie Driscoll as Female vocalist and Brian Auger on Hammond organ. When Steampacket broke up in 1966, Baldry formed Bluesology which featured saxophonist Elton Dean, later of The Soft Machine, Caleb Quaye on guitar and pianist Reginald Dwight. It was around this time when Dwight took Dean's and Baldry's first names and adopted the name Elton John.

Baldry was openly gay in the 60s when homosexuality was still criminalized and medicated, and had a brief relationship with The Kinks' lead guitarist Ray Davies. It has been acknowledged that Baldry helped Elton John come to terms with his sexuality. In 1968 after the breakup of Bluesology, the pianist tried to commit suicide in the wake of relationship problems with a woman. Baldry found John and talked him out of it, urging him to accept his sexuality. Elton John's song "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" was written about the experience.
Prior to Bluesology's disbanding, Baldry recorded a pop song, "Let The Heartaches Begin" which went to #1 in The U.K. and barely made the Billboard top100. He followed with a U.K. ,top 20 hit "Mexico". This marked a shift in Baldry's musical direction towards pop music from his earlier concentration on the blues.

His other pop outings would include a cover of The Walker Brothers' hit "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" and a duet with British RnB songstress Kathi McDonald on a rendition of The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Loving Feeling". He soon after returned to his blues and RnB roots continuing to work often with McDonald. He collaborated with Elton John and Rod Stewart on his 1971 LP It Ain't Easy which contained his biggest U.S. song "Don't Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock And Roll". The following album, Everything Stops For Tea, was co-produced by himself and Rod Stewart. It Ain't Easy contained one of my personal favorites, a moving, almost spiritual rendition of The Faces' "Flying".

Baldry suffered from mental health problems and was institutionalised for two years. After his release he continued to record and tour steadily until his last show at Barristers Hall in Columbus, Ohio on July 19, 2004. He also had an extensive career as a voice actor.
After living in New York City and Los Angeles, Baldry settled in Vancouver, British Columbia where he became a Canadian citizen in 1978.
His 1997 album A Right To Sing The Blues received a Juno Award that year for Best Blues Album.
After a four-month battle with a severe lung infection, Long John Baldry died on July 21, 2005 at The Vancouver General Hospital at the age of 64. He was a giant in more ways than one, a huge part of British blues history.

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