Friday, July 22, 2005

LEGENDOBIT

The death has been announced of the pioneering British R&B artist 'Long' John Baldry. Baldry - who got his nickname on account of his 6' 7" height in stockinged feet - established himself in the 50s as a force on the then-young British jazz scene, finding himself in an excellent position to act as one of the midwives to rock when the genre hatched in the UK. His influence and patronage touched virtually all of the great figures of the first wave of Britrock: The Beatles got to know him when he was a regular at the Cavern, and invited him to appear on their Around The Beatles 1964 TV Special; he fronted Bluesology, with a young Elton John on keyboards (it was from Baldry that Reg Dwight took his stage surname); he was upfront for the Hoochie Coochie Men, the band where Rod Stewart found his feet. And the list goes on - Eric Clapton credits Baldry as the reason he got into music; the Rolling Stones cut their teeth working as his London warm-up act in 1962. Ginger Baker, Jeff Beck and Brian Jones all worked with him. Alexis Korner added him to the line-up for his Blues Incorporated band.

Writing in the Readers Digest last Christmas, Rod Stewart recalled Baldry's unique position in British music: "In those days, the only music we fell in love with was the blues, and John was the first white guy singing it. In his wonderful voice, it was the true blues and everyone looked up to him."

In 1967, Baldry cut loose from the various bands he'd been working with and had a solo number one, Let The Heartaches Begin, but although he followed up with an album collection of pop standards, Baldry was never one to settle into a rut and quickly pulled together a bluesy album, It Ain't Easy. Indeed, nearly all of his 17 albums in the last 40 years have been different from their predecessors and each other. Baldry's personal favourite was 1973's Good To Be Alive, a concoction of folk, blues and roots-rock. That album's title track was co-written by Colin Allen and one of UK rock's other undersung heroes, Zoot Money.

A small breakthrough in the American market with his Don't Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll persuaded him to cross the Atlantic to try his luck. It took a while for him to find his feet in the Americas, and John had some miserable times in New York and LA. eventually he would take up Canadian citizenship. While turning over a pleasant enough income through music, Baldry found a more lucrative sideline as a voiceover artist - the voice blues hailed by Rod Stewart would also put words into the mouth of Sonic The Hedgehog's nemeis Dr Ivo Rontonik and Komplex in Bucky O'Hare. And some of his highest-selling recordings would be readings of tales of Winnie The Pooh for Disney.

He continued to tour right up until his death, and had been planning another major tour for September. In 1993, he released his first new collection in years - in a tip of his hat to his earlier work, he chose the name It Still Ain't Easy.

Baldry had been ill for sometime - he'd been fighting a chest infection for the last four months. He was 64.


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