For many years, as part of what we do for Stony Plain Records, we handled publicity for Long John Baldry. In view of his recent passing (and the benefit show that’s being arranged for Hugh’s Room on November 12) it might amuse you to reprint an unusual artists’ bio we prepared for the release of his 1996 Stony Plain CD, “Right to Sing the Blues.”
It break all the “rules” of artist’s bios – it’s way too long, for starters. Yet, re-reading it almost 10 years later, it does seem to capture the tone of the man. As he told me at the time, “Well, it does sort of sound like me, I suppose. In any case, dear boy, do send it about and see if anybody is amused!”
Recalling that reminds me of his comment when I wrote the sleeve notes for one of his CDs: “Very good, dear boy, but you used so many words that they couldn’t fit all my lovely snapshots in the booklet!” – RICHARD FLOHIL
Long John Baldry: AN UNUSUAL HEARING
A COURT CASE: PROOF THAT THIS MAN HAS THE RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES
Welcome to the last half of the last decade of this century, and consider the case of John Baldry, Esq., entertainer, world traveler, opera expert, antiques collector, rock and roll legend. And, more than any of the above, blues singer.
The evidence in this case is his third album for Stony Plain, the feisty independent record company from Edmonton, distributed to record stores across the country by Warner Music Canada, prime deliverers of good music.
This particular album is called Right to Sing the Blues. The album’s identifying number is SPCD-1236. It follows two other albums recorded for the same label: It Still Ain’t Easy (SPCD-1163) and On Stage Tonight: Live in Germany (SPCD-1192).
Good morning Mr. Baldry. How are you today?
Very well, thank you very much. Very well.
Mr. Baldry, have you always been a blues singer?
Well, not always. I have been known to wear white suits and sing ballads at Royal Command Performances, and on the telly. But that was a long time ago. I have also sung pop music, rock and roll, appeared in pantomime, and recorded many commercials for companies who believe that my voice will help them sell their products. They keep asking me to do it again and pay me handsomely to do so, so it must. I also amuse the kiddies by being the voice of the dastardly evil Dr. Robotnik on a cartoon show called Sonic The Hedgehog, which, I understand, is seen in many countries around the globe, to my astonishment.
But I asked about the blues…
Forgive me, I was carried away. May I have your indulgence to go backwards in time to explain. When I was a young lad in Derbyshire, England, uncommonly tall for my years, I began to hear strange and touching music on records brought in from America. I learned to play the guitar; I would occasionally busk on the street-and many people know that, in previous proceedings, I was found guilty of causing a disturbance. I protested that I did not want any boojie-woojie laid on the king of rock and roll, and many people, especially in America, understood my point.
The first American musicians I met were a remarkable pair of characters, two folksingers called Rambling Jack Ellliott and Derroll Adams; the first blues people I heard in person were Big Bill Broonzy and Lonnie Johnson. My guitar playing was getting better, and I had, if I may say so, a rather remarkable voice, so I found myself in small music groups; some of my companions were Mr. Michael Jagger, Mr. Charles Watts, and a young man called Brian Jones.
The first record I made was an EP made for a chap who had a shop on Charing Cross road; that was in 1960. Two years later I made a real record; it was called R&B at the Marquee. I have a copy here dated 1962-Exhibit A, if you like-to indicate that I sang three blues songs with Mr. Alexis Korner; one of them was by a singer known as Jimmy Witherspoon, with whom I was to sing again in Canada, some 33 years later.
We would play this American music at a variety of places, and with many other musicians who would become rather well known. Some of them the court may have heard of: Jack Bruce, Jimmy Page, Rod Stewart (I had met him on a railway station at midnight, playing harmonica while buried in a long woolen football scarf); I had what was called a “supergroup” with Mr. Brian Auger, young Mr. Stewart, and Ms. Julie Driscoll. Later I would have a band called The Hoochie Coochie Men that included a balding young piano player called Reg Dwight. On an aeroplane flight back from Newcastle one night we changed his name to reflect my own, and that of Elton Dean, our saxophone player.
Basically, in short, everything we did was deeply informed by blues music.
And you came to America, eventually?
Indeed I did. My good friends Mr. Rod Stewart and Mr. Elton John helped produce a record for me in 1971 called, rather colloquially, It Ain’t Easy. I came to Los Angeles to assist in promoting the record, and eventually decided to stay. But I thought that Canada would be a more comfortable place, so I moved to Toronto; it was comfortable, but very, very cold, and I moved to Vancouver, a more temperate city, climatically; it rains rather a lot, but it rarely freezes and hardly ever snows. I decided to stay, I became a Canadian citizen, and here I am!
I put out a number of recordings for a label called Capitol; recently they reissued the best of them on a single CD recording called The Canadian Sessions: A Thrill’s a Thrill, after a rather naughty song from one of the records that had been very popular.
May I quote from a press communiqué, released by your Canadian record company some five years ago? “In clubs across the country, audiences learned what their British cousins had known more than a decade before-that this tall (6 ft. 7-in. officially, but that doesn’t count the hats and the stacked-heel boots), rangy, sardonic, witty, very English singer is a consummate entertainer.”
I played many saloons, endlessly, in fact. I did become rather tired of it; there is much traveling involved and I do not like to drive very much, and I dislike flying even more.
Stony Plain Records asked me to make a new album in 1991, and I agreed, perhaps partly because the gentleman who runs the company is almost as tall as I am. Since it was 20 years later, I recorded a selection of songs called It Still Ain’t Easy. It helped re-establish me in some European places, and despite the traveling involved, I now go there annually to sing once again in France, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, and Austria, as well as Germany; I do do rather well there nowadays.
May I introduce Exhibit B-my second recording for Stony Plain called On Stage Tonight: Live in Germany. You will notice that it contains some of my more popular pieces from the past, and a great many blues. There is an opening medley of Every Day I Have the Blues and Times Are Getting Tougher than Tough, and classic songs associated with the great blues vocalists of the past-I would mention T-Bone Walker’s Stormy Monday and Bessie Smith’s Backwater Blues.
Your new record is mostly blues, is it not?
Indeed it is. I was fortunate to gain considerable musical support from many people, including young Mr. Colin James, a neighbour of mine from Vancouver, who wrote the title song and brought along his guitar to play on the recorded version of the tune. He also brought the members of his band to play on many of the songs. On other songs my friends from Edmonton played-Rusty Reed, Mike Lent, Dave Babcock and Bob Tildesley-and my guitarist Papa John King performs on all the tracks; a very remarkable musician it has been my privilege to tour with for some years now.
I chose material from a number of blues idioms. Old songs from the repertoires of Huddie Ledbetter-better known by the soubriquet of Leadbelly-and more contemporary material by well-known artists such as Little Willie John, Oran “Hot Lips” Page, and Little Walter Jacobs. A young woman called Rita Chiarelli, who also records for the label, gave me a song called Midnight in Berlin.
You call the album Right to Sing the Blues. Do you have that right?
I do believe so. I have, in fact, a been singing this music for a very long time. I should also point out that the recording also contains an interview-I believe it is called a “bonus track”-in which I talk about many of the blues people I have known in Britain and America, including Willie Dixon, whom I was fortunate enough to sing with on many occasions, and…
I believe the point is made. This need not proceed further. The case is proved. You do have, in fact, the right to sing the blues-you have earned that right-and on the evidence presented today you obviously do so very well. Good afternoon, Mr. Baldry.
Good afternoon. I do hope you will take these records home, and enjoy them.