Nicknamed ‘Long John’ due to his lanky 6′ 7″ frame, John William Baldry was born in 1941 in the small English village of East Haddon. He spent much of his youth in Edgware, Middlesex, where he was first introduced to the American blues.
After attending grammar school, he began incorporating those influences into one of the earliest and most influential British R&B artists. Making himself at home in every dinghy coffee lounge, club, and every other room around the UK, including over 200 shows at the Marquee Club. He played with the likes of Jack Bruce, members of The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, and Reg Dwight (Elton John). He recorded one album with Blues Incorporated, then moved over to The Cyril Davies R&B All Stars as the piano player, which morphed into Long John Baldry and His Hoochie Coochie Men, then Steampacket, good for a pair of releases, then the spin-off Bluesology.
With his unmistakeably deep resonant voice, he recorded eight more studio albums and was a fixture on the charts with rhythm and blues-based pop classics like “Got My Mojo Working,” “Black Girl,” “Don’t Lay No Boogie Woogie (On The King of Rock & Roll),” “It Ain’t Easy” and his #1 UK smash “Let The Heartaches Begin,” among others.
He had American chart success with the top 40 albums IT AIN’T EASY and EVERYTHING STOPS FOR TEA, and also wrote the theme for the 1968 UK Olympic team, taking “Mexico” to the top 20 on the British charts. He was also so beloved by The Beatles that he appeared on one of their TV specials.
His soulful lyrics often came from handpicked covers he made his own, and he moved to New York, then LA in the late ’70s, but quickly began spending more and more time in Canada. He signed a deal with Capitol Records, where his first album after moving north was 1979’s BALDRY’S OUT, with the title track as the lead single. His rendition of The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” was a duet with Kathi MacDonald that took him to #2 in Australia. MacDonald then became part of his touring entourage for the next two decades.
Homosexuality in the UK was still criminalized and medicated when it was first rumoured Baldry was gay as early as the ’60s, and was briefly institutionalized with ‘mental health issues.’ He supported Elton John in coming to terms with his own sexuality, and even talked him out of marrying a woman at one point (Elton’s song “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” is about that experience). He officially came out of the closet himself by covering Canadian Bill Amesbury’s “A Thrill’s A Thrill” and the autobiographical “Baldry’s Out” – a title that also stemmed from his own openness on the subject. Other noteable tracks included covers of Bad Company’s “Stealer” and Randy Bishop’s “So Sad.”
He released two records a year later, starting with a self-titled album that kept in his tradition of finding songs to cover he could put his own stamp on, with what many critics consider one of the best versions of Canadian Bonnie Dobson‘s “Morning Dew” (also covered by Nazareth, Robert Plant, Devo, Grateful Dead, and Lulu, to name but a few) and The Doors’ “Love Me Two Times.”
Albums and critical acclaim continued to come his way throughout the 1980s. BOYS IN THE BAND featured “Crazy Lady,” “Small Talk,” and “My Kind of Woman,” while 1982’s ROCK WITH THE BEST featured the singles “25 Years of Pain,” “Too Late For Crying,” and “Stay The Way You Are,” as well as “Let The Heartaches Stop” – a sequel to his 1968 hit, “Let The Heartaches Begin.”
After a greatest hits album that featured nothing after moving to Canada, and now on Music Line Records, he returned with one of his most critically acclaimed records in 1986 with SILENT TREATMENT. The title track, his covers of Jack Green’s “This Is Japan,” Smokey Robinson’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” (featuring the stand-out duet with Kathi McDonald), and Bobby Blue Bland’s “Ain’t No Love In The Heart of the City” made it one of his most solid efforts to date. It also contained one of Baldry’s rare self-penned gems in “A Life of Blues,” co-written with Jimmy Horowitz.
The album was released the following spring to the German audience with six tracks that became the stand-alone album LONG JOHN BALDRY & FRIENDS in Canada. Recorded live at Mushroom Studios over one day in September ’86, it was highlighted by reworkings of hits from his youth, including “Black Girl” and “I Got My Mojo Workin’.” The album also became the basis of TOUCH OF BLUES in 1989, taking up six of the nine tracks.
After taking a couple of years off from recording, touring much less and now on Stony Plain Records out of Edmonton, IT STILL AIN’T EASY was on the store shelves in 1991. “Midnight In New Orleans” became an instant AOR classic from what was one of his most personal albums ever, featuring “Insane Asylum” that recounted his brief stay in a mental hospital, but also featured “Shake That Thang” and “You Wanna Dance,” two jive tracks that brought back the Baldry bravado of old.
After a pair of double live albums – MIDNIGHT IN NEW ORLEANS recorded in New Orleans and ON STAGE TONIGHT! BALDRY’S OUT recorded in Hamburg, Germany, his most complete anthology to date was released in ’95. A THRILL’S A THRILL spanned his complete career over two albums. The mid ’90s saw a return for Baldry regularly touring overseas, and his 1997 performance at Leverkusen, Germany at Blues Fest was said to have stole the show, as was his return to Canada at the Waterfront Blues Festival in Toronto. Both of those shows were released as live concert DVDs. Throughout his career, he recorded nearly a dozen TV and DVD concert specials, and made countless guest appearances on friends’ projects and was always a fixture of numerous compilation albums.
He picked up the first Juno of his career in that year for Blues Album of the Year award for RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES. Along with the title track, it was highlighted by completely revamped versions of “Morning Dew” and “Midnight in Berlin.”
Stripping down the live productions, The Baldry Trio made its way across Canada, into the US, and overseas a few trips over the next couple of years. The concerts were more intimate settings, and this period culminated in the release BALDRY TRIO LIVE before the end of the decade, then repackaged later as EVENING CONVERSATION.
Produced by Andreas Schuld in 2002, he released his final album, REMEMBERING LEADBELLY, his tribute to the blues pioneer that Baldry considered one of his first musical inspirations. Along with “Gallow’s Pole,” it featured other Deep South standards like “Midnight Special” and the Gospel-inspired “We Will Walk Through The Valley,” “Mary Don’t You Weep,” and “Go Down Old Hannah.” Critics loved the way Baldry’s gravely voice had aged like fine wine while roaring with power at times.
Baldry’s last tour was in 2004, where he did some select dates across Canada, after which he finished up in the US, playing the last concert of his career in Columbus, Ohio, with Bobby Cameron as the opening act.
He died in 2005 at the age of 64 at the Vancouver General Hospital of a lung infection that had steadily weakened him for several months. He was survived by his partner, and a brother and sister.
Also an accomplished actor, Baldry’s career began in the late ’60s, appearing in a stage play called “Big Rock Mountain Candy.” He landed a small role in the 1971 movie “Up The Chastity Belt,” then did voices for two characters in the short-lived British cartoon “Dick Deadeye” in ’75. He resumed his film and TV career after moving to Canada, beginning with parts in the animated Star Wars spinoffs, “Ewoks” and “Droids,” “The Great Heep,” “Dragon Warrior,” and “Conan The Adventurer,” as well as voices in the Sonic The Hedgehog and He-Man franchises, among over a dozen others. He also had a recurring role in “MacGyver,” where he played the HIT Director.
Following his death, much of his catalogue prior to him moving to Canada began getting repackaged and released, including several ‘best of’ packages.