Long John Baldry: The Walking Skyscraper

IT IS NOT often that you see a skyscraper actually walking around the streets of London.

Unless, that is, you visit the Marquee Club, in Wardour Street, when you can almost always see just that… the perambulating six feet seven-and-a-half inches of Long John Baldry.

He towers above the rest of our blues singers. Come to that he towers above everybody! The body is long and angular, topped by a thatch of fair hair.

For a few years, Long John has built a big following on the club scene. He’s been through the folk bit, with groups like the Steve Benbow Four — and through the trad bit, with just about everybody. All a bit specialist taste, though.

But now, suddenly, it’s… LONG JOHN BALDRY! His appearance on the Beatles telly-spectacular last week meant that umpteen millions had sampled his talents. He stuck to his usual material: but he impacted himself on a much wider audience.

STANDARDS

In fact, it was producer Jack Good who wanted Long John for the Around The Beatles show. He had taken some Baldry discs to the States with him and reports: “People liked them a lot — and wanted to hear more of him”. The Beatles’ show is, of course, being shown in the States…

Says Long John: “I’m grateful to Jack. This show gave me a chance to sing on a major pop programme without having to give up any of my own musical standards.”

Long John and the Hoochie Coochie Men will soon be on record. But the fantastic thing is the way they’re fully booked for months ahead without having had a hit disc. Long John himself is a dedicated blues man, but goes for a subtle rather than biting style — the rave-up work with the group goes to 19-year-old Rod “The Mod” Stewart, the other singer.

Says Long John: “Trends? Well, I think the time is coming now for the coloured artistes to get right in the limelight. Sure it’s happening already with people like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley but I think that’s more the pity. They have this commercial approach but I personally don’t like them much. They just stand up and roar. There’s no subtlety in it.

“Of course, I remember the Beatles from way back. I often played Liverpool in the days when the Cavern was a jazz club… and I was singing with Ken Sims. I know this sounds like being wise after the event, but the fact is I just knew they’d be very big one day. Naturally I didn’t realise just HOW big!

“On the blues side. I’ve been collecting records since I was eleven. And there are a lot of American artistes I’d like to see get more credit. Stars like B.B. King — Blues Boy King. He’s great with the coloured audiences but we don’t know much about him here. And Jimmy Witherspoon. Their day will come, I hope.”

While he was talking, Long John tucked away a man-sized lunch. There is a lot of him to fill… and a long drop for the large sirloin steak.

SUREFIRE

He had to nip away to take delivery of a new van for the group. When Long John rises from a chair, he seems to stand up — then stand up all over again! Like opening a double-jointed jack-knife…

I’ll tell you this. I really do look up to Long John Baldry, sure-fire star bet for 1964. But then everybody HAS to look up to him!

© Peter JonesRecord Mirror, 16 May 1964

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