John William 'Long John' Baldry was a huge figure in Europe, one of the cats who—along with ALexis Korner, Cyril Davies, John Mayall, and Graham Bond—started the blues and blues-rock craze in England that yielded many now famous ensembles: the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, and far too many others to cite. Baldry never made the splash that he damn well should have here in the States, but them's the fortunes of war, I guess. In 1978, he relocated to Canada, becoming a citizen, and remained a Canuck until his death of a chest infection in 2005. In 1991, the 6'7' gentleman joined the Stony Plain label and stayed there until his passing. The very first SP release, It Still Ain't Easy, a titular harking back to his 1971 It Ain't Easy, re-established a career that had been long flagging, re-igniting the singer in Europe and Australia.
The first cut in The Best of the Stony Plain Years contains an intro sequence with a scratchy old Klooks Kleek-y recording of the very first Baldry recording ever, which rapidly ducks into a 2001 version of the same song, Good Morning Blues, this time with a killer harp wielded by Butch Coulter. One can detect in many tracks where Screamin' Jay Hawkins influenced Baldry's showy singing style and where Arthur Brown copped some of Baldry's licks in turn (as well as Hawkins'). At the bettr part of seven feet, Baldry was an imposing figure but eternally good-natured, open, warm, and possessed of a ribald attitude towards life. Throughout the CD, a broad sense of humor is very apparent, though when fireblazer Kathi MacDonald duets with him, things get real serious real damn quick (man, that woman could WAIL! [she passed in 2012]).
Baldry was one of those guys who could inject a goodly slice of feel-good into the blues, making it oft swing (esp. Midnight in New Orleans), accompanied by many capable musicians, Duke Robillard not least among 'em. The Best Of carries an unreleased version of John Lee Hooker's Dimples and a hard to find promo sampler cut, Black Girl, with McDonald again tearing things up beside Baldry. A live track with Jimmy Witherspoon on Jim's own Time's Gettin' Tougher than Tough, recorded just two years before that old bluesmaster's death in 1977, is particularly tasty, been-there authentic with its humorous Depression-themed lyrics. Witherspoon was as gruff and raw as he'd ever been, Baldry modulating to match him while Robillard tosses in great guitar solos. If you're of a mind to revist Baldry, there's no better place to start than with this. And if you find yourself hungry / thirsty / ravening for even more than that, check out the other release in the series, with Joe Louis Walker (here).
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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