November 07, 1997


Filed under: Archive,Music


Long John Baldry

Governor Hindmarsh Hotel


Murray Bramwell

Recently, in an interview, Long John Baldry whimsically recalled that old conundrum from the Bonzo Dog DoDah band – Can Blue Men Sing the Whites ? Hoary questions about the authenticity of the British blues seem almost laughable now. In the early sixties the blues had virtually been reborn in England- and then exported, value added, back to the US.

The Rolling Stones reaped the main rewards of course, as did the Yardbirds and the Animals. But the godfathers of the British blues revival were musicians like Alexis Korner, Cyril Davies- and Long John Baldry.

And, on tour in Australia for the first time ever, he is in great form. Onstage at the Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Baldry is settling in for the night. The band has warmed up with a sax-heavy blast and the singer makes his entrance. In black shirt, light slacks and his signature panama hat, he glides straight into Every Day I Have the Blues. He is a giant in every sense. At six foot seven, in the old money, he towers above his band, particularly diminutive frontmen

sax player John Lee Sanders and Widgeon Holland on guitar.

Baldry’s voice is splendid- rich, grainy and with a lower range that can rattle windows. He could be the reincarnation of Howling Wolf, with choreography by Cab Calloway. He glides as he sings, his huge hands gesticulating like ocean gulls. Pausing to sip from a glass of white wine, he is straight into the up-tempo One Step Ahead.

He is keenly aware of the theatrics of it all. Can you take away that green light ? He asks, in a polite but commanding minor public school accent, I feel like Nosferatu up here. A sanguine wash of red instantly envelopes him as he fires up for some wang-dang- doodling in Shake that Thing, a likeably lascivious reading distinguished by eerie guitar fills from Widgeon Holland.

Stormy Monday Blues is a highlight. Baldry’s huge voice is effortless and expressive, framed with tender reed solos from Sanders and incendiary Texas guitar from the talented Widgeon, anchored by Norman Fisher on six string bass and Al Webster’s money-in-the-bank drumming.

The Tall One ambles back for Baldry’s Out and A Thrill is a Thrill,  which transformers into Lou Reed samples. Baldry and the band rather fancy these medleys, morphing from Iko Iko toWilly and the Hand Jive. Sanders hits the zydeco button on his synth and the band goes into full gumbo. Later, in Baldry’s menacing reading of Randy Newman’s Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield the baton changes to raunchy choruses of the Willie Dixon standard, Spoonful .

The set covers plenty of ground in more than two hours. Baldry does a solo turn with twelve string guitar- including Leadbelly classics Easy Rider Blues and Black Girl. And, with sweetly nuanced piano from Eric Webster he gives us a memorable version of the Grateful Dead favourite Morning Dew.

Long John Baldry is, you might say, at the height of his powers. From Don’t Lay the Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll to the old Faces song Flying, he shows he can cover the lot. The blues, the whites, the ballads, the hollers. Everything that is, except the greens.

The Australian, November 7, 1997, p.19.

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