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It Ain’t Easy
Artist:  Long John Baldry
Label: Quantum Leap
Length: 47 minutes. Extras: 3 minute interview + label promo

This DVD of a 1987 gig at the Iowa State University is re-released this month, and that gets a thumbs-up from me, as it shows how criminally overlooked and under-valued Baldry has been, especially given that he was still performing until his recent  untimely death, aged 64. This performance has far more vitality and charm than the John Mayall blues DVD filmed on the same stage – something that surprised me as someone who has paid to see Mayall live, but been unenthused by Baldry since his “Let the Heartaches begin” single failed to impress me at a very young age.
 
Apart from the bluesman’s six feet, seven inch frame, what is immediately striking is Baldry’s ease on stage with the band and audience. He can wander about nonchalantly, handing round the Heineken at one point, because as soon as he is behind the mic, his voice has all the authority that he needs. Put this on with only the sound, and you would swear that he is black. 
 
Even if he did not have that voice, his record should speak for itself, as the man had a regular spot at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, where the Beatles would always play intermission sets as support. In the extremely brief interview that comprises virtually all of the useable extras, Baldry tells how, when they came to London for their first television special in 1964, they wanted Baldry on the show playing Muddy Waters’ “I’ve Got My Mojo Working”. After he had toured Europe with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, he joined Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, known as the first electric blues band in Britain. When you look at who Long John hired for his own band, you realise what a massive part he played, not only in the British blues explosion of the ‘sixties, but in the ensuing development of rock itself. There were Jagger, Richards, Jones and Watts from the Stones; Wood and Stewart from The Faces; Ginger Baker and Jeff Beck; while he also recorded with Jimmy Page and Jack Bruce. In 1966, he recruited Blues-ology as a backing band, and when their pianist, Reg Dwight, looked for a stage name, he took the ‘Elton’ from the band’s saxophonist and the ‘John’ from Baldry.
 
The other stars in this live set are the songs. When I saw the set list, I was not expecting “Respect“ to be that “Respect.” (He is helped in recreating the Aretha feel by Kathi McDonald taking joint and lead vocals on two songs, the other being “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman”. She claims to have sung on 90 gold records, and was a direct replacement for Janis Joplin in Big Brother & the Holding Company, but can be a little too gravelly here). The bookending tracks are nine and ten minute affairs, the first (“’Going Down Slow”) because most of the band get to solo, and the last, his trademark "Don't Try to Lay No Boogie Woogie on The King Of Rock & Roll," because he tells a drawn-out story in the middle. The title track is probably best known from Bowie’s version on Ziggy Stardust; “Everyday I Have the Blues” is the B. B. King song and “Iko Iko” is the fun piece. Such a collection shows that he is a more rounded musician than his reputation as a bluesman suggests.
 
There’s very little video documentary of Baldry, so this account, which shows him in a fine, entertaining and assured light, is all the more valuable. I am now impressed - he’s won me over.
 
Derek Walker


 

 
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