EXCLUSIVE! An audience with Long John Baldry
Ej.w recently ran an article about names, and one of the biggies in Elton’s career was Long John Baldry. So who better to focus on for our Archive of the Month–wherein Baldry discusses Elton and Rod Stewart’s different working styles, as well as his own?
LJB talks to EJ.W during his Teddington, UK Trio Blues show on June 14, 2002
28 June 2002
As I shuffle into the deconsecrated church for an intimate Long John Baldry concert for around 120 guests, many from the music industry, friends, family and even his school teachers, I realise LJB keeps the door shut from me.
It is definitely a case of autographs now, yes, but interviews not until the interval. And that is definitely, in my view, the spirit of professionalism. For while it is explained that LJB is rehearsing and a bit apprehensive about interviews ahead of the show, it is all down to a professional putting his priorities in order.
In essence, LJB knows he is here to show the audience he knows his onions, and not impress a journalist with his fabulous command of language and his adroit and avuncular manner. For it is LJB who has shared a DJ’s microphone, not only that of a performer.
If an artist takes his craft seriously, he puts it first, gets nervous and wants to lay on the best show money has bought. And that is LJB to a “T”.
So, at the interval, we grab LJB for EJ.W. And here is his verbal performance:
Long John Baldry: It’s been a gruelling schedule, but here goes…
George Matlock: As a Briton, you know the geography of Britain well, and especially this town, having met an unknown Rod Stewart at nearby Richmond Station in the 1960s. So what made you decide to live in Canada?
LJB: It’s very civilised and very affordable. It’s almost non-polluted, which is very good. Wide open spaces. I have the ocean at my door and the mountains at the back. I am very happy to be there.[We are interrupted by the band who have only five minutes of the intermission left before taking to the stage for part two of the 90-minute show…]
GM: You’re on this tour with The Manfreds [What remains of the Manfred Mann Band when Manfred Mann quit. It is now fronted by Paul Jones]. Have you done a tour with them before?
LJB: With the Manfreds, no. I think the last time I did a guest shot like this was in 1994, with Spencer Davis Group. And then, this year, Spencer Davis asked whether I would like to come over again, with Eric Burdon, in February. I said ‘oh, no, no, not in February.’ And actually it was for incredible money, but I said no, because nothing is going to tempt me out of the house. I don’t like travelling in wintertime. But then they said ‘we may have something else that interests you, coming and doing a cameo spot on the Manfreds thing.’ And I said that sounds more like my cup of tea because they mentioned April and May. Of course, the weather has been vile since I have been here, except for two days.
GM: We don’t hold you responsible.
LJB: No, I hope not! But they said, in advance ‘you have to do Let The Heartaches Begin.’ And I had not done that number for 32 years.
GM: Good Lord! Really?
LJB: Yes, so I said, oh, ok. Oddly enough, I am still singing it in the same key I sang it in 1967. And of course Reg (Elton John) came and did it in 1968, down at MIDEM. The BBC researchers have been constantly calling me and missing me, asking when exactly was the MIDEM Festival. It was 1968 in Cannes, and it is held there every year. It was so funny, because they had Norrie Parimore, the very ancient at that time orchestra conductor, who got up and started waving his arms around and brought the song in far too fast. And Reg is trying to hold it down, as the piano player. I felt that I had to take at least one of my own musicians with me, and I chose Reg to come to that. And he’s trying to hold back the orchestra. And leapt up at the piano, and at that moment, his pants split. To great embarrassment for him. I think the French audience, like the Germans, they enjoy it when people’s clothes split.
GM: What are your thoughts about Let the Heartaches Begin? I know it was a pop, get-em-in-the-charts release. How were you convinced to perform it?
LJB: It was Paul Jones and The Manfreds. They said ‘unless you do that song you can’t come on the tour. We want only hits.’ But it is amazing, because it is a song people still remember very much and they enjoy. And I must secretly admit to having enjoyed performing it in the past few months now.
GM: I think it is a lovely ballad, a very sad song. And you have a marvellous voice for it. You have a tension and an interpretation, just natural so that you don’t have to ham it up. Why don’t you perform it more often? Don’t you like the song?
LJB: Well I didn’t like the direction it took my career into, which meant the Northern supper clubs in England. England’s cheap answers to Las Vegas. I just literally fled, escaped this country. Like most of my friends, I fled England. But my reason was not because of taxation, it was to escape that song!
GM: Well, we were delighted to hear that song at the London Palladium a few nights ago, and particularly for me, because I have mentioned to you before, Let the Heartaches Begin was number one the week I was born.
LJB: Oh Lord, oh my goodness!
GM: So I think that song has a pre-eminence for me. Would you ever perform it again?
LJB: Oh probably, because I have grown to enjoy it again now. It doesn’t involve any mass-hysteria. As you probably saw in the Manfreds show, it involved a warm reaction. At least they weren’t screaming! Whether it’ll fit in with my rootsy blues kind of stuff as you saw tonight, that’s difficult to assess. But certainly when I’m doing band things, yeah. And I don’t mean banned things! Hmmm. Who knows, who knows? Of all the songs sung by any of the artists on this tour [The Manfreds, Colin Bluntstone, Chris Farlowe, LJB] probably that song gets bigger reactions than anything else.
GM: It was more recently re-released as an Old Gold 7-inch single [cat OG 9841-B] it’s back-to-back with Mexico, the Olympics theme. But finally on Let the Heartaches Begin, would you re-release the song?
LJB: The thought has entered my mind. My deal with Pye Records, as everybody back in the 1960s, was such an awful deal, it was like 2.5 % rising to 3%. But those were the deals people were getting in the Sixties. So, that’s the sort of deal I am on with them for royalties, but nevertheless, it still sells in such huge bulk, that even at that percentage, it’s still worth dough to me. The real big earners were of course John Macleod and Tony Macaulay, being the writers. I might give it a shot as a new recording, simply because there is so much interest in the tune, and I could probably go to any record company and do better than 2.5%.
GM: How about Mexico? This is very much a sporting season, with the Asian World Cup tournament, which you are probably trying to avoid and successfully doing so I guess. Mexico was a huge hit and ITV picked up on it.
LJB: I think that’s what finally drove me over the edge in the end. It was a tune with overkill. It was on television so many times a day that damn thing. And again, Macaulay and Macleod probably made a fortune from it. I did alright. But to be actually beleaguered with it so much every day, to the point where you scream arrrghh, no more, I can’t stand it. I’m sure that’s not how the public reacted to it, but I couldn’t take any more of it. But it was a successful record, and I suppose we shouldn’t knock success. It had actually been written specifically for that Olympics tournament in 1968. The BBC turned it down, they didn’t want it. But ITV News said they’d take it. And they ran it to death.
GM: But you’ve had 32 years to recover from it. So a recording beckons.
LJB: Well, I don’t think so. There’s no reason to re-record it.
GM: I have to ask you about Reg. With your name inspiring Elton John, does it mildly irritate you that people come back to you and make this association? [Elton reputedly took “Elton” from Bluesology’s saxophone player Elton Dean and “John” from Long John Baldry].
LJB: Oh, I feel quite proud of it. All the musicians that I’ve ever worked with have been of a very good quality. I feel proud of my judgement in all these things. I rarely fail to find good players. And of course Reg was one of them. Although I remember in the days pre-decent pianos, he made do with that awful Vox Continental thing he had, sprayed a horrid tangerine, metallic orange, and it sounded more like a fart machine than an organ.
GM: A Fart-fisa.
LJB: Yeah, but that’s all that was available back in those days. All the pianos that were around were out of tune or unplayable. But now with the age of digital, it’s much better.
GM: Would you record with Elton again?
LJB: Would love to, at a shot. If the opportunity ever came. I think we work well together. At that (1960s) particular time [1969-71], he used to like to work at 8am, which is kind of a little early for me, but nevertheless we made some good music together. Maybe he doesn’t record that way any more. Conversely, Rod Stewart for many years could only record at 3am. So it was odd making records with them, arh!! Two different sets of disciplines.[LJB’s 1971 album It Ain’t Easy involved recordings and production with both Elton and Rod]
GM: Well it could still happen. Two years ago I interviewed the drummer Nigel Olsson, and soon enough he was back in the band.
LJB: Well, we work well together. He’s a great piano player, great writer of songs. And I’d welcome it.
Thank you for your time Long John!
Editor’s Note: Long John Baldry passed away the 21 July 2005