Rest in Peace Long John

VANCOUVER (CP) -- Long John Baldry, the British blues legend who helped launch the careers of rock greats like Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones, has died after a four-month battle with a chest infection.

"The music world has lost an absolute legend," said close friend Anya Wilson, a Toronto music publicist who worked with Baldry in the 1970s.

"They've lost one of the first and most powerful white blues singers -- an innovator, an entrepreneur of new music and one of the most wonderful people you could hope to met."

The 64-year-old music giant was admitted to a Vancouver hospital with respiratory problems in April. He never recovered.

Baldry, nicknamed Long John because of his six-foot-seven-inch height, was born in East Maddon, England, but became a Canadian citizen in 1981.

Credited as one of the main forces in British blues, rock and pop music in the 1960s, he first hit the top of the U.K. singles charts in 1967 with Let the Heartaches Begin.

Perhaps one of his most memorable hits was Don't Try to Lay No Boogie-Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll from the 1971 album It Ain't Easy, co-produced by Stewart and Elton John.

Wilson said the narrative section of the song came about suddenly during a late-night recording session with Stewart.

Once Baldry warmed up to the tale about being busted by police while playing guitar in London's Soho district, the spoken-word section spilled effortlessly into history -- taking only about 20 minutes to record.

"They were pretty inebriated and then they just laid the track down," said Wilson, who recalled Baldry as an extraordinary storyteller.

Although Baldry released over 40 albums -- with songs like You've Lost That Loving Feeling, Come and Get Your Love and A Thrill's a Thrill spending weeks on the charts -- he wasn't much of a singer.

He was perhaps best known for nurturing the nascent talent of a host of musicians who are now worldwide superstars.

"He was pivotal," said Larry LeBlanc, the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard magazine.

"Among British musicians, he was revered as basically one of the pioneers of British R&B," said LeBlanc.

Baldry's early '60s stage acts featured the likes of Stewart, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Ginger Baker.

Elton John -- born Reginald Dwight -- even took his stage name from Baldry and saxophonist Elton Dean.

"Almost the entire wave of British Music that came in the 1960s -- I'm talking about groups like the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, Eric Clapton -- was influenced by Long John Baldry," said LeBlanc.

LeBlanc described a telling photograph taken in the early '60s of Baldry with the Beatles' Paul McCartney at a London railway station. LeBlanc said the look on McCartney's face is one of absolute awe.

Stewart, who has said he considered Baldry a mentor, was at his bedside when he was first admitted to a British hospital after he fell ill in March.

There were reports in the British press at the time that Stewart even helped to pay his ailing friend's medical bills.

Baldry also showcased his storytelling talents as narrator of a Disney production recounting the Canadian origins of A.A. Milne's classic Winnie the Pooh. He earned a Grammy nod for that work.

Baldry claimed blues legends like Big Joe Turner, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry as his earliest musical influences.

He leaves behind siblings Margaret and Roger and his close friend and partner, Felix (Oz) Rexach.
Thanks for the post Hack, I probably wouldn't have known otherwise. I still have the copy of It Ain't Easy which I purchased when it was released -- I guess I have more to worry about than how many hours my cartridge has left!