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It Ain't Easy, Long John Baldry and the Birth of British Blues: A Book Review
Sometimes when I read about rock and roll history I'm amazed at how haphazardly mainstream history elevates some figures to iconic status, but leaves others to linger in obscurity. The same is true of mainstream success which can often have little to nothing to do with the actual influence a particular artist has on others or even the quality of the music.
This should come as no surprised that I'm amazed by this phenomena, it was one of the driving forces behind why I started the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll. My goal to help to bring some artists at least somewhat out of obscurity is a major part of my writing to this day. Today, I hope to help author Paul Myers highlight a man who should be one of the legends of British Blues and classic rock history, yet often goes under appreciated: Long John Baldry.
I'll admit that before reading Myers' book, It Ain't Easy: Long John Baldry and the Birth of British Blues, I can only remember vague reference to Baldry in various classic rock documentary material as one of the influence of a few early rockers in England, but never much more than that. After reading this book though, and really enjoying it, I don't understand why Baldry is not remembered for his tremendous influence on classic rock and also for his own talent and performances.
For those of you who may be a little unaware of who Baldry was, let me give you a little background before delving into the book itself.
Long John Baldry was one of the original British Blues artists, starting off playing clubs in the late 50s. His career lasted right up until his death in July of 2005. Although there were plenty of ups and downs along the way, including moving away from blues towards more pop material, with only brief spurts of stardom, he managed to inspire some of the most well known rock and roll artists of all time with his incredible presence and talent. Artists who were inspired by him include much of the British classic rock and blues scenes of the 60s. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and so many more all have been influenced by him. Many, like Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger, knew Baldry personally and cite him as one of their major influences when they were first starting out, seeing him play in the clubs and often times even playing shows with him. Along with those aritsts there are the two major stars who started their career with him. Rod Stewart and Elton John were both at one time members of one of Baldry's bands with the latter of the two even taking his name (John) as a tribute.
Myers traces Baldry's life and legacy,with all it's ups and downs through this book while giving a glimpse of the man himself. It's quite an interesting read as the tale of his life has so many turns that it's quite a roller coaster ride. There are two things that really stood out in my mind though, and made this book even more interesting.
The first thing that struck me was all the quotes.
So many quotes from big name artists are scattered throughout. Many musicians whom I've already mentioned talk about their respect and admiration for Baldry with such sincerity it a testament to his talent and the lasting impressions he made. The connections between all these artists and how they all came out of the same scene surrounding Baldry is fascinating and gives an unique insight into each of their careers as well. There's also plenty of contributions from people who worked with Baldry throughout the various stages of his career. Their words give a glimpse at the man, his mannerisms and personality, as well as how he differed from his stage persona.
Myers also interweaves plenty of quotes from Long John himself making his story very personal and giving a great look at the man behind the music. The way Myers writes these quotes into the events gives insight into the emotions behind what Baldry is actually saying. You can hear he's putting on a brave face after a bad review, or is perhaps subtly lashing out against his critics, making for a very authentic connection with the reader as those are emotions that everyone can relate to. Myers effectively balances enough of the personal looks at Baldry with other people's views that it both reveals Baldry as a person, and pulls back enough that we are still removed to also see things from the outside. I think it really works well as it's so easy to often view musicians and other celebrities as disembodied entities as opposed to people. Here though, we are definitely assured and reminded that Baldry was a regular person and can relate to him and his personal struggles, but aren't overwhelmed.
Together all of these quotes really make the story come alive and in turn bring Long John Baldry back to life as well.
The second thing was the story itself.
I don't think there could be a better look at the music industry, the mainstream and how it can affect a person than the story of Long John Baldry. A man of tremendous talent with plenty of passion for the blues, although he had some brief successes, he was dogged by bad business and career decisions, unethical management, financial trouble and simple bad luck and timing.
A look at the pedigree of artists who have cited Baldry as an influence suggests that at the very least he should be remembered amongst one of the top influences of the British Blues scene. Then if you actually take a listen to his recordings and/or read about his stage presence and passion for performing it's easy to believe that he should also be remembered for his music, yet his influence and talent are both often overlooked. It really makes a statement about how thin the line is between stardom and obscurity both in the present and long after the artists are gone. Often times more than just talent is necessary, including a fair amount of luck to be a musician.
Myers telling of the life of John Baldry actually is a very personal look at both making a living in the music industry, Baldry the man and the times during which he lived.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book and would easily recommend it to anyone who is interested in history of rock and roll, the late Long John Baldry or the original British blues scene. It's a pretty quick read that I found really interesting and a worthy tribute to Baldry. I think the only thing that really could have made it significantly better would be if it was released with a copy of a Best Of album by Long John to supplement the reading. I think that a lot of rock and roll books and writings (sometimes even my own) should be distributed supplemented with music though, as reading about an artist is one thing, but hearing them is something else entirely. That is rarely feasible though, and I understand that. Myers does include a discography which is nice because I was certainly inspired to check out the work of John Baldry. Hopefully a few other people will be too.
In fact, although I'm happy to give Paul Myers some support for his book as he is certainly passionate about music, rock and roll and blues, I believe the real person I should be promoting with this post is Long John Baldry. He should be remembered as both an incredible influence on British blues and classic rock, and a tremendous talent and performer in his own right. Hopefully this book, and this post will help him and his music live on.
You can find this book by Paul Myers directly from Amazon here: It Ain't Easy: Long John Baldry and the Birth of the British Blues
I also recommend you check out a few of Baldry's albums, many of which have been released on CD and can also be found on Amazon and the other major vendors.