Arts & Entertainment
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Pioneering gay blues musician Long John Baldry dies

'I'm gay, I'm proud of who I am, and I'm not gonna hide it anymore'

Long John Baldry in 1970

“The gays are straight/And the straights are queer/And the bis just call everybody dear…Oh, I will try anything/If it makes my head go round/Leather whips/and fingetips/I know a boy who is growing tits/You know a thrill’s a thrill/Even in paradise.”

In 1978, when musician Long John Baldry wrote and recorded “A Thrill’s a Thrill” and included it on an album entitled Baldry’s Out, he was sending a message after more than 20 years in the music business – I’m gay, I’m proud of who I am, and I’m not gonna hide it anymore.

John William Baldry, the towering six-foot-seven British blues pioneer better known as Long John Baldry, died of a lung infection on Jul 21 after spending his last days in Vancouver General Hospital. He made Vancouver his home for the last 20-odd years of his life, after stints in New York, Los Angeles and Dundas, Ontario.

Born in East Madden, England on Jan 12, 1941, Baldry was performing by his middle teens and quickly became an admired musician among Britain’s young blues and rock performers.

He was an imposing figure with a smooth, deep bass voice, a 12-string acoustic guitar and a mastery of the early black blues styles of Leadbelly and Big Bill Broonzy.

Luminaries such as Ginger Baker (Cream), Jeff Beck, Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones’ original guitarist) and a 19-year-old Rod Stewart played and sang in his bands. They all went on to greater acclaim than their mentor, who is probably best known for his 1971 hit “Don’t Try to Lay no Boogie-Woogie (On the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll)”.

Elton John played piano with Baldry when his first band Bluesology was hired to backup Baldry in the mid-’60s. John’s 1975 hit “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” was inspired by the time Baldry helped him during a sexual identity crisis. In a pub, drunkenly bemoaning his upcoming wedding to a woman, Baldry reportedly convinced John to back out of the nuptials, saying “people like us don’t get married.”

Upon hearing of his death, Rod Stewart had this to say: “In those days (the ’60s) the only music we fell in love with was the blues, and John was the first white guy singing it, in his wonderful voice… everyone looked up to him.”

Baldry is survived by his partner Felix “Oz” Rexach; his brother, Roger; and his sister, Margaret.