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Pioneering gay blues musician Long John Baldry dies

Music legend leaves the gay community proud.

THE KING OF ROCK 'N' ROLL: Long John Baldry mentored Elton John, Rod Stewart and others.

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 6’7” 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 had made Vancouver his home for the last 20-odd years of his life.

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 honey-smooth, deep masculine 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), Mick Jagger and a 19-year-old Rod Stewart played 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 in the mid-’60s. Elton’s 1975 hit “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” paid homage to Baldry for helping him during a sexual identity crisis. In a pub, suicidal, and drunkenly bemoaning his upcoming wedding to a woman, Baldry reportedly convinced Elton to back out of the nuptials, saying, “People like us don’t get married.”

After stints in New York and Los Angeles, Baldry moved to Canada. At first, in 1979, he settled in Toronto, then a farmhouse mansion in Dundas, Ontario. He then high-tailed it to Vancouver in the mid-’80s complaining of a need to escape the “ghastly, just ghastly” Ontario winters.

Rod Stewart paid for many of the medical costs of Baldry’s last years and accompanied Baldry and his partner, Felix “Oz” Rexach when they took the very sick man to hospital.

Rexach has been quoted as noting that the traditionally macho blues community was never fully accepting of Baldry. But his many fans would travel great distances to hear him, and he was always popular in Europe.

A Thrill’s A Thrill

Take a hard look around you, babe
There ain’t nobody got it made
So you can live in your head
Or you can live in your heart
But if you don’t live at all
Then why the hell did you start?

(Chorus)
You see,
A thrill’s a thrill
A thrill’s a thrill
I said a thrill’s a thrill
Even in paradise
Even in paradise

A thrill’s a thrill.

Now the young boys are all hanging out in the bars,
Old men they don’t have to cruise all night in cars,
And those young girls love the smell of flowers,
Old women love to play with them for hours.
I said the gays are straight –
And the straights are queer
And the bis just call
Everybody “dear.”

Down to get up –
Yeah, up to get down
Oh, I will try anything
If it makes my head go ’round
Leather whips
And fingertips
I know a boy who is growing tits.

Lyrics by B Amesbury