This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Honourable Mention Song #8: Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock n’ Roll by Long John Baldry (as Nominated by Linda Spoelstra.
There is an old joke, with multiple variations, the core of which goes something like this: “I don’t always listen to Rock n’ Roll but, when I do, so do the neighbours!”
Well, allow me to introduce you to my pal, Linda Spoelstra. I know Linda as a fellow staff member at a school I helped to open in the year 2000. It was the same opening staff where I met my future wife, Keri, and where I met my friend, Jeanette Sage, too. *(Jeanette’s HM post was from a few days ago….you can read it here). It was quite a great staff to work with and, from that shared experience, there have been many friendships that began in 2000 and which have continued to this day. Which brings me back to Linda. When Keri and I were first getting to know Linda, she hosted several staff get-togethers at her home which was in the middle of a town that was bursting with growth in the form of sub-divisions. Unbeknownst to us, prior to moving into that home, Linda and her husband, Ben, owned a farm house in the middle of nowhere; surrounded by the empty fields and treed plots of land so coveted by builders. Linda used to host get-togethers at the farmhouse, too. However, unlike the ones she held in-town, the ones held at the farmhouse were blow-out parties, where the music was cranked, the liquor flowed and the smells coming from the kitchen weren’t necessarily of the baking variety. When I put out the call for Honourable Mention songs, Linda sent me nine choices! With each song choice, she had a brief description of what the song meant to her. In almost all cases, her descriptions revolved around parties and good times shared with friends. As it should be, right?
Of the great songs nominated by Linda, I opted to tell the story of Long John Baldry. Long John Baldry is one of those legendary figures in Rock history who, while never being an A-list star, himself, was, never-the-less, an extremely influential figure in helping Rock n’ Roll develop as a genre. In essence, his story is the story of the birth of Rock n’ Roll in England. The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Kinks, Elton John, Rod Stewart and the Faces, all flow from the grace and mentorship of Long John Baldry and the others who brought Blues to England. Here is an abridged version of that story.
Back in the late 1950s, a man named Alexis Korner met another man named Clive Davies. They were both interested in Jazz and in American-style Blues. At that time in England, there was none of this style of music being played on the BBC so, the two men decided to open a Jazz and Blues Club and, as well, to form a musical collective called Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. At this club, travelling Blues men from the US could find a receptive audience to play for. In between visits by the likes of Muddy waters and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Blues Incorporated band would act as the house band and play each night. Blues Incorporated was meant to be a home base for like-minded musicians who had a love of the Blues and of Jazz. People like Charlie Watts were regulars there. In time, Davies and Korner hired a singer to front the house band. He was known as Long John Baldry. Alex Korner’s Blues Incorporated proceeded to act as an incubator, of sorts, for a rising crop of Blues enthusiasts such as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Woods and many more.
One specific example of this environment and how it helped an entire generation of stars to find their feet can be seen in the movie, “Rocketman”, which was based on the life and career of Sir Elton John. In that movie, we meet a boy named Reginald Dwight, who discovers he has a talent for piano playing and for song composition at a young age. He plays all through his childhood and then, as a teen ager, he starts hanging out at clubs where Blues and early Rock n’ Roll is played. Eventually, he works up the courage to ask the man who seems to be in charge if he can play the piano for them. Once given a shot, he wows the crowd. Reginald is asked to come back regularly. In time, he joins a group of other young players and they form a band called Bluesology. This band gets a regular job backing some of the travelling US Blues acts that pass through. One of which, in the movie, were The Isley Brothers (who sang the song, “Shout: Pts. 1 & 2” among many other hits). It was The Isley Brothers who helped Reggie admit that he was actually Gay and that a relationship he had with a woman he was dating was actually toxic and needed to end. This act of Coming Out and ending his relationship and a host of family drama caused Reginald to become suicidal. One night, after talking a few too many pills, Reginald was found by his songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, and one other man…..the “man in charge” from the club…..none other than Long John Baldry. Reginald Dwight rebounded from that incident, changed his name to Elton John and wrote a song of gratitude to Baldry called, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” *(which you can listen to, here). The person in the song named “Sugar Bear” is Baldry.
Long John Baldry took Elton John and his Bluesology band under his wing and toured with them until such time as Elton felt the need to go solo. Such was life for Long John Baldry. He mentored many young future stars such as Elton John and Rod Stewart and, in return, those men came back to help him when it came time for Baldry to release an album of his own, filled with traditional, Bluesy standards; some from America and some from his own pen. The song, “Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock n’ Roll” comes form an album called, “It Ain’t Easy”. Rod Stewart produced one side of the album and Elton John produced the other side. The song, “No Boogie Woogie”, for short, is actually two songs in one. The first song is a three-minute spoken word account of Baldry getting arrested for playing The Blues out on a public street and having to appear in court to justify his actions before a Magistrate. In the tradition of all good, boozy storytellers, this is a classic tale that is accompanied by a soundscape of Blues. Just as the story ends, an entire carnival of music erupts and a rollicking, reeling, joyous cacophony of music begins and the second half of the song roars into action. It is not a famous song, by any stretch but, “Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock n’ Roll” will give you an excellent sense of the type of music that attracted John Lennon and Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker and Ronnie Woods and their friends to the Rock n’ Roll life. It is awesome. I can see why Linda Spoelstra and her husband, Ben, would have been prone to playing such music at their farmhouse; speakers placed outside, volume cranked, booze flowing, stars twinkling in the night sky, friends all gathered safely in and having a fantastic time. Those must have been the days, indeed.
The ironic thing about Long John Baldry is that he left England in the mid-1970s and moved to Canada, becoming a Canadian citizen and living here until his death in 2005. While he spent much of his Canadian life in British Columbia, Baldry did send time in Ontario, too. I am sure that his he had been happening by, just when Linda was having one of her famous farmhouse blow-outs, that Baldry would have felt right at home and, I’m sure, Linda and Ben would have welcomed him straight on in. Such is the power of The Blues and of Rock n’ Roll…..and, good speakers….and good booze……and good friends, too.
Thanks, Linda, for nominating such a terrific song. As well, thanks for sharing all of your concert stories along the way. Your input added much to this musical countdown journey of ours and was gratefully appreciated. But now, the time for talking isomer. Here is the legendary Long John Baldry with the classic tune, “Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock n’ Roll”. Enjoy. In fact, I dare you not to.
The link to the video for the song, “Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock n’ Roll” by Long John Baldry, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Long John Baldry, can be found here.