“Rocketman”: Whatever Happened to Long John Baldry?

long john baldry

Rocketman is an absolutely riotous piece of film-making. Described as a ‘musical fantasy’ rather than a straight-up biopic, Taron Egerton takes to the ivories – in a variety of fantastical outfits – to show us who Elton John really was at the start of his career. It’s a celebration of John’s rise from back-alley clubs to rubbing shoulders with Bob Dylan at private parties. It’s also a colorful look at how it nearly all came crashing down.

However, there is a large part of Reg Dwight’s life, pre-“Elton,” that is conspicuously missing. During his early years of working with Bernie Taupin, the songwriter was drafted into the ranks of Bluesology, the band that helped pitch him into the spotlight. The leader of that band was Long John Baldry, who was not only pivotal in helping Dwight transform into “Elton John,” but who also helped to turn the Rocketman’s life around for the better.

Baldry was, by all accounts, a legend on the scene. Nicknamed for his towering stature, his rich, lavish voice netted him a handful of pop hits in the 60s before heading back to his blues roots a decade later. He’s probably best known by a generation of British listeners as the performer of “Let The Heartaches Begin, a minor Billboard 100 hit, but a number-one smash in his British homeland. The likes of Rod Stewart would credit Baldry with kick-starting their careers. He’d pull both Stewart and Dwight back in to help produce his landmark album, It Ain’t Easy, which established him as more than just your average crooner.


Dwight was taken under Baldry’s wing at a critical point on his rise to superstardom. Not only was he playing a pivotal role in Bluesology, but Baldry was also instrumental in helping John find both his muse and his identity.

Related: “More Than Fantastic!  The Top 10 Albums of Elton John”

Homosexuality in the UK was decriminalized as of 1967. While Dwight wouldn’t publicly reveal his preferences until the late 80s, Baldry was widely known to be “out and proud” – at least, within circles out of the sight of the law. It was Baldry and Taupin who were instrumental in helping to persuade Dwight to embrace his sexuality and to recognize that a forthcoming marriage to Linda Woodrow was a façade. As a result, Dwight would call off the nuptials – though he would marry Renate Blauel in 1984, four years before he publicly acknowledged his true feelings.

Baldry’s support and guidance are, in fact, immortalized in song. In “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” from 1975’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, Elton John refers to his almost-marriage with heavy, notable relief for having gotten away. “You almost had your hooks in me didn’t you dear / You nearly had me roped and tied / Altar-bound, hypnotized” – while Baldry is mentioned as ‘Sugar Bear’.

Rocketman oddly removes Baldry from the picture entirely. He’s not seen as part of the Bluesology line-up, nor is Dwight’s engagement to Linda Woodrow even addressed. Even stranger is the script’s decision to inform viewers how “Reg Dwight” became “Elton John” at all.

Dwight named himself after two people in Bluesology whom he deeply admired – saxophonist Elton Dean, and – of course – Long John Baldry. In the biopic, we see Dwight clearly take Elton’s name for inspiration – however, in a later scene, not too long after, we see Dwight take his surname from a completely different ‘John’. In a framed photo on the record company wall, Egerton spies “John Lennon,” and thus creates his new persona.

It’s not clear why Baldry was omitted from the Rocketman script. While it doesn’t detract from the power or the entertainment value of the movie at all, for those of us inspired by Baldry’s work, his unfortunate omission is all the more obvious.

With around 20 solo LPs to choose from, it’s hard to pick a seminal work by Baldry to recommend above all others. A great starting point will be his It Ain’t Easy followed by Everything Stops For Tea and Baldry’s Out (released shortly after the bluesman walked away from a two-year hospitalization).

Personally, I enjoy his later work – particularly his albums It Still Ain’t Easy and Right to Sing The Blues from the 1990s. A rarer LP to come across is Silent Treatment, which saw Baldry return to mainstream blues-rock. A younger generation will likely know Baldry for his voice work in the early 1990s, especially as “Dr. Ivo Robotnik” in The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.

Sadly, Baldry passed away in July 2005 from complications following a chest infection. While it may never be clear why his story was left out of Fletcher’s take on the early work of Elton John, it’s all the more important that his music and his legacy live on.

-Graham Pierrepoint

Photo of Long John Baldry: Wikimedia Commons




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10 comments on ““Rocketman”: Whatever Happened to Long John Baldry?

  1. Amy Linton

    Thank you for this article. I am a longtime fan of LJB. I haven’t seen the film yet, but know the strong connection between the two and Baldry’s influence on the start of EJ’s career, and this is a glaring omission.

    I have to add that Paul Myers’ bio of Baldry, “It Ain’t Easy” is a real gift to us fans!

  2. Keith MUNDY

    It’s amazing to think now how Long John was the king in all his bands in the 60s – Bluesology, Hoochie Coochie Men, Steam Packet – the front man, the main man, but his sidemen became really famous and he didn’t: Rod Stewart, Elton John, Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll, etc. He just didn’t make it somehow (you have to discount Let The Heartaches Begin as a kitsch moneymaker).

    “Baldry was widely known to be “out and proud” – at least, within circles out of the sight of the law”. Not so: Baldry was openly gay on stage, patting Rod Stewart’s bottom, stroking his hair, etc. In fact, he was the only personality I ever saw at the time who openly behaved gay. I’m speaking as a regular rug-cutter at Eel Pie Island in the mid-60s.

  3. Tom Hudson

    Don’t try to lay no boogie-woogie on the King of Rock and Roll!!

    • Richard Short

      Yeah, loved that song, especially the part where the policeman and judge were talking about the “boojie woojie music”, “oh well m’lord said the policeman obviously been doing his homework”. Haha great lyrics.

  4. Rocketman was terrible, made even more so by ignoring Baldry completely. I hated it.

    • It was an “Elton lite” not a movie for hardcore fans, I feel the same for Freddie mercury’s movie as well…

  5. I didn’t understand how he could be left out when he was so pivotal in Elton’s life, as far as getting him started. I will never understand why Baldry didn’t get more airplay and so many American’s didn’t have any idea who he was. I loved his music with Kathi McDonald, another talent that so many are unaware of. Guess they are proof of life not being fair.

  6. A bit late to the party, and yeah… it’s puzzling and a bit of a travesty that LJB is never mentioned in the movie. For me the big question is why? There’s really no reason that they had to remove the man’s presence from EJ’s life.
    The way his stage name and coming to grips with his sexulaity are presented couldn’t of been for the sake of brevity. The addition of the additional character wouldn’t of added any more complexity or running time to the film IMHO.
    Was it a petty choice made for personal reasons? AFAIK no one associated with the film had any problems with LJB. So why exclude him? IMHO it would of added a bit more authenticity to the film that, TBH is sorely missing from it.
    In the end Rocketman is reduced to another vapid hollywood fictionalization for pure entertainment. Which is sad IMHO, because EJ’s actual life is/was so texturally rich that a well made biopic would blow away movies like Bohemian Rhapsody. Well hopefully it’ll get the Jobs treatment and another writer/director will do the subject justice.
    As for Rocketman, an entertaining but light on substance effort that does nothing more than cash in on a trend. Worth a watch on a lazy weekend if you’re bored, nothing more IMHO.

  7. Jeannie Segall

    Thanks for a great article. Show business makes no sense at all and fair has nothing to do with it. I look forward to digging into Long John Baldry and Kathi Brown. And for those of you who were there, what fantastic memories you have! – from an ignorant American

  8. Unity MacLean

    Thank you. I watched the movie on a flight from the UK to the US. I kept thinking…but this aint right, he never took his name from John Lennon, where is LJB??? Thanks for this article I thought I must be wrong or forgotten, as I knew all these guys back in the day in London and Dick James et al, and I think the real story is better…..Phew, thanks for setting the story straight!

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