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John Mayall

As the elder statesman of British blues, it is John Mayall's lot to be more renowned as a bandleader and mentor than as a performer in his own right. Throughout the '60s, his band, the Bluesbreakers, acted as a finishing school for the leading British blues-rock musicians of the era. Guitarists Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor joined his band in a remarkable succession in the mid-'60s, honing their chops with Mayall before going on to join Cream, Fleetwood Mac, and the Rolling Stones, respectively. John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, Jack Bruce, Aynsley Dunbar, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Andy Fraser (of Free), John Almond, and Jon Mark also played and recorded with Mayall for varying lengths of times in the '60s.

Mayall's personnel has tended to overshadow his own considerable abilities. Only an adequate singer, the multi-instrumentalist was adept in bringing out the best in his younger charges (Mayall himself was in his thirties by the time the Bluesbreakers began to make a name for themselves). Doing his best to provide a context in which they could play Chicago-style electric blues, Mayall was never complacent, writing most of his own material (which ranged from good to humdrum), revamping his lineup with unnerving regularity, and constantly experimenting within his basic blues format. Some of these experiments (with jazz-rock and an album on which he played all the instruments except drums) were forgettable; others, like his foray into acoustic music in the late '60s, were quite successful. Mayall's output has caught some flak from critics for paling next to the real African-American deal, but much of his vintage work -- if weeded out selectively -- is quite strong; especially his legendary 1966 LP with Eric Clapton, which both launched Clapton into stardom and kick-started the blues boom into full gear in England.

When Clapton joined the Bluesbreakers in 1965, Mayall had already been recording for a year, and been performing professionally long before that. Originally based in Manchester, Mayall moved to London in 1963 on the advice of British blues godfather Alexis Korner, who thought a living could be made playing the blues in the bigger city. Tracing a path through his various lineups of the '60s is a daunting task. At least 15 different editions of the Bluesbreakers were in existence from January 1963 through mid-1970. Some notable musicians (like guitarist Davy Graham, Mick Fleetwood, and Jack Bruce) passed through for little more than a cup of coffee; Mayall's longest-running employee, bassist John McVie, lasted about four years. The Bluesbreakers, like Fairport Convention or the Fall, were more a concept than an ongoing core. Mayall, too, had the reputation of being a difficult and demanding employer, willing to give musicians their walking papers as his music evolved, although he also imparted invaluable schooling to them while the associations lasted.

Mayall recorded his debut single in early 1964; he made his first album, a live affair, near the end of the year. At this point the Bluesbreakers had a more pronounced R&B influence than would be exhibited on their most famous recordings, somewhat in the mold of younger combos like the Animals and Rolling Stones, but the Bluesbreakers would take a turn for the purer with the recruitment of Eric Clapton in the spring of 1965. Clapton had left the Yardbirds in order to play straight blues, and the Bluesbreakers allowed him that freedom (or stuck to well-defined restrictions, depending upon your viewpoint). Clapton began to inspire reverent acclaim as one of Britain's top virtuosos, as reflected in the famous "Clapton is God" graffiti that appeared in London in the mid-'60s.

In professional terms, though, 1965 wasn't the best of times for the group, which had been dropped by Decca. Clapton even left the group for a few months for an odd trip to Greece, leaving Mayall to straggle on with various fill-ins, including Peter Green. Clapton did return in late 1965, around the time an excellent blues-rock single, "I'm Your Witchdoctor" (with searing sustain-laden guitar riffs), was issued on Immediate. By early 1966, the band was back on Decca, and recorded its landmark Bluesbreakers LP. This was the album that, with its clean, loud, authoritative licks, firmly established Clapton as a guitar hero, on both reverent covers of tunes by the likes of Otis Rush and Freddie King and decent originals by Mayall himself. The record was also an unexpected commercial success, making the Top Ten in Britain. From that point on, in fact, Mayall became one of the first rock musicians to depend primarily upon the LP market; he recorded plenty of singles throughout the '60s, but none of them came close to becoming a hit.

Clapton left the Bluesbreakers in mid-1966 to form Cream with Jack Bruce, who had played with Mayall briefly in late 1965. Mayall turned quickly to Peter Green, who managed the difficult feat of stepping into Clapton's shoes and gaining respect as a player of roughly equal imagination and virtuosity, although his style was quite distinctly his own. Green recorded one LP with Mayall, A Hard Road, and several singles, sometimes writing material and taking some respectable lead vocals. Green's talents, like those of Clapton, were too large to be confined by sideman status, and in mid-1967 he left to form a successful band of his own, Fleetwood Mac.

Mayall then enlisted 19-year-old Mick Taylor; remarkably, despite the consecutive departures of two star guitarists, Mayall maintained a high level of popularity. The late '60s were also a time of considerable experimentation for the Bluesbreakers, which moved into a form of blues-jazz-rock fusion with the addition of a horn section, and then a retreat into mellower, acoustic-oriented music. Mick Taylor, the last of the famous triumvirate of Mayall-bred guitar heroes, left in mid-1969 to join the Rolling Stones. Yet in a way Mayall was thriving more than ever, as the U.S. market, which had been barely aware of him in the Clapton era, was beginning to open up for his music. In fact, at the end of the 1960s, Mayall moved to Los Angeles. Released in 1969, The Turning Point, a live, all-acoustic affair, was a commercial and artistic high point.

In America at least, Mayall continued to be pretty popular in the early '70s. His band was no more stable than ever; at various points some American musicians flitted in and out of the Bluesbreakers, including Harvey Mandel, Canned Heat bassist Larry Taylor, and Don "Sugarcane" Harris. Although he's released numerous albums since and remained a prodigiously busy and reasonably popular live act, his post-1970 output generally hasn't matched the quality of his '60s work. Following collaborations with an unholy number of guest celebrities, in the early '80s he re-teamed with a couple of his more renowned vets, John McVie and Mick Taylor, for a tour, which was chronicled by Great American Music's Blues Express, released in 2010. It's the '60s albums that you want, though there's little doubt that Mayall has over the past decades done a great deal to popularize the blues all over the globe, whether or not the music has meant much on record. Continuing to record and tour into his eighties, Mayall released A Special Life, recorded at Entourage Studios in North Hollywood and featuring a guest spot by singer and accordion player C.J. Chenier, in 2014. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

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brubin3339
Had no idea as to who he was......but now seeing him perform at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, on July 3....I will not miss any future performances . A simply incredible evening...at almost 80 yrs of age, this guy put on a concert with his band that had a sold out crowd on its feet and having on hell of great time.
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tonyivits
He was at Bluesfest ByronBay Australia at Easter and he plays blues with great respect and authenticity
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Been a fan going on 50 years I'll listen as long as he'll play! Put it in the coffin!!
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I'll dual with u much love
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rknight114
Good stuff!!
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bumperooo
Think about how many blues players out there were influenced by John....its a very high number and they were all great...... Walter & Coco come to mind.... oh boy howdy....
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Great comments,on a good man
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One of my favorite cuts is CALIFORNIA
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Saw him a few weeks ago....it was outstanding. . . h e is the man.
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Doesn't get any better than this! Carry on Mr. Mayall
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john.l.thoma s
Best blues recording bare wires
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I still love the bit of chooka chooka
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karmacreatio n s
I have about 15 of Mayalls albums all vinyl in my collection All the early ones . I still roll them on a Sunday for a Lazy day. As good now as ever.
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tom1054 sounds like a Jeff Beck fan hahaha.
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Too bad the Most Overrated Guitarist Ever is on this song... Eric Crap-ton. My god he is terrible and that insipid playing of his.....
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lol
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lol
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well, well, well
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videomeister the man is alive n kicking and going on a world tour this summer, he did have a liver transplant,h e was a long list waiting for for donee
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RIP Walter Trout
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a good blues standard played live
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Outright one of the best
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Awesome
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greg.hallee
A BIG WOW. You heard Walter Trout in concert. Yeah that must be one to remember. Walter Trout is an amazing guitar player..., he is The Master.
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greg.hallee
John Mayall..., high school in the mid to late 60's would have been an entirely different place in time. John Mayall was an authentic musician. His unique, evocative vocal style and guitar playing qualities aside his music is emotional.
But that's not what I want to say. I believe Mr John Mayall would have liked to play greater variety of guitar riffs with greater tenacity, like most great guitarists. But John Mayall' grace was/is his heart felt musical style. Mayall inspired authenticity !
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Always loved his music. Last I saw him was in Houston with Buddy Whittington on guitar. Still impressive. Also saw him with Coco Montoya and Walter Trout. Impressive!!
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Woulda loved to have been at that Birthday Concert!!!
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Saw him live in 1970 at the Honolulu Convention Center with an outstanding Room to Move longer version!
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Seen him several times. Met him on a couple of occasions. He always puts on a good show and is a good guy as well.
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rcaccsol2
He played in Hawaii last Saturday and was very good. Still kicking at 75 years old and his younger band really rocked.
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This Mo'Fo' is still around and sounding pretty good at that.
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Saw him at the Hollywood Palladium in 1972. "Room to Move" brought the house down.
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I've heard a lot of Clapton!!!.. . . . but not this!!?..... W O W " . . . . . g o boy!!
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Did for white people what Gangham Style did for Koreans.
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bc_beach2003
Very Impressed
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He warmed up the crowd in Chicago for Ten Years After in 1971 or 72? He and the band were unbelievable ! Saw his again in 1990 or thereabouts at Mishawaka in Colorado. Again, unbelievable ! Coco Montonya was with him this time, and this band played on and on for hours. A night to remember!
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Saw him in a club that held 200 in Soho, (London, UK), in 1969, he came on stage with no shirt and a bandolier that held probably 15 harmonicas. i was by the stage, and he played them all, I really can't describe exactly how cool that was. I also saw Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin in the Royal Albert Hall that summer, and the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park.
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Saw him @ an outdoors Blues concert in Breckenridge , CO few yrs. ago. Never forgot how his music made me feel. Still does :-)
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kruggel
Why no mention of the awesome Walter Trout as a backup guitarista in the phenomenal evolution of The John Mayall saga?
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karmacreatio n s
The Turning point album from 1969 still leaves me dripping with Johnny almond's Sax work and Stevie Thompson thumping Bass lines. Oh and Mayall was really good too LOL
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kvons1
John Mayall----mi n d boggling how many subsequent greats got their start from this incredibly gifted artist and legend!
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rmh07pkr
been around a long time good for the blues room to move lol he seriously is amazing
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gdonofrio195 3
seem him at a blues fest last year was most enjoyable band was very tight all the way through.
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You must see him live to truly appreciate what great bands he puts together. good chance you'll see someone playing guitar that you've never heard of. trly tight musicians with a GREAT leader!!!
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kind of a Miles Davis of the blues - he built bandleaders!
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Saw him in Phoeniz in 1975 and again last week in Seattle. Still as awesome as ever
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The most underrated blues player ever!!
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kfyoung45
taught me how to how to play the blues harp
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grew up with this artist, still gives me goose bumps !!!
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d.e.blakesle e 2
You gotta love these blues.
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