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John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers

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

Comments

kjlane663
Love this , John Mayall Bluesbreaker s
Saw him in the late 60's at Ford Auditorium in Detroit. Kick A** show!!
Loved him from the get-go.
kvons1
Too bad so much of his great early stuff was in such lousy recording sessions
kvons1
MAYALL---the beginnings of some of the worlds best of the best.
iramoe4
He is coming to Portland tonight!! I'm pumped!
Let's not forget trumpet great Blue Mitchell who Mayall featured on his albums.
Freddy King does a version that's awsome, when he went down the stage buckled!
Great great tracks.
Richie Unterberger, Rovi does not do justice to Mayall's history.
eric clapton on guitar is where its at :)
ljfontana52
SAW HIM LAST MONTH IN VERMONT WITH ROCKY ATHAS ON GUITAR AND HE WAS FANTASTIC! CATCH HIM BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE.
tinycoffee20 0 0
why does Pandora not have the 'California album?
sco1949455
ive been a fan since the late 60s, at the fillmore east. through all the changes in style and musicians... . . f r o m bluesbreaker s to jazz blues fusion to todays band with buddy wittington. mayall will always be a blues favorite of mine!
tony6991
saw him last weekend in Dallas and he was awsome, no way I'd miss him again
The bio left out, Walter Trout & Coco (Henery) Montoya! also great
kvons1
One of the all time best! Saw Mayall back in the late 60's---amazi n g !
awesomeness
such tone, and emotion
Saw Mayall in 1969 in Portland Oregon. I remember being bummed when he told them to turn off the light show and bring up the house lights for his set. I remember thinking where the f*ck are the drums? And I remember being stunned at how good he was. This kid hippie hadn't ever heard anything like that. His song California is still one of my favorites grooves.
bwrightup
ONE EXTREMELY TALENTED MAN.
Wonderful
one of my all time fav performers! And have to love how he still mentors other musicians!
Sounds great!
awesome!.... . . a l b e r t king, muddy, the wolfman, john lee hooker, kc douglass, elvin bishop...may a l l is right up there with all, his style,lyrics is incredible to put it mildly.....i saw him in clearwater,f l in last april '10 and his performance was just awesome...ev e r y blues musician can learn from him.....
I've loved this guy since college
If anyone has a copy of John's 80's lp Chicago Line, e-mail me I can't find it and I'll pay ya for it!! wwmillsaps@y a h o o . c o m
shirley.berm u d e z 6
He is awesome! Saw him at the Coach House in Capristrano, CA. The place was packed!
I just saw him 2 weeks ago in Albany, NY. He was very energetic, it's hard to believe he's 76. The show was in a small theater that seats 982, it was embarassingl y half full. The band was really rocking and having fun. Check out John Mayall's web page and read about the band, they were awesome. At the end of the show he low fived people from one end of the stage to the other, I was able to high five his low five. He is a LEGEND!!!
Saw him in the 60's, totally awsome . . with Winters Brothers. Dim tho' the memory is.
BEEEEEEEEEEE E E E E E E E E E E E E E A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
georgegrimal d o
First time I heard of him, but I like it, it's good.
mauirob69
With all the albums Mayall has put out over the years, Pandora only lists 2 later ones. Someone is shirking their research reponsibilit i e s here! I worked sound for a Mayall gig at the 1985 Big Orange Festival in Miami. His lead guitarist was Coco Montoya who played his Strat left handed & upside down ala' Albert King. John is a blues journeyman. He's left his seed in many places around the globe, lo & behold there are lots of "blues seedlings" sprouting about. Thanks, John, you are the man...
larsonvicky9
Been listening since Banquet of Blues...love long jams on his live 70th Birthday Celebration. . . p i a n o solos..guita r work phenomenal-- a l l the time.
thevanman552
I discovered John Mayall as a young teen and followed his many turns, but always it was great down and dirty blues. I was fortunate enough to see him 9 years ago for my 45th birthday. He opened for Peter Green, my favorite guitar player of all time. John did not let us down and had an awesome band. This man is truly the godfather of English blues and I am grateful to him for that fact!
Peter Green's Fleetwood Mack kicked some serious a$$. Listen to the live stuff. It will blow you away.
Great people surround themselves with even greater people.John still continues to show that this philosophy is an unselfish act with truly neverending rewards for the Artist and Listener both........ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Blues Breakers gave people a chance to hear the gutiar work of Mick Taylor without the hype of Mick Jager. His ability to sincronize with sliding rythems made Let It Bleed the best album the stones ever put out. I feel fortunate to have experenced a reunion of the Blues Breakers at The Rockcy 1979.
nwilder01
ONE DAY THE WORLD WILL RECOGNIZE THE TRUE GENIOUS THAT JOHN MAYAL AND VARIES INCARNATIONS IF HIS BAND FMADE SOME OF THE MOST GROUNDBREAKI N G AND ORIGANAL MUSIC OF THE MOST PROLIFIC MUSICAL ERA OF ALL TIME. HIS BANDS HAVE SPAWNED PROBABLY THE BEST FIVE LEAD GUITARISTS EVER TO PLAY BLUESROCK AND BLUE NOT TO MENTION MANY BLUESBREAKER S ALUMNI WENT ON TO CHANGE ROCK MUSIC FOR EVER. THANKS JOHN, NELSON WILDER

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