“It’s really a terrific album,” John Mayall says in a proudly subdued sort of way. “It’s great that we got a proper record deal this time around. Since the previous album, we’ve been releasing CD’s on our website, and at least it filled the gap for us, but it’s great to have this one on a general release.
A Special Life is one of Mayall’s most personal albums to date. He has taken a lot of liberties to make sure that it’s a pure to the blues as he can make it, with a touch of Rock and Americana infused of course, and like any album, it all begins with finding the studio. “He has worked the studio that Walter Trout was doing his album in,” described Mayall on his engineering and mixing guru Eric Corne of Forty Below Records. “After that Walter wanted me to play with him, for his new album, and I went there, I liked the studio and I liked the way Eric did the engineering. It seemed like a perfect place for my guys. We met him through the sessions through Walter Trout.”
John Mayall carries a weight people consider legendary, but that weight isn’t a problem. He had recruited names such as Mick Taylor (who went to join the Rolling Stones), Andy Fraser (of Free), and Eric Clapton into his band at a point in his younger career. He is known as the Godfather of British Blues, a title he is flattered by, and at 80, he is still showing off his love of guitar, harmonica, and keyboards… and touring with his band.
Mayall has had guest musicians appear on his prior albums, namely Wake Up Call, which included names like Buddy Guy, Mick Taylor, and Mavis Staples. “They’re all friends on mine, and it was great working with them. I always enjoy having a guest who is going to contribute something to the track.” But he has always been more of a leader. “You know, I’ve always been a band leader, and always will be, so as such, you choose musicians who try to reflect what you’re trying to say musically.”
His most recent iteration of the band consists of Texas guitarist Rocky Athas, Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums. You can tell just how connected he is to his current band, the amazing chemistry that has developed since the last album, Tough, through the last five years. “Rocky, I heard him a few years ago when Buddy [Whittington] was in the band, and they lived in the same city in Texas. So, you know, I made note of how he played so he looked like the ideal choice. There’s also Gregg Rzab from Chicago, and I had him choose somebody he worked with a lot and that’s how Jay Davenport came into the picture.”
He also had a guest appearance from CJ Chenier on the track “Why Did You Go Last Night” singing vocals and playing accordion, and he also did vocals on “I Just Got to Know”.
“It was great, because he was the accordion player that seemed like the right choice for the song, especially since his father had written that song many years ago.”
He didn’t have too difficult a time writing some of the new songs on the album. With the whole world and current events at his disposal, the words began to flow. One of the three original songs on the album, “World Gone Crazy” is a special song in many ways to Mayall. “You know, I just felt like doing that song which is a comment on the times that we are living in right now, you know, the thing that seems to be the biggest is this world upheaval about religions and fighting and killing and blowing each other up and all that kind of stuff. It’s ridiculous, but it’s a part of the world we live in.”
Another stand out song on the album is John Mayall’s cover of Albert King’s “Floodin’ in Cali”. “We had some interesting changes in it so I think we did some justice with it.” Other songs he covers on the album are Jimmy Rogers “That’s All Right”, Sonny Landreth’s “Speak of the Devil”, Jimmy McCracklin’s “I Just Got to Know” and Eddie Taylor’s “Big Town Playboy”.
“Once you have a subject matter,” he said about songwriting, “it’s very easy to express it in the lyrics, whether it’s a real experience or real thought or real story. To do an album, you always set out to do something where all the tracks have their own identity, and don’t sound like the other tracks. They all appear individual of shades of the blues.”
In 1969, Mayall moved to California and has lived in the states ever since, claiming California’s climate to be one of the main reasons why. But he never forgets where he started. Mayall spoke briefly about touring with the blues great’s years ago. “It’s a great experience because these guys were our heroes and to actually meet them firsthand and get to play with them was a great, magic time.” When asked about his time touring with greats like T-Bone Walker, there was a few things he took with him. “All musicians that I’ve worked with played a big part in the learning experience. They were doing their own thing and we were learning a few things from them. Maybe about dynamics and it was just a great feeling. They become an influence in the way you pick up an instrument, you know, you just do the best you can with it, and find your own way with it.”
Mayall has a positive outlook on the review. “All the tracks are 12 bar Blues; basically, there are no actual tunes that aren’t blues on it. It’s definitely honoring the past and several musicians who are leaving fingers in the blues world.
“The album is great,” Mayall said. “I appreciate the way my life has turned out so far and so I wanted to document it. It has really some amazing playing from all the guys. It’s a labor of love and it came out really well.”