John Mayall: Bluesbreaker bandleader, self-taught guitarist/harp soloist/organist, singer, songwriter, Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Is there anything this man hasn’t done? At 84 years of age and well over 50 years under his belt, there isn’t anything slowing him down either. Quite the contrary.
Blues in Britain? I wanted John’s empirical perspective on how the twain did meet during that critical time in music history. We then talked about John’s new album, Three for the Road, which is produced by Eric Corne and John himself. This album is recorded live and showcases songs new and old from two concerts in Germany. John tells me it is his first album using the trio format as well, so it’s definitely some fresh and uncharted energy for us fans to sink our teeth into.
Lauren for American Blues Scene:
There’s no question you paved the way for other British artists pursuing the blues. I’d like to know — what phase was the British blues in when you happened upon it?
Well, you know, Alexis Korner pretty much started it all off. So, it was kind of an offshoot of the Trad Jazz movement, which had been the popular thing for ten years. And then, you know, gradually this new kind of attention came to blues music.
There was a blues scene in Manchester when you were there?
Not specifically. Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies started it up in London, and it spread throughout the country and everywhere else.
The history and the evolution of the Bluesbreakers is very interesting to me. Among your all-star cast is Eric Clapton. Was Eric still in the Yardbirds when you two met? I understand he wanted to focus more on blues at that point.
Yeah. And for that reason, he left the Yardbirds. He wasn’t playing with anybody. So as soon as he left the Yardbirds, you know, I contacted him and offered him the job with my band.
You’re hailed as a musical hero by Joe Walsh. He was finally able to record with you on a couple tracks of Talk About That, which was released last year. I’d like to know what that collaboration was like for you.
Well, it was very special, you know. I wasn’t all that familiar with his work. You know, obviously I knew of him. It was just kind of a surprise. We were in the studio making the album; it’s usually three days when we complete the album. On the third day, he came along and played on the couple of tracks that you hear him on. He did really a great job, and it was nice to meet him.
That’s awesome. Yeah, you’re both very distinct players. So, I was just wondering what that dynamic was like.
Well, that’s very nice of you to say.
It seems as though experiences in your own life — serving in the British Army in Korea as one example — have provided you with a soundtrack or maybe even a sonic backdrop. Do you find the blues to be an outlet in that way, lyrically?
Well, you know, I’ve had a very interesting life. And I think, being a musician, you are able to put your experiences into music. And that’s the nice thing about the blues is you can tell your stories through words and music. You know, there’s never any shortage of things that happen to a person. And you can put those experiences into music.
Your newest album, Three for the Road, is being released in just a couple days. Is that correct?
Yes, I believe so.
OK. Are these live recordings?
Is there anything you’d like to say to fans about this one? What sets it apart from the others?
The difference is it’s the smallest lineup that I’ve had. Playing in a trio format has been a new thing for me.
This is your first album as a trio?
So, it was nice to have a tour to reflect that. I’ve been doing that ever since, and it’s been very successful. The nice thing is now we’ve got a record of what’s been going on, so it’s very good.
Yes. Were they recorded in Germany? Did I read that?
OK. Very cool. You’re perennially a good judge of character as it relates to musicians; you pick the best ones to play with. That being said, what can you say about your present bandmates?
I pick musicians who I think are going to be a pleasure to work with and who I can make exciting music with. I knew of Greg Rzab, the bass player — we’ve played together on and off in previous years. And you know, I asked him to pick a drummer that he would work with. And that’s how Jay Davenport came into the picture. If you have a rhythm section, they have to really click together.
I agree. What is next for us fans? Will the release of this album see a great big tour schedule?
Well, all of our dates are always on the website. But we do 100 shows every year, at least. This year there perhaps may not be so many, because we did a very big tour last year. And then next year has really got even more dates. So, we just have to see how many shows we get together. We always have a good time wherever we play.
Well, that’s good to hear! John, thank you so much for your time. I know how busy you are. I’m excited for the new album.
Yeah, I think it’s going to be quite a successful album.
I think so, too.
Because it’s got a lot of energy to it.
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*Featured Image Photo by Jeff Fasano