John Mayall Is Enjoying Himself and Looking to the Future

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John Mayall, “The Godfather of British Blues” has been there from the beginning of the modern era of blues and rock. There are only a precious few icons still with us from that adventurous period. There’s Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Chuck Berry … Yes, precious few indeed. Mayall, whose work and legendary performances loom large in the hearts and minds of fans everywhere was appointed an OBE in the Honours List of 2005. His comments regarding the appointment expose a remarkable truth. “It’s the only major award I’ve ever received. I’ve never had a hit record or a Grammy or been in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” Hard to believe, given the game changing music he’s generously shared with us over the course of six decades.

One aspect of Mayall’s long career, often discussed as much as his music is the long list of incredible artists he has mentored and/or recorded with. These include guitarists Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Coco Montoya, Walter Trout, Buddy Whittington, Sonny Landreth, Eric Steckel, and Robben Ford. Then there’s bassists John McVie, Jack Bruce, drummers Hugie Flint, Mick Fleetwood, Aynsley Dunbar, Paul Butterfield on harmonica, and Dr. John on keyboards. When asked about this, Mayall is nonplussed saying, “It’s been around for so long, there’s nothing new about it. I don’t know what to say about it.”

Part of what has given Mayall’s music so much punch, and endeared his live shows to fans worldwide is the amount of improvisation in his performances. “Well if you’re a musician, you express yourself. When you’re playing live, it’s an experience to play together and there’s improvisation around the songs. It’s a creative process every night, you know. Every time you play an instrument.” Of course, this keeps the music fresh and inviting for everyone. “We have enough material that it’s never the same show every night anyway. It’s a different show every night, so.”

Although considered “blues,” a lot of Mayall and company’s sound is quite often jazzy. He himself says, “Well, yeah. Blues and jazz are intertwined; you can’t separate one from the other. It’s just different flavors. It all comes from the same place. You’re playing, you’re creating music every time you play.” While there are those that try to pigeonhole music as “this” or “that,” Mayall chuckles and exclaims, “Well, it will drive you crazy, if you do that!”

When asked what he is most satisfied with looking back on his career, and what makes him happiest, Mayall thinks for a moment and replies, “I’ve got the best band that I’ve ever had. That’s saying something, considering the number of players I’ve had in my bands over the years. We’ve been together seven years, and it’s a very creative and very worthwhile band. We get along together, and we have a lot of creative fun all the time, so, it’s a great joy to be able to share that with people.”

I remind him that he has in fact been privileged to know and work with, even befriend, some of the finest musicians of the past half century. He answers with the assurance of a teacher having watched his students grow, and reach their potential. “They’ve all been famous when I hired them, but, as a bandleader, I know what I’m looking for. I hire the best people who I think can interpret what I’m trying to say. It seems I have good judgement in the first place, as they’ve gone on to solo careers.”

Mayall’s enthusiasm is apparent as talk turns to his current and upcoming undertakings. Last year proved especially fruitful with the release of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers Live in 1967 – Volume One in April, and Find a Way to Care in September. This past May saw the release of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers Live in 1967 – Volume Two. “I mean the latest thing is the second volume of the Peter Green Mick Fleetwood collaboration from the early Bluesbreakers from ’67 so, volume two is available now. It’s only been out a month or two. It’s great to have those things released to the public. It’s wonderful.”

As luck would have it, there’s also a new album on the horizon. “Well, we’ve finished a new album which will be out in the very beginning of next year; it’s called Talk About That. It’s the same band, Gregg Rzab, Jay Davenport, and Rocky Athas, but we also have a guest appearance from Joe Walsh, who plays on a couple of the songs. That was a nice guest artist to have on. Most of the songs I’ve written so, I’m looking forward to it getting released.”

Sixty years is a long time to be making and performing music. One sees many artists and trends come and go. We are curious as to whether there is anyone in particular that has captured Mayall’s eye, that he’s found interesting. “I never really have an answer for that one. There’s so many different types of music and all the great music that people have to choose from, so, I don’t know how to answer that one. People have their own choices, and the media is so extensive now that you can get almost anything that you want to listen to, as opposed to fifty years ago, you had to hunt if you found something that would interest you.”

And what is his perspective on the Social Media explosion? “I think it’s good that you can get your hands on pretty much anything that strikes your interest. So, that has to be a good thing, the exposure that you have.” The flip side of that is that the record industry has changed dramatically since he first began making music. Is that change good, or are things just different now? “It’s just the way it is. It’s life.  it moves on. So, there’s nothing you can say about that. I mean one day there was 78s, and that was the only access you had to listening to music, but it has progressed. Then came EPs and then came LPs, then CDs, and now it’s just about everything. So, it follows the times.”

As we ready to wrap things up, I thank Mayall for being so generous with his time, and ask if he has anything he wants to say directly to his fans. After a second or two he says “I certainly hope they all come and see the show. That’s the main thing. I feel they’ll have a really good time and we look forward to seeing you all.”

John Mayall

Forty Below Records

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