When John Mayall first embraced the blues, it was with a sense of sadness that it had yet to be recognised in its country of origin. “We were all so dedicated to where this music came from and the injustice that it was not appreciated in America. We were damned if we were going to let it go on being unnoticed. We were communicating our love for this music and the universality of it – and it spread.”
The story started a long way from Chicago – in Macclesfield, Cheshire, where Mayall was born the son of a semi professional guitar player on November 29th, 1933. He was encouraged to take an early interest in jazz and blues through his father’s record collection so that by the age of 14, art student John had taught himself the basics of guitar and boogie-woogie piano He recalls, “As my career was directed towards graphic design, I never really thought about becoming a professional musician. During the 50s, England was dominated by the traditional jazz bands of the day and, as there was no indication that the blues would ever have an audience, I played only for my own satisfaction
From 1956 until 1962, John cut his performing teeth fronting semi-pro outfits the Powerhouse Four and, later, the Blues Syndicate. In 1963, inspired by Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, John made his move to London at the ‘advanced’ age of 29 and formed the now legendary Bluesbreakers..
Though the beat boom was raging about him, the mid 1960s – the four-year period that yielded Cream, Fleetwood Mac, the Animals, the Rolling Stones and so many others – would provide a fertile climate for him to forge his own trail for others to follow. Even though he was playing 3 or 4 gigs a week at the Flamingo Club, he managed to talk Manfred Mann into giving them the opening spot at the equally legendary but rival Marquee Club. “At the time, top groups could choose their own interval band,” he recalled, “but after 15 months it got to the stage when we were blowing them off stage.” After his first year in London he had enough work coming in to warrant giving up his day job as studio manager in a graphic art studio and in 1964, released his first Decca single, ‘Crawling Up A Hill’.
The following year he hired Eric Clapton and a historic partnership was born the end result being the release of the landmark ‘Bluesbreakers’ album that broke into the UK charts and put John on the map in a big way. When Eric and Jack Bruce left the band to form Cream, Peter Green took over the hot spot and along with original bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood a new chapter emerged that would later split from the Bluesbreakers and become Fleetwood Mac in 1967.
18 year old guitarist Mick Taylor was the next major addition to the band and he and drummer Keef Hartley saw various changes in direction encompassing elements of jazz and blues as John added horn players before finally paring everything back and forming a drummer less band. This cut the legendary acoustic live album ‘The Turning Point’, from which ‘Room to Move’ was to become his traditional set closer. John then made his permanent move from England to Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles and began forming bands with American musicians featuring such masters as Blue Mitchell, Red Holloway, Freddie Robinson, Larry Taylor and Sugarcane Harris among others.
The year 1979 saw fire destroy his Laurel Canyon home, but more happily the beginning of John’s relationship with Maggie Parker, a singer/songwriter from Chicago who not only joined the band but became his wife. With worldwide interest in blues music on the wane, he reignited his career in 1982 by taking a step back and reforming the Bluesbreakers on a temporary basis with Mick Taylor and John McVie. A concert featuring guests Albert King, Etta James, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells was released on video as Blues Alive, and a new Los Angeles based set of Bluesbreakers recruited. Guitarists Coco Montoya and Walter Trout (both of whom went on to solo success) helped kick off the next chapter which grew in stature over the next ten years.
After Coco left, John discovered the remarkable Texas blues guitarist Buddy Whittington whom John had heard when his Fort Worth band ‘The Sidemen’ had opened for John in 1991. He quickly accepted the offer to join the Bluesbreakers and has since been powerfully featured on a string of albums including ‘Spinning Coin’, ‘Blues for the Lost Days’, ‘Padlock on the Blues’, ‘UK Tour 2K’ and ‘Along for the Ride’.
In 2001, with the support of his record company (Eagle Records), John released his 51st album, entitled ‘John Mayall And Friends – Along For The Ride’ This 40th anniversary commemoration featured a veritable who’s who of musicians who either worked with John during his long career (such as Mick Taylor, Peter Green, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood and Red Holloway) or who John admired (Otis Rush, Jeff Healey, Billy Gibbons, Steve Miller, Billy Preston, Jonny Lang, Gary Moore and Shannon Curfman and more).
2002 added to the legacy that continues to dazzle. John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers released “Stories” (Eagle Records), their 40th official album. Throughout the 14 tracks John gets to shine instrumentally on harmonica, lead guitar, piano, Hammond organ and 12 string guitar and at his vocal best in years. The album was promoted with yet more intensive touring (including 39 dates with no days off with that other British Blues legend, Peter Green) that would put many younger acts to shame.
Finally, after many false starts and years of planning, a very special reunion took place. After 38 years, the most famous of all Bluesbreakers took to the stage once more with John. In celebration of John’s forthcoming 70th birthday and for the benefit of UNICEF’s fight against child exploitation, Eric, Mick Taylor and British Blues pioneer, Chris Barber took to the stage in Liverpool to blast through nearly 2_ hours of stunning blues. From blues standards to classics from the “Beano” album and on to contemporary Bluesbreakers material, an ecstatic Liverpool crowd lapped up one of the finest nights of blues this millennium.