By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

October 27, 2005

Veteran bluesman John Mayall says it doesn't bother him that he's been overshadowed, at least among the public, by the players in his bands who later became household names.

And what a household: Mayall's various Bluesbreakers lineups have included Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Coco Montoya and many more.

But Mayall, 71, who visits the Touhill Performing Arts Center on Saturday, is an accomplished guitarist, pianist and harmonica player. He was influenced by his father, who came from a jazz tradition, and says he was happy to be the band leader.

"It would be nice to get recognition, but it's not something I dwell upon," he said recently by phone from his home near Los Angeles. "I'm quite comfortable with what I do, and it's really enough for me.

"It shares that with jazz, really. You create the music between (bandmates). It's not something that's the same every night. It's for our own pleasure that we like to hear each other and express ourselves."

A less-secure leader might not have been so calm playing with the phenomenon that was Eric Clapton in 1965. Clapton had already made his mark in the Yardbirds when Mayall invited him to join the Bluesbreakers, the period during which "Clapton is God" graffiti began appearing around London.

"At the time, (Clapton) was basically the only player I heard in England who had a full understanding of the blues," Mayall says. "It was natural to make him an offer when he left the Yardbirds."

Mayall was one of the first musicians in England, after Alexis Korner, to devote himself to America's blues music and send it back home during and after the years of the British Invasion of the '60s. His first album appeared in 1964, even though he hedged his bet at first by working as a studio manager in the art department of an advertising agency.

Mayall has recorded and toured steadily ever since, for the most part sticking to blues and blues-based rock with forays into jazz-influenced music, especially the free-form acoustic blues that he played in the late '60s and early '70s.

"The Turning Point" album in 1969 was a major change of pace for Mayall -- no drums, no electric guitars -- but it coincided with the explosion of progressive-rock FM stations in the United States and spawned the underground hit "Movin' On." That song, propelled by Mayall's incendiary harmonica and breathy, scatlike vocal-percussion effects, remains a wonder today.

" 'The Turning Point' was considered risky," Mayall says, "but I believed in it.

"My music has always been supported by the public and record companies, and we've certainly got enough demand for shows all over the world. The blues is not like music that comes and goes according to fashion."



"London Blues (1964-1969)" and "Room to Move (1969-1974)": Released in 1992, each set contains two discs of Mayall's work with his early bands, from classic blues through his experiments in jazz-blues fusion. No longer in print, they are worth seeking out in used-CD shops and auction Web sites. "Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton" (1966): A classic. No collection of British blues should be without it.

"Bare Wires" (1968): Jazz-blues fusion with a seven-man band.

"The Turning Point" (1969): Horns and flutes augment acoustic guitars and Mayall's harmonica.

"Silver Tones: The Best of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers" (1998): A fine compilation of modern Mayall, with guitarists Coco Montoya and Buddy Whittington.

"Road Dogs" (2005): The latest Bluesbreakers CD is a solid workout that tackles subjects as diverse as the state of the world to life on the road.


John Mayall's bands have featured a parade of ace guitarists. Here are the main ones (with approximate dates of service).

Eric Clapton, guitar (1965-66)

Fresh from the Yardbirds, Clapton joined the Bluesbreakers for a bit more than a year. That lineup produced the classic "John Mayall's Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton." With Jack Bruce, a sometimes Bluesbreaker bassist during this period, Clapton went on to form Cream.

Peter Green, guitar (1966-68)

Green was 19 when he joined the Bluesbreakers. "Peter had the hard job of winning the audience over when Eric was so popular," Mayall says. "But he had great determination and wonderful guitar tone, and it didn't take him long to carve out his own niche." In 1968, Green joined with sometime Bluesbreaker drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie (1963-1967) to form the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac.

Mick Taylor, guitar (1968-69)

Taylor was barely 20 when Mayall hired him to replace Green. "Mick came in at the same time we added horns on the road, so it was a different slant," Mayall says. "Mick was influenced more by Albert King than Peter, who was from the B.B. King mold." Taylor went on to replace Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones after Jones' death and was on board for four classic Stones albums: "Let it Bleed," the live "Get Yer Ya Ya's Out," "Sticky Fingers" and "Exile on Main Street."

Coco Montoya, guitar (1985-95)

Montoya cut his teeth in Albert Collins' band and then fronted his own band for a few years before joining Mayall. "He was somebody I heard in a club in Los Angeles, and I was very impressed," Mayall says.

Buddy Whittington, guitar (1995-present)

Whittington was playing around his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, in 1991 when his band, the Sidemen, was picked to open for the Bluesbreakers. "Buddy's band opened up for us a couple of years before Coco left," says Mayall, who says he has never auditioned a musician for his bands. "I always remembered that and gave him a call."

Source: All Music Guide (