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
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.
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."
TO MAIN PAGE
THE BEST OF JOHN MAYALL
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.
Wires" (1968): Jazz-blues fusion
with a seven-man band.
Turning Point" (1969): Horns and
flutes augment acoustic guitars and Mayall's
Tones: The Best of John Mayall and the
Bluesbreakers" (1998): A fine
compilation of modern Mayall, with guitarists
Coco Montoya and Buddy Whittington.
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.
OF JOHN MAYALL'S
Mayall's bands have featured a parade of ace
guitarists. Here are the main ones (with
approximate dates of service).
Clapton, guitar (1965-66)
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.
Green, guitar (1966-68)
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.
Taylor, guitar (1968-69)
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
Montoya, guitar (1985-95)
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.
Whittington, guitar (1995-present)
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."
All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com)