John Mayall

(Copyright © 1999-2022 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Bluesbreakers (1966), 6.5/10
Hard Road (1967), 7/10
Crusade (1967), 5/10
Blues Alone (1967), 5/10
Bare Wires (1968), 6.5/10
Blues From Laurel Canyon (1969), 6.5/10
Turning Point (1969), 7/10
Empty Room (1970), 6/10
USA Union (1971), 6/10
Memories (1971), 5/10
Back To The Roots (1971), 6/10
Jazz-Blues Fusion (1972), 6/10
Moving On (1972), 5/10
Ten Years Are Gone (1973), 6/10
Latest Edition (1974), 5/10

A spectacular harmonica-player and a terrific conductor of ensembles, John Mayall was for several years the main reference point for the British blues scene. His band, the Bluesbreakers, played the role of a transmission belt between the blues revival of the 1950s and the blues-rock of the 1960s, raising talents that would make the history of rock music.

One of the events that changed the British music scene in a dramatic way in 1966 was the release of the album Bluesbreakers (1966), featuring the former Yardbirds guitarist Eric Clapton, that defined a genre of rhythm'n'blues played by white European musicians, the epitome of "blues-rock", which soon became one of the strongest undercurrents of British rock music. It also laid the foundations for progressive-rock: Hard Road (Decca, 1967), featuring new guitarist Peter Green, the lush jazz arrangements of the Bare Wires Suite (1968), off the album Bare Wires (1968) that was almost entirely composed by Mayall himself, the sophisticated lounge-music of the concept-album Blues From Laurel Canyon (1969), entirely composed by Mayall, and of his masterpiece, The Turning Point (1969), featuring guitarist Jon Mark and saxophonist Johnny Almond, the prelude to an ambitious Jazz-Blues Fusion (1972). The Fleetwod Mac, the Colosseum and Mark-Almond (formed by those cohorts) would be the logical consequences of Mayall's continuing experiment with the blues.

Mayall's limit is that he may have been a better talent scout than musician.

(Translated by Ornella C. Grannis)

Spectacular harmonica player and great band leader, John Mayall was for years the principal point of reference of the English blues scene. His band, the Bluesbreakers, acted as a conveyor belt between the 50s blues revival and 60s blues rock, raising many talents that made history in British rock. In fact, perhaps Mayall made more history as a talent scout that as a musician.

In 1963, with a visceral passion for the electric blues of Chicago, after years of obscure apprenticeship in his native Manchester, Mayall moved to London, The Bluesbreakers picked the right format: a very rhythmic blues, enhanced by audacious solos, often catchy, enhanced by rhythm and blues horns, that were the trademark of his teacher, Alexis Korner. Crawling Up The Hill (1964), Mayall's first single, remains to date one of his most original compositions, later included in the collection Thru The Years (Deram, 1971).John Mayall Plays John Mayall (Decca, 1965) is not much of a record, especially when compared to the Stones' debut album, but it documents an era, and shows that Mayall wrote his own material at a time when white blues men limited themselves to the re-elaboration of black material.

In 1965 Mayall had the good fortune to discover a young guitarist named Eric Clapton, who had gathered experience with the Yardbirds. Not only were Clapton's solos faithful to the blues tradition, they were also improvised, a fact that in those days seemed revolutionary. Bluesbreakers (Decca, 1966), also known as the "Beano" album, is an epoch making album. The best original cuts are Double Crossing Time, the extended Have You Heard, and the lively rhythm and blues Key To Love. However, the signature songs from their concerts are covers: Willie Dixon's and Otis Rush's All Your Love (with the first great solo by Clapton) and Freddie King's instrumental Steppin Out.

In 1967, with the more creative Peter Green at the guitar and Ainsley Dunbar at the drums, Mayall created Hard Road (Decca, 1967), perhaps the masterpiece of blues revival. Supernatural presages the first glimmerings of a fantastic defection from the standard blues format. Peter Green also recorded with Mayall some singles subsequently released on Thru The Years (Deram, 1971), the album that includes the legendary Out Of Reach.

By the end of the year, when the leader began to show signs of megalomania, the band renewed itself, hiring eighteen-year-old guitarist Mick Taylor and two horns. The result of that renewal is Crusade (Decca, 1967), a more conventional album entirely devoted to covers of black music arranged by Mayall in his style. At the end of that intense year Mayall released his first solo work, Blues Alone (Deram, 1967), an album that shows how much of his success was owed to his associates, most of whom had moved on to become stars, forming groups such as Cream, Colosseum and Fleetwood Mac.

With Mick Taylor at the guitar, Dick Heckstall-Smith at the sax and Jon Hiseman at the drums, the Bluesbreakers took an historic step with Bare Wires (1968), burying blues under layers of jazz refinements, especially in the 23 minute long Bare Wire Suite. Blues From Laurel Canyon (Polydor, 1969) is a concept album dedicated to Los Angeles, played with the precious tone of a cocktail lounge combo. The title is a reference to Frank Zappa's address where Mayall stayed.

Looking Back (Deram, 1969) is an anthology of singles. It includes Jenny, one of Mayall's songwriting gems. London Blues (Polydor, 1992) is a great anthology of the 1966-69 period.

Taylor joined the Rolling Stones and the others formed the Colosseum. With Jon Mark at the guitar and Johnny Almond at the sax, Mayall released The Turning Point (Polydor, 1969), perhaps his masterpiece, a purely acoustic album that adopts a style half way between free-form and sophisticated, granting each cut more structural freedom, and offering for the first time original compositions by the group: the rhythmic Room To Move, one of his greatest performances on harmonica, and the swinging acoustic ballad California, with a jazz sax solo and an Arabic flute solo, both by Almond. Mayall named his next album for the concept he was pursuing: Jazz-Blues Fusion (Polydor, 1972) but his vision was perhaps too ambitious for his composing limits, although the record does provide some suggestive hints for others to follow. The experiment without drums and with a velvety sound was continued with less success on Empty Room (Polydor, 1970), which includes the hit Don't Waste My Time. Mark and Almond continued the project with their band, Mark Almond.

With USA Union (1971), his first American album, featuring Harvey Mandel on guitar, Mayall returned to a more traditional format and, thanks to deluxe sideman jazz violinist Don Sugarcane Harris, he managed to create some brilliant jazz-blues ballads, like Night Flyer and Deep Blue Sea, and other faithful blues portraits, such as Took The Car. The idea of the "jazz-blues fusion" was continued on Memories (1971), an album recorded with a more humble trio.

Back To The Roots (1971) is an album/event were the entire dynasty of Mayall's bands comes together to pay tribute to the leader. Moving On (1972) is an other album of jazz-blues fusion. The commemorative period ended with Ten Years Are Gone (1973), a double album; the live side contains two of Mayall's best jams: Dark Of the Night and Harmonica Free Form.

Latest Edition (Polydor, 1974) was the last album of Mayall's golden era. It was followed by an avalanche of recordings (mostly live) of questionable quality, beginning with New Year, New Band, New Company (ABC, 1975). Room To Move (Polydor, 1992) is a very good anthology of the period 1970-74.

Mayall reconstituted the Bluesbreakers for Behind The Iron Curtain (GNP, 1985), recorded in Hungary, and for his first studio album in the longest time, Chicago Line (Island, 1988), followed by A Sense of Place (Island, 1990), Wake Up Call (Silvertone, 1993), and Blues For The Lost Days (Silvertone, 1997).

Along For The Ride (Eagle, 2000) finds Mayall leading an all-star cast as in the good old days.

Altogether John Mayall's monumental work has no equal in the history of modern blues. Mayall has created more music than any other bluesman and is the only musician who has tried, albeit irregularly, and managed fusion with both rock and jazz. But regardless of how finely tuned, the numerous classics of the "King Lear" of English blues didn't fly very high, and all his followers sooner or later deserted the cause, some for jazz, some for hard-rock, and some for pop music.

Spettacolare armonicista e grande conduttore di ensemble, John Mayall fu per anni il princicpale punto di riferimento della scena blues inglese. Il suo complesso, i Bluesbreakers, funse da cinghia di trasmissione fra il blues revival degli anni '50 e il blues-rock degli anni '60, allevando molti talenti che avrebbero fatto la storia del rock Britannico. In effetti, e` forse passato alla storia piu` come talent scout che come musicista.

Dopo anni di oscuro apprendistato nella nativa Manchester, Mayall giunge nel 1963 a Londra, armato di una passione viscerale per il blues elettrico di Chicago. I Bluesbreakers indovinarono il formato di successo: un blues molto ritmato, agghindato con assoli intrepidi, spesso fischiettabile, poco rallentato dai fiati del rhythm and blues (che erano invece la palla al piede del suo maestro Alexis Korner). Crawling Up The Hill (1964) fu il primo singolo di Mayall, e rimarra` una delle sue composizioni piu` originali, in seguito raccolta su Thru The Years (Deram, 1971). Plays John Mayall (Decca, 1965) non e` un gran che' di disco (in particolare paragonato all'esordio degli Stones), ma documenta un'epoca e testimonia come Mayall scrivesse il proprio materiale in un'epoca in cui i bluesman bianchi si limitavano a rielaborare il materiale dei neri.

Nel 1965 Mayall ebbe la fortuna di scoprire un chitarrista imberbe di nome Eric Clapton, che si era appena fatto le ossa nel complesso degli Yardbirds. Gli assoli di Clapton non erano soltanto fedeli alla tradizione del blues, ma erano anche improvvisati, un fatto che a quei tempi parve rivoluzionario. Bluesbreakers (Decca, 1966), noto anche come Beano, fu l'album che fece epoca. Dei brani originali svettano i lenti (Double Crossing Time e la lunga Have You Heard) e un vivace rhythm and blues, Key To Love. Le sigle dei concerti sono pero` All Your Love (di Willie Dixon e Otis Rush, con il primo grande assolo di Clapton) e lo strumentale Steppin Out (di Freddie King).

Nel 1967, con il piu` fantasioso Peter Green allo strumento e un Ainsley Dunbar alla batteria, Mayall cesello` Hard Road (Decca, 1967), forse il capolavoro del blues revival (e in Supernatural compaiono le prime avvisaglie di una diserzione fantastica). Peter Green registro` con Mayall anche alcuni singoli, poi raccolti su Thru The Years (Deram, 1971), fra cui il leggendario Out Of Reach.

Alla fine dell'anno, quando il leader comincia a dar segni di megalomania, l'organico si rinnova, assumendo il diciottenne Mick Taylor alla chitarra e due fiati. Il risultato, Crusade (Decca, 1967), fu un album piu` convenzionale, dedicato interamente a cover di musica nera (protagonista pero` sempre l'arrangiamento di Mayall). Alla fine di quell'intenso anno Mayall licenzio` anche il primo album solista, Blues Alone (Deram, 1967), che servi` soltanto a dimostrare come la fama di Mayall fosse dovuta ai suoi "gregari". Quei gregari stavano tutti diventando stars, formando gruppi importanti come Cream, Colosseum e Fleetwood Mac.

Con Mick Taylor alla chitarra, Dick Heckstall-Smith al sax e Jon Hiseman alla batteria, i Bluesbreakers compirono con Bare Wires (1968) un passo storico, seppellendo il blues sotto un cumulo di raffinatezze jazz (la Bare Wires Suite di 23 minuti). Bare Wires era quasi interamente composto da Mayall. Blues From Laurel Canyon (Polydor, 1969), interamente composto da lui, fu addirittura un concept-album dedicato a Los Angeles (il titolo si riferisce all'indirizzo di Frank Zappa, presso cui Mayall aveva soggiornato), e suonato con lo stesso tono prezioso dei combo di cocktail lounge.

Looking Back (Deram, 1969) e` un'antologia dei singoli, fra cui Jenny, una delle gemme di Mayall come cantautore. London Blues (Polydor, 1992) e` un'ottima antologia del periodo 1966-69.

Taylor si uni` agli Stones e altri formarono i Colosseum. Assunti Jon Mark alla chitarra e Johnny Almond al sax, Mayall sforno` The Turning Point (Polydor, 1969), forse il suo capolavoro, un album puramente acustico che adottava un sound a meta` strada fra lo stile sofisticato e lo stile ruspante, concedeva piu` liberta` strutturale ai brani, e offriva per la prima volta soltanto composizioni originali del gruppo: il travolgente jug di Room To Move, uno dei suoi capolavori all'armonica e al canto, e la lunga ballata acustica swingante California, con un assolo jazz del sax e un assolo arabo del flauto. La Jazz-Blues Fusion (Polydor, 1972) progettata da Mayall con questi album era forse troppo ambiziosa per i limiti compositivi del leader, ma in questo album diede frutti suggestivi. L'esperimento senza batteria e con un sound vellutato venne proseguito con meno successo su Empty Room (Polydor, 1970), che peraltro contiene il singolo di successo Don't Waste My Time. Mark e Almond proseguiranno il progetto con i loro Mark Almond.

USA Union (1971), il suo primo album "Americano", con Harvey Mandel alla chitarra, torno` a un formato piu` tradizionale, e, grazie a una spalla di lusso come il violinista jazz Don Sugarcane Harris, riusci` ancora a inventare alcune brillanti ballate jazz-blues (Night Flyer, Deep Blue Sea) e altre fedeli partiture blues (Took The Car). L'idea della "jazz-blues fusion" venne proseguita su Memories (1971) da un trio piu` umile.

Back To The Roots (1971) era un album-evento che raggruppava tutta la dinastia dei gruppi di Mayall per una sorta di tributo al leader. Moving On (1972) fu un altro album di jazz-blues fusion. Il periodo commemorativo culmino` con Ten Years Are Gone (1973), che era un disco doppio. Quello dal vivo conteneva due delle sue migliori jam, Dark Of the Night e Harmonica Free Form.

Latest Edition (Polydor, 1974) fu l'ultimo album della stagione d'oro, e venne seguito da una valanga di registrazioni (per lo piu` dal vivo) di dubbia qualita`, inaugurate da New Year New Band New Company (ABC, 1975). Room To Move (Polydor, 1992) e` un'ottima antologia del periodo 1970-74.

Mayall riformo` i Bluesbreakers per Behind The Iron Country (GNP, 1985), registrato in Ungheria, e per il suo primo album in studio da tempo immemore, Chicago Line (Island, 1988), seguito da A Sense of Place (Island, 1990), Wake Up Call (Silvertone, 1993), Blues For The Lost Days (Silvertone, 1997).

Along For The Ride (Eagle, 2000) finds Mayall leading an all-star cast like in the good old days.

Complessivamente la sua opera monumentale non ha eguali nella storia del blues moderno. Mayall ha creato piu` brani di ogni altro bluesman ed e` l'unico ad aver tentato e (seppur saltuariamente) raggiunto la fusione sia con il rock sia con il jazz. Ma, per quanto finemente cesellati, i numerosi classici del "Re Lear" del blues inglese sono rimasti lettera morta e tutti i suoi seguaci hanno prima o poi disertato la causa, chi per il jazz chi per l'hard-rock chi per la canzonetta.

What is unique about this music database