John Mayall was a late starter, when it came to first finding success as a musician. He was 30 years old in 1963, when he formed the first incarnation of his ubiquitous Bluesbreakers. He was introduced to Decca staff producer, Mike Vernon, who persuaded the label to sign the band. The Bluesbreakers' first single, 'Crawling up the Hill', coupled with 'Mr. James', was released in May 1964 it was not a hit. He later recorded an album John Mayall Plays John Mayall live at Klooks Kleek in London but it too failed to sell in large numbers. It did however show the way that things were heading.
Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds to join Mayall in October 1965 and early the following year, they cut the brilliant album Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton. Whilst it proved to be a breakthrough for both men, it was not long before Clapton left to be replaced by Peter Green, who along with John McVie playing bass, as he had done since the first album, recorded the brilliant A Hard Road. With Green then departing to form Fleetwood Mac, it was the opportunity that a young Mick Taylor needed and he appears on Crusade in 1967, Bare Wires and Blues from Laurel Canyon in 1968 before he too left to join the Rolling Stones.
John Mayall is a bandleader in the old fashioned sense of the word. To him, the individual players are less important than the sum of their parts and besides those we have already mentioned, his band included Mick Fleetwood, Keef Hartley, Jon Hiseman (drums) and Dick Heckstall-Smith. By 1969 John Mark and Johnny Almond joined and recorded the album The Turning Point, which was innovative in that it included no drummer. It was a similar experiment for 1970's USA Union which included the brilliant violinist, Don 'Sugarcane' Harris and guitarist Harvey Mandell who later tried out for the Rolling Stones after Mick Taylor quit.Â Throughout the remainder of the 1970s, John Mayall was a great live draw and while his albums lacked the cutting edge of the first decade of the Bluesbreakers, they were never less than interesting.
As the elder statesman of British blues, it is John Mayall's lot to be more renowned as a bandleader and mentor than as a performer in his own right. Throughout the '60s, his band, the Bluesbreakers, acted as a finishing school for the leading British blues-rock musicians of the era. Guitarists Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor joined his band in a remarkable succession in the mid-'60s, honing their chops with Mayall before going on to join Cream, Fleetwood Mac, and the Rolling Stones, respectively. John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, Jack Bruce, Aynsley Dunbar, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Andy Fraser (of Free), John Almond, and Jon Mark also played and recorded with Mayall for varying lengths of times in the '60s.
Mayall's personnel has tended to overshadow his own considerable abilities. Only an adequate singer, the multi-instrumentalist was adept in bringing out the best in his younger charges (Mayall himself was in his thirties by the time the Bluesbreakers began to make a name for themselves). Doing his best to provide a context in which they could play Chicago-style electric blues, Mayall was never complacent, writing most of his own material (which ranged from good to humdrum), revamping his lineup with unnerving regularity, and constantly experimenting within his basic blues format. Some of these experiments (with jazz-rock and an album on which he played all the instruments except drums) were forgettable; others, like his foray into acoustic music in the late '60s, were quite successful. Mayall's output has caught some flak from critics for paling next to the real African-American deal, but much of his vintage work -- if weeded out selectively -- is quite strong; especially his legendary 1966 LP with Eric Clapton, which both launched Clapton into stardom and kick-started the blues boom into full gear in England.
When Clapton joined the Bluesbreakers in 1965, Mayall had already been recording for a year, and been performing professionally long before that. Originally based in Manchester, Mayall moved to London in 1963 on the advice of British blues godfather Alexis Korner, who thought a living could be made playing the blues in the bigger city. Tracing a path through his various lineups of the '60s is a daunting task. At least 15 different editions of the Bluesbreakers were in existence from January 1963 through mid-1970. Some notable musicians (like guitarist Davy Graham, Mick Fleetwood, and Jack Bruce) passed through for little more than a cup of coffee; Mayall's longest-running employee, bassist John McVie, lasted about four years. the Bluesbreakers, like Fairport Convention or the Fall, was more a concept than an ongoing core. Mayall, too, had the reputation of being a difficult and demanding employer, willing to give musicians their walking papers as his music evolved, although he also imparted invaluable schooling to them while the associations lasted.
Mayall recorded his debut single in early 1964; he made his first album, a live affair, near the end of the year. At this point the Bluesbreakers had a more pronounced R&B influence than would be exhibited on their most famous recordings, somewhat in the mold of younger combos like the Animals and Rolling Stones, but the Bluesbreakers would take a turn for the purer with the recruitment of Eric Clapton in the spring of 1965. Clapton had left the Yardbirds in order to play straight blues, and the Bluesbreakers allowed him that freedom (or stuck to well-defined restrictions, depending upon your viewpoint). Clapton began to inspire reverent acclaim as one of Britain's top virtuosos, as reflected in the famous "Clapton is God" graffiti that appeared in London in the mid-'60s.
In professional terms, though, 1965 wasn't the best of times for the group, which had been dropped by Decca. Clapton even left the group for a few months for an odd trip to Greece, leaving Mayall to straggle on with various fill-ins, including Peter Green. Clapton did return in late 1965, around the time an excellent blues-rock single, "I'm Your Witchdoctor" (with searing sustain-laden guitar riffs), was issued on Immediate. By early 1966, the band was back on Decca, and recorded its landmark Bluesbreakers LP. This was the album that, with its clean, loud, authoritative licks, firmly established Clapton as a guitar hero, on both reverent covers of tunes by the likes of Otis Rush and Freddie King and decent originals by Mayall himself. The record was also an unexpected commercial success, making the Top Ten in Britain. From that point on, in fact, Mayall became one of the first rock musicians to depend primarily upon the LP market; he recorded plenty of singles throughout the '60s, but none of them came close to becoming a hit.
Clapton left the Bluesbreakers in mid-1966 to form Cream with Jack Bruce, who had played with Mayall briefly in late 1965. Mayall turned quickly to Peter Green, who managed the difficult feat of stepping into Clapton's shoes and gaining respect as a player of roughly equal imagination and virtuosity, although his style was quite distinctly his own. Green recorded one LP with Mayall, A Hard Road, and several singles, sometimes writing material and taking some respectable lead vocals. Green's talents, like those of Clapton, were too large to be confined by sideman status, and in mid-1967 he left to form a successful band of his own, Fleetwood Mac.
Mayall then enlisted 19-year-old Mick Taylor; remarkably, despite the consecutive departures of two star guitarists, Mayall maintained a high level of popularity. The late '60s were also a time of considerable experimentation for the Bluesbreakers, which moved into a form of blues-jazz-rock fusion with the addition of a horn section, and then a retreat into mellower, acoustic-oriented music. Mick Taylor, the last of the famous triumvirate of Mayall-bred guitar heroes, left in mid-1969 to join the Rolling Stones. Yet in a way Mayall was thriving more than ever, as the U.S. market, which had been barely aware of him in the Clapton era, was beginning to open up for his music. In fact, at the end of the 1960s, Mayall moved to Los Angeles. Released in 1969, The Turning Point, a live, all-acoustic affair, was a commercial and artistic high point.
In America at least, Mayall continued to be pretty popular in the early '70s. His band was no more stable than ever; at various points some American musicians flitted in and out of the Bluesbreakers, including Harvey Mandel, Canned Heat bassist Larry Taylor, and Don "Sugarcane" Harris. Although he's released numerous albums since and remained a prodigiously busy and reasonably popular live act, his post-1970 output generally hasn't matched the quality of his '60s work. Following collaborations with an unholy number of guest celebrities, in the early '80s he re-teamed with a couple of his more renowned vets, John McVie and Mick Taylor, for a tour, which was chronicled by Great American Music's Blues Express, released in 2010. It's the '60s albums that you want, though there's little doubt that Mayall has over the past decades done a great deal to popularize the blues all over the globe, whether or not the music has meant much on record.
Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton was Eric Clapton's first fully realized album as a blues guitarist -- more than that, it was a seminal blues album of the 1960s, perhaps the best British blues album ever cut, and the best LP ever recorded by John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Standing midway between Clapton's stint with the Yardbirds and the formation of Cream, this album featured the new guitar hero on a series of stripped-down blues standards, Mayall pieces, and one Mayall/Clapton composition, all of which had him stretching out in the idiom for the first time in the studio. This album was the culmination of a very successful year of playing with John Mayall, a fully realized blues creation, featuring sounds very close to the group's stage performances, and with no compromises.
Credit has to go to producer Mike Vernon for the purity and simplicity of the record; most British producers of that era wouldn't have been able to get it recorded this way, much less released. One can hear the very direct influence of Buddy Guy and a handful of other American bluesmen in the playing. And lest anyone forget the rest of the quartet: future pop/rock superstar John McVie and drummer Hughie Flint provide a rock-hard rhythm section, and Mayall's organ playing, vocalizing, and second guitar are all of a piece with Clapton's work. His guitar naturally dominates most of this record, and he can also be heard taking his first lead vocal, but McVie and Flint are just as intense and give the tracks an extra level of steel-strung tension and power, none of which have diminished across several decades.
Words - Bruce Eder
This prophetically titled project represents yet another crossroad in John Mayall's ever evolving cast of prime British bluesmen. This album also signifies a distinct departure from the decibel drowning electrified offerings of his previous efforts, providing instead an exceedingly more folk and roots based confab. The 2001 "remastered & revisited" edition of The Turning Point boasts vastly improved audio -- when compared to its previous CD counterparts -- and a trio of three "bonus tracks" from the same July 12, 1969 performance at Bill Graham's fabulous Fillmore East in New York City. The specific lineup featured here is conspicuous in its absence of a lead guitarist, primarily due to Mayall recommending himself out of his most recent string man.
Most expected tracks are included, from his first single, "Crawling Up A Hill" and "Mr. James," from '64; and "I'm Your Witchdoctor" b/w "Telephone Blues," (the latter was first 45 by the Eric Clapton-era Bluesbreakers and was produced by Jimmy Page) from 1965. Disc one covers album up to A Hard Road; disc two from that album to 1968's Blues From Laurel Canyon; disc three from 1969's revolutionary The Turning Point through Back To The Roots and disc four from there through The Latest Edition in 1974. There are many LP cuts obviously , but also live material, compilation tracks and singles -- 74 tracks in total. While some are not obvious choices, virtually all are essential for Mayall enthusiasts. His high standards as a a recording and performing artist, are underscored by his role as mentor to younger talent-- Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Aynsley Dunbar, Keef Hartley, Jon Mark, Johnny Almond, Harvey Mandel, Larry Taylor, Steve Winwood and Brad Resnick all passed through his ranks. Also notable are Mayall's collaborations with established jazz and blues artists such as Freddy Robinson, Blue Mitchell, and Fred Jackson.
Eric Clapton is usually thought of as John Mayall's most important right-hand man, but the case could also be made for his successor, Peter Green. The future Fleetwood Mac founder leaves a strong stamp on his only album with the Bluesbreakers, singing a few tracks and writing a couple, including the devastating instrumental "Supernatural." Green's use of thick sustain on this track clearly pointed the way to his use of guitar riffs with elongated, slithery tones on Fleetwood Mac's "Albatross" and "Black Magic Woman," as well as anticipating some aspects of Carlos Santana's style. Mayall acquits himself fairly well on this mostly original set (with occasional guest horns), though some of the material is fairly mundane. Highlights include the uncharacteristically rambunctious "Leaping Christine" and the cover of Freddie King's "Someday After a While (You'll Be Sorry)."
Words - Richie Unterberger
The final album of an (unintentional) trilogy, Crusade is most notable for the appearance of a very young, pre-stones Mick Taylor on lead guitar. Taylor's performance is indeed the highlight, just as Eric Clapton and Peter Green's playing was on the previous album. The centerpiece of the album is a beautiful instrumental by Taylor titled "Snowy Wood," which, while wholly original, seems to combine both Green and Clapton's influence with great style and sensibility. The rest of the record, while very enjoyable, is standard blues-rock fare of the day, but somewhat behind the then-progressive flavor of 1967. Mayall, while being one of the great bandleaders of London, simply wasn't really the frontman that the group needed so desperately, especially then. Nevertheless, Crusade is important listening for Mick Taylor aficionados.
Words - Matthew Greenwald
This is John Mayall's band of the Mick Taylor era and is live recordings sone on a 2 track reel to reel tape recorderby the boss! There are a number of long tracks that allow the band to stretch out on solos, especially eighteen year old Mick Taylor and saxophonist, Dick Heckstall-Smith. Mayall would change set lists from gig to gig and for him this was a way of keeping his music sounding fresh.
This was John Mayall's studio-recorded follow-up to the live The Turning Point, featuring the same drumless quartet of himself, guitarist Jon Mark, reed player Johnny Almond, and bassist Steve Thompson. Mayall was at a commercial and critical peak with this folk-jazz approach; the album's leadoff track, "Don't Waste My Time," had become his sole singles chart entry prior to the LP's release, and although his former label, London, confused matters by releasing the two-year-old Diary of a Band, Vol. 1 in the U.S. just before this new album appeared in early 1970, the new crop of fans he'd found with The Turning Point stuck with him on this gentle, reflective release. Empty Rooms hit Number 33 in the U.S.; in the U.K. it got to Number Nine.
Words - William Ruhlmann
Bare Wires was the first Bluesbreakers album of new studio material since A Hard Road, released 16 months before. In that time, the band had turned over entirely, expanding to become a septet. Mayall's musical conception had also expanded -- the album began with a 23-minute "Bare Wires Suite," which included more jazz influences than usual and featured introspective lyrics. In retrospect, all of this is a bit indulgent, but at the time it helped Mayall out of what had come to seem a blues straitjacket (although he would eventually return to a strict blues approach). It isn't surprising that he dropped the "Bluesbreakers" name after this release. The album was Mayall's most successful ever in the U.K., hitting number three.
Words - William Ruhlmann
Mayall's first post-Bluesbreakers album saw the man returning to his roots after the jazz/blues fusion that was Bare Wires. Blues from Laurel Canyon is a blues album, through and through. Testimony to this is the fact that there's a guitar solo only 50 seconds into the opening track. Indeed, Mayall dispersed the entire brass section for Blues from Laurel Canyon, and instead chose the solid but relatively limited backing of Mick Taylor (guitar), Colin Allen (drums), and Stephen Thompson (bass). Instantly, it is apparent that John Mayall hasn't lost his touch with the blues. "Vacation," the album's opener, reminds one exactly why this artist is so celebrated for his songwriting ability. The staggering Mick Taylor (here still in his teens) truly proves his worth as a blues guitarist, while Steve Thompson (also in his late teens) works superbly with one of the genre's most interesting drummers, Colin Allen. Blues from Laurel Canyon is as unerring as Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton, and equally as musically interesting. Not only is this one of the finest John Mayall albums, it is also a highlight in the blues genus.
Words - Ben Davies
This collection of 14 tracks recorded at the BBC in the 1960s features some of John Mayall's best Bluesbreaker line-ups, including Eric Clapton who is featured on five tracks, including, Bye Bye Bird, a Sonny Boy Williamson song that John Mayall never recorded and On Top of The World.