Sunday, November 22, 2009

John Mayall, A Bluesman.

John Mayall

Artist Biography Source: Under GNU FDL license

John Mayall, OBE (born 29 November 1933) is a pioneering English blues singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. His musical career spans over fifty years, but the most notable episode in it occurred during the late '60s. He was the founder of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and, as a gifted talent-scout, has been influential in the careers of many instrumentalists, including Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Taylor, Don "Sugarcane" Harris, Harvey Mandel, Larry Taylor, Aynsley Dunbar, Hughie Flint, Jon Hiseman, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Andy Fraser, Johnny Almond, Jon Mark, Walter Trout, Coco Montoya, and Buddy Whittington.

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Mayall's father was Murray Mayall, a guitarist and jazz music enthusiast. From an early age, he was drawn to the sounds of American blues players such as Leadbelly, Albert Ammons, Pinetop Smith, and Eddie Lang, and taught himself to play the piano, guitars, and harmonica.

Mayall served three years of national service in Korea and, during a period of leave, he bought his first electric guitar. Back in Manchester, he enrolled at Manchester College of Art (now part of Manchester Metropolitan University) and started playing with semi-professional bands. After graduation, he obtained a job as an art designer but continued to play with local musicians. In 1963, he opted for a full time musical career and moved to London. His previous craft will be put to good use in the designing of covers for many of his coming albums.
Since the end of the 60's Mayall has been living in the U.S. A brush fire destroyed his house in Laurel Canyon in 1979, damaging seriously his musical collections and archives.
John Mayall married twice and has six grand-children. Mrs Maggie Mayall is an American blues performer and has, since the early 1980s, taken an active part in the management of her husband's career.

In 2005 Mayall was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Honours List.
Source: Under GNU FDL license

The early years

In 1956, with college fellow Peter Ward, Mayall had formed the Powerhouse Four, which consisted of both men plus other local musicians, with whom they played at local dances. In 1962, Mayall became a member of the Blues Syndicate. The band was formed by trumpeter John Rowlands and alto saxophonist Jack Massarik, who had seen the Alexis Korner band at a Manchester club and wanted to try a similar blend of Jazz and Blues. It also included rhythm guitarist Ray Cummins and drummer Hughie Flint, whom Mayall already knew. It was Alexis Korner who persuaded Mayall to opt for a full time musical career and move to London. There, Korner introduced him to many other musicians and helped them to find gigs. In late 1963, with his band which was now called the Bluesbreakers, Mayall started playing at the Marquee Club. The lineup was Mayall, Ward, John McVie on bass and guitarist Bernie Watson, formerly of Cyril Davies and the R&B All-Stars. The next spring Mayall, obtained his first recording date with producer Ian Samwell. The band, with Martin Hart at the drums, recorded two tracks : "Crawling Up a Hill" and "Mr. James." Shortly after, Hughie Flint replaced Hart, and Roger Dean took the guitar from Bernie Watson. This lineup backed John Lee Hooker on his British tour in 1964.

Mayall was offered a recording contract by Decca and, on 7 December 1964, a live performance of the band was recorded at the Klook's Kleek. A single, "Crocodile Walk", was recorded later in studio and released along with the album, but both failed to achieve any success and the contract was terminated.

In April 1965, former Yardbirds guitarist Eric Clapton replaced Roger Dean and John Mayall's career entered a decisive phase [1]
Late 1960s through 1970s
With their new guitar player, The Bluesbreakers started to attract considerable attention.[2]

In April 1966, the Bluesbreakers returned to (Decca) Studios to record a second LP with producer Mike Vernon. The sessions, with horn arrangements for some tracks (John Almond on baritone sax, Alan Skidmore on tenor sax and Dennis Healey on trumpet), lasted just three days. Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton was released in the UK on 22 July 1966. This album has now gained the status of a classic, but it was also Mayall's commercial breakthrough, rising to #6 on the chart. In the meantime, Clapton announced the formation of Cream with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.

Mayall had to replace him and persuaded Peter Green to come back. During the following year, along with Peter Green on guitar and various other sidemen, some 40 tracks were recorded. The album A Hard Road was released in February 1967. Today its expanded versions include most of this material and the album itself also stands as a classic. But Peter Green gave notice and soon started his own project Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac which was to include the three former Bluesbreakers.

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Mayall's first choice to replace Green was 16-year-old David O'List, guitarist from The Attack. However O'List declined and went to form The Nice with organist Keith Emerson. Mayall found two other guitarists for the Bluesbreakers, Terry Edmonds and 19-year-old Mick Taylor.

In a single day of May 1967, Mayall alone had put together in a studio an album, which was released in November with the apt title The Blues Alone. Only former Artwoods drummer Keef Hartley appears on half of the tracks, which showcase Mayall's ability as multi-instrumentalist.

A six-piece lineup (consisting of Mick Taylor on lead guitar, John McVie on bass, Hughie Flint or Keef Hartley on drums, Rip Kant and Chris Mercer on saxophones), recorded the album Crusade on 11 and 12 July 1967. These Bluesbreakers spent most of the year touring abroad and Mayall taped the shows on a portable recorder. At the end of the tour, he had over sixty hours of tapes, which he edited into an album in two volumes: Diary of a Band, Vols. 1 & 2, released in February 1968. Meanwhile, a few lineup changes had occurred : McVie had departed and was replaced by Paul Williams, who quitted to join Alan Price and was replaced by Keith Tillman ; Dick Heckstall-Smith had taken the sax.

Following a U.S. tour more lineup changes occurred as Mayall replaced Tillman by 15-year-old Andy Fraser, who left within six weeks to join Free, and Tony Reeves, previously a member of the New Jazz Orchestra, replaced him. Hartley was also required to leave and he was replaced by New Jazz Orchestra drummer Jon Hiseman, who had also played with the Graham Bond Organization. Henry Lowther, who played violin and cornet, joined in February 1968. Two months after, the Bluesbreakers recorded Bare Wires, co-produced by Mayall and Mike Vernon, which came up to #6. Hiseman, Reeves and Heckstall-Smith then moved on to form Colosseum and the new lineup retained Mick Taylor and added drummer Colin Allen, formerly of Zoot Money's Big Roll Band, Dantalian's Chariot and Georgie Fame, and a young bassist Stephen Thompson. In August 1968, the new quartet recorded Blues from Laurel Canyon.

After nearly two years with Mayall, Taylor left and joined officially the Rolling Stones on 13 June 1969. Chas Crane filled in briefly. Allen then left for Stone the Crows, leaving as the only holdover bassist Thompson (who would also eventually join Stone the Crows). Mayall recruited acoustic fingerstyle guitarist Jon Mark and flautist/saxophonist John Almond. Mark was best known as Marianne Faithfull's accompanist for three years and for having been a member of the band Sweet Thursday (which included Nicky Hopkins, and Alun Davies, of Cat Stevens's fame). Almond had played with Zoot Money and Alan Price. The new band was markedly different from previous Mayall projects. A performance at the Fillmore East provided the tracks for the live album The Turning Point. A studio album, Empty Rooms, was recorded with the same personnel and Mayall continued the experiment of formations without drummers on two more albums. On USA Union a violin replaced the wind instruments and on Memories the band was stripped down to a trio.

In November 1970 Mayall launched a recording project involving most of the notable musicians with whom he had played during the last few years. The double album, Back to the Roots, features Clapton, Mick Taylor, Harvey Mandel and Jerry McGee on guitar, Thompson and Larry Taylor on bass, Keef Hartley and Paul Lagos on drums. Back to the Roots did not promote new names and USA Union and Memories were recorded with American musicians: Mayall had exhausted his catalytic role on the British blues-rock scene. The list of musicians who have benefited from association with him remains impressive[3]

At the start of the seventies Mayall had relocated in the USA where he spent most of the next 15 years, recording with local musicians for various labels. In August 1971, Mayall produced a jazz oriented session for bluesman Albert King[4]

During the next decade Mayall continued shifting musicians and switching labels and released a score of albums. Tom Wilson, Don Nix and Allen Toussaint occasionally served as producers. At this stage of his career most of Mayall's music was rather different from electric blues played by rock musicians, incorporating jazz, funk or pop elements and adding even female vocals. A notable exception is The Last Of the British Blues (1978), a live album excused apparently by its title for the momentaneous return to this type of music [5]
The return of The Bluesbreakers

In 1982 Mayall was reunited with Mick Taylor, John McVie and Colin Allen, three musicians of his sixties lineups, for a brief tour from which a live album would emerge a decade later. In 1984 Mayall restored the name Bluesbreakers for a lineup comprising the two lead guitars of Walter Trout and Coco Montoya, bassist Bobby Haynes and drummer Joe Yuele. The mythic name did perhaps something to enhance the interest in a band which by all standards was already remarkable. A successful world tour and live recordings achieved the rest.

In the early 1990s most of the excitement was already spent and Buddy Whittington became the sole lead guitarist in a formation which included then organist Tom Canning.

Mayall's 70th birthday was the occasion for a get together concert with some previous sidemen, including Clapton, Taylor and a few other well known names.

On the occasion of the 40th year of his career Mayall received carte blanche to invite fellow musicians for the recording of a celebratory album. Along for the Ride appeared in 2001, credited to John Mayall and Friends with twenty names listed on the cover, including some Bluesbreakers, old and new, and also Gary Moore, Jonny Lang, Steve Cropper, Steve Miller, Otis Rush, Billy Gibbons, Chris Rea, Jeff Healey, Shannon Curfman and a few others.

In 2005, Mayall was awarded an OBE in the Honours List. "It's the only major award I've ever received. I've never had a hit record or a Grammy or been in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame." commented Mayall.[6]

In November 2008 Mayall announced on his website he was disbanding the Bluesbreakers to cut back on his heavy workload and give himself freedom to work with other musicians. However three months later a world tour with a new band was announced: Rocky Athas on guitar, Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums. Tom Canning, on organ, joined the band for the tour which started in March 2009. An album was released in September.

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