The Second Decade - 1972-1982
2 CD Set Plus DVD Interview Disc
The seven concerts from which these recordings are taken span just ten years (1972-82) in John Mayall's forty-years-plus-and-still-going-strong career. Musically, though, what you have here are brilliant performances which resonate with virtually all stages of his remarkable journey as band leader, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and blues crusader on both sides of the Atlantic. There's a 1982 Bluesbreakers' reunion featuring Mick Taylor and John McVie; and there are also jazz soloisfs from the lineup that produced what Melody Maker then regarded as John's finest album to date - 1972's Jazz-Blues Fusion. In effect, the music on these two CDs takes you anywhere from the Flamingo club to Fillmores East and West.
This collection not only focuses Mayall's highly versatile take on the blues, but it also reminds us of just how prolific a songwriter he has always been. Some of the titles collected here have been previously issued in other versions, whilst most here are previously unissued compositions. (Very early on in his career John Mayall, songwriter, was sought out by Bob Dylan during his first trip to the UK In 1965: Mayall's first single 'Crawling Up A Hill' had captured Dylan's imagination, and the two hung out together for a while on that visit which was filmed as a life-on-the-road documentary 'Don't Look Back'.)
By the time of John's second decade as a pro, the Mayall legend as father of British blues was already set in stone. But this was mostly thanks to the young, would-be guitar legends - notably Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor - who band leader John mentored on to greatness during their time as Bluesbreakers in the second half of the 1960s. But the turn of the 1970s was a big musical, personal and commercial turning point for Mayall himself: within one year he changed musical style, country of residence, and record label.
In 1969 musically he moved on from the classic Brit-blues sound that the Bluesbreakers had defined, to a lineup without drums. In other words, some twenty years ahead of his time, Mayall went 'unplugged'. (Use of dynamics, - he still acknowledges - was the biggest lesson he learned from John Lee Hooker when the Bluesbreakers backed him on his first 1964 UK tour - having the confidence to pull back and not rely totally on in-yer-face electric guitar solos and volume, is what separates the men from the boys.)
Initially, Mayall's pioneering had its doubters. When he took his 'blues without bashing' lineup on tour - firstly in Europe - German promoters were seriously worried... how would audiences react to John's new 'guitar hero-less' blues featuring an acoustic guitar and flute. (Sufficiently worried, apparently, to offer to pay airfares for two sets of musicians!). But the new format went down a storm with audiences, and with Melody Maker's Chris Welch, who described them as "the most original, refreshing group in Britain, nay the world". Even better was the fact that Mayall's vision and need for change brought him the most commercially successful phase of his career up until then, with landmark albums such as The Turning Point, Empty Rooms, and USA Union, released on his new label, Polydor.
Significantly, also in the summer of 1969 Mayall's new band toured America and, reportedly, triumphed over many other acts appearing at the Newport Jazz Festival. (Forever the perfectionist, John told Melody Maker that despite this, the gig for him personally was very disappointing, due to onstage sound problems arising from the Festival's PA system). In the long term, though, to be a hit at Newport must have meant a lot to him because right from childhood John had listened to jazz records by guitarists such as Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian, and pianist Albert Ammons. Music-biz myopia was big in the 1960s, and 'jazzers' did tend to look down upon White-boy blues men. But not any longer.
And so the early 1970s saw to it that John's music moved more to jazz-blues improvisation. In 1970, he left England to settle in California and with that move came a whole new and more flexible approach to making music which, over time, produced the kind of variety that can be heard here in this collection:
"I don't have anybody working for me now," Mayall told Disc, "and as far as being a band leader is concerned, I'm retired. When I've got some work to do I approach certain musicians and say, 'I've got two months' work for so much money, all expenses paid. do you fancy it?'"
At different times in the early 1970s musicians such as Peter Green, UK one-man band Duster Bennett, Canned Heat's Harvey Mandel and Larry Taylor, and jazz violinist Don 'Sugarcane' Harris joined John on this project-by-project or gig-by-gig basis. Drums - in the shape of ex-Bluesbreaker, Aynsley Dunbar - were back in time for the 1970 Bath Festival (for a one-off lineup also featuring Green), but then didn't figure on the next album USA Union.
Sticks and skins did return on 1971's Back To The Roots Polydor album featuring a host of ex-Bluesbreakers including Eric Clapton. The Bluesbreaker connection continues here. on CD1's Frankfurt 1972/73 concerts with Keef Hartley back on drums - Keef sparkles especially bright on 'No Holds Barred'. The other players here first hooked up with Mayall in August 1971 when, as producer, he also played on an Albert King album Lost Session which subsequently was released on Stax. They were Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Clifford Solomon on sax and Freddy Robinson on guitar.
In late 1971/early 1972 the jazz playing of Mitchell (ex-Horace Silver Quintet) and Solomon (ex-Lionel Hampton) would contribute to the critical acclaim of John's Jazz-Blues Fusion album. Guitarist Freddy Robinson came from more of a blues background (Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf and Ray Charles) but sounds just as comfortable with a jazzier item such as 'Got You On My Mind'. Red Holloway on sax replaces Solomon for the 1972 gig. Both Frankfurt performances feature Victor Gaskin on upright bass: his background includes Duke Ellington, Cannonball Adderley and Chico Hamilton. Check out 'Next Time Around' to hear Victor thriving in that Mayall team.
At times during the seven years that separate Frankfurt from the other concerts on Rolling With The Blues, John found himself back on that hard road. (1979 saw disaster strike cruelly when a brush fire at his Lauren Canyon house destroyed an irreplaceable archive of tapes, info and memorabilia documenting his career to date.) But then energy levels are restored for the 1980 Huntington Beach performance, boosted by James Quill Smith's guitar. 'Caught Me In The Middle' augurs the blues-rock update that Mayall honed in his third decade, helped by guitarists such as Walter Trout and Coco Montaya, and continued to the present with BUddy Whittington.
The 1982 Bluesbreakers' reunion finds John McVie on what he described as a welcome sabbatical from the highs and lows of mega-stardom in Fleetwood Mac. The two Italian concerts with Mick Taylor, Steve Thompson and Colin Allen bring back together the full Blues From Lauren Canyon lineup. 'The Stumble' was, of course Peter Green's calling card as a Bluesbreaker: this version takes a different approach with some powerful guitar/piano interplay.
Listening to 'Sitting Here Alone' with Taylor's wild slide and Mayall's emotive harp, the sound of this 1982 performance basically echoes any of Mayall's lour decades. As a songwriter he lives in the moment, and 'Mexico City' is a good example of this. But as a blues man, John Mayall is virtually timeless.
'Jet" Martin Celli/ins
Compilation taken from John Mayall's private collection.
Mastering at Skye Mastering.
Other photos from John Mayall achives, band shot line up is the same as the Minneapolis & Chicago sessions.
(P) (C) 2003 Secret Records Limited
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Compact Disc Digital Audio
8 28291 31 3 2
John Mayall Interview
Duration: 38 Mins
Interview with John Mayall by 'Jet' Martin Celmins, during the John Mayall 2002 UK Tour and the Anvil Theatre, Basingstoke, 29th November 2002
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
(P) (C) 2003 Secret Records Limited
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