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A fascinating look at Mayall's finishing school
Review written by Richard J. Orlando, July 27th, 2005
Listening to this collection of BBC recordings, studio sessions and live performances is a little like finding stacks of unmarked boxes of contact sheets in a photographer's studio - you can attempt to put them back into chronological order and identify all the people, but in the end, it's just guess work. The disc starts off on a high note with blistering renditions of "Crawling Up a Hill", "Crocodile Walk" and Sonny Boy Williamson's "Bye Bye Bird". Each with a running time of well under three minutes, these tracks display the instinctive interplay that Mayall and his rhythm section, John McVie on bass and Hughie Flint, drums, had forged during countless gigs in English pubs. According to the accepted histories of the time, Clapton recorded these sessions just days after joining and one can feel the tension as Clapton listens to the band hurl through the opening number, poised and ready for his solo. Released, he tears through his turn and then steps back, spent. "Crocodile Walk" is similar in arrangement but taken at an easy going stroll, highlighting the lyrics playful imagery. "Bye Bye Bird" is wonderful harmonica romp, with McVie and Flint in unobtrusive support. Here is the seed of what would become "Room to Move". Next up is a track called "Nowhere to Run" - never officially released in any form, it's another strong harp workout for Mayall with McVie carrying the weight of the rhythm, and Mayall's organ playing substituting for a strong lead guitar. This is where things get confused. The disc lists the four songs as being one session - most
sessionographies have this song, plus two others here, "I'm Your Witchdoctor" and "Cheating Woman" as one BBC session and I'd have to agree based on the sound. "Witchdoctor", like the above, substitutes stained organ notes, strummed guitar chords and drum rolls reminiscent of early Who for the bridge, in place of Clapton's guitar on the studio version. The original recording, plus two versions of Mayall's "On Top of the World", the hard-to-find studio version and one done for the BBC, are also here. Who the guitarist was on those three tracks is the subject of vigorous debate amongst those who care to debate such things, but don't let that detract from your enjoyment in listening to them. Confusion is purposefully sowed with the titles: "Everybody's Got Trouble", "Instrumental", "I Won't Be Loving Anymore" and "Times Gonna Come" - these are, respectively: "Lonely Years", "Milkman Strut" from the "Raw Blues" collection, "Burn Out Your Blind Eyes" and Peter Green's "Evil Woman Blues", again from "Raw Blues". Surpassing the opening numbers, the four BBC recordings featuring Peter Green show the band members playing with a ferocity rarely shown even in later years and other line-ups.
Peter's propulsive National Steel work is a rare treat, powering "Riding On the L&N" (the disc highlight). As if to show his versatility, he then does some nimble fingerpicking on "Sitting In the Rain". Abrupt change of pace once again and the band careens through "Leaping Christine" at break-neck speed. Peter's last number is his own "Curly" - shorter than the studio version, this utilizes the heavy power chords he'd build "Green Manalishi" around. Minor quibble, the sound quality is not as good as the earlier tracks, but sadly, it's far to superior to the tracks with Mick Taylor that follow.
You might at first fear that there is something wrong with your stereo but it's just the recordings. Which is a shame as there is more excellent playing found on the tracks but these are truly bootleg" quality. Thankfully, the sound quality improves a bit for the last two numbers, recorded live in Germany in 1969 - the first is Mayall's tribute to one of his idols, the American blues singer J.B. Lenoir -"I'll Fight For You J.B." and a jaunty run through "Laws Must Change". This collection, spotlighting his three most famous guitarists, demonstrates Mayall's versatility as an arranger and bandleader, as have the thirty-five years since these recordings were made.
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"Lonely Years" Incorrectly billed as "Everybody's Got Trouble"
"Milkman Strut" Incorrectly billed as "Instrumental"
"Burn Out Your Blind Eyes" Incorrectly billed as "I Won't Be Loving Anymore"
"Evil Woman Blues" Incorrectly billed as "Times Gonna Come"