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John Mayall: In The Pocket at 84

Jim Worsley By

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For the past five and a half decades, John Mayall has written scores of both relevant and joyous music. It should come as no surprise that at the tender age of 84 he continues to do so. It soothingly, and ingeniously, seems to flow out of him like a calm, yet telling, river.

Many years ago, he was dubbed the Father of the British Blues. Rightfully so, as in the early 1960's he created, or revolutionized (depending on your point of view), the British blues in a formidable manner. As a singer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist (keyboards, guitar, and harmonica), Mayall's hard-driving electric boogie is honest, emotional, and real easy to tap your toe to.

Mayall also has much, if not more, distinction as a bandleader. He kick started the careers of many blues and rock artists who went on to formidable careers and fame. Mayall's Bluesbreakers had Eric Clapton on lead guitar prior to Clapton forming Cream with drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce. Bruce also spent some time with the Bluesbreakers. Mick Taylor, who later would join the Rolling Stones, was also a Mayall guitarist. The three men who later founded Fleetwood Mac, guitarist Peter Green, drummer Mick Fleetwood, and bassist John McVie, were all Bluesbreakers. The list goes on and on.

All About Jazz: It is a real pleasure to speak with you this morning. I have been a fan of your music since the '60s. In a long career, there is much to talk about from the past, however, I would like to talk about your new music. You did a terrific new album in 2017. Can we Talk About That? Seems like it was a fun record to make.

John Mayall: Yes, well you know all my records are fun to make. It's very important to get it just right and have everything just where you want it to be. Once you record them and put them out, they're out there forever. Talk About That is another record in the chain that I have put out over the years. I'm very happy with it.

AAJ: It's a very upbeat record with the riff on "Blue Midnight" and the energy of "Across The County Line." Amongst the many fine boogie blues tunes, you have a noteworthy trademark for having at least one song on an album that makes a bold social or political commentary. That song on Talk About That would be "The Devil Must Be Laughing." It's powerful and was also recognized by Independent Blues with the award in the category for the Best Song for the Common Good.

JM: Well you know I make a list of subject matter when I sit down to write songs. One of the things I like to do is keep things up to date. I think the story tells it all about the state we are in. And yes, the recognition is nice. Certainly not something I'm going to turn down.

AAJ: I believe you have another new record that was just released within the past couple of weeks.

JM: Three For The Road is the title of that one. It's my trio format with Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums. We recorded it in East Germany in the middle of a tour. We had the right equipment to do it, and it came out very well I think.

AAJ: Rzab and Davenport have been with you for a number of years now, yes? What can you tell us about them?

JM: I kind of lose count, but it's been over 10 years. They are both from Chicago, so they know what the blues is all about. They do have that background. You know, Greg I've know for many years and he is totally into contemporary blues and all it's history. He is a great player. He suggested a friend of his as a drummer. That turned out to be Jay Davenport. They had worked together and he thought he might be a good fit. You know, it's very important for a bassist and a drummer to be able to be locked in. They have that connection, so that's how that came about.

AAJ: Are you working on any new material?

JM: Yes we are just finishing the new album, which is a studio album. We have a round of guest guitarists on this one. So it will be a nice treat for the guitar freaks.

AAJ: So this would be something like your 66th album release?

JM: Something like that, it's kind of hard to keep track. That would be original albums. There are countless more that are compilations and other things that people have put together over the years. But, I only count the ones that are originals. So that will be another one in the chain.

AAJ: McVie, of course, went on to a great career, but I believe he needed parental approval before he could get started in your band.

JM: McVie was 17 years old or so and working in a tax office, as far as I can remember. He was just beginning to learn the bass. In fact he didn't know what a twelve bar blues was at the very beginning. But he certainly had a natural talent for it. I had to meet with his parents to get their permission to take him out on the road. So we worked that out and ended up playing together for several years.

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