What do guitarists Eric Clapton
, Peter Green
, Mick Taylor
, Jon Mark, Harvey Mandel
and Freddy Robinson
, reed/woodwind multi-instrumentalists John Almond
, Ray Warleigh
, Alan Skidmore
, Dick Heckstall-Smith
, Red Holloway
and Ernie Watts
, bassists John McVie
, Jack Bruce
, Andy Fraser, Tony Reeves
, Stephen Thompson and Larry Taylor
, drummers Mick Fleetwood
, Keef Hartley, Aynsley Dunbar, Jon Hiseman
and Collin Allen, trumpeters Henry Lowther
and Blue Mitchell
, and violinist Don "Sugarcane" Harris all share in common? They are but a few of the notable musicians who passed through the revolving door of John Mayall's various groups in a career that now spans nearly six decades. Furthermore, they all participated in the British blues keyboardist, guitarist, vocalist, harmonica player and songwriter's seminal first decade as a bandleader, from 1965 to 1974.
Now 87, Mayall is still going strong barring, of course, the impact of the current pandemic on touring. His most recent album, Nobody Told Me
(Forty Below), was released in 2019, and he last appeared in Ottawa in 2012, where he delivered a knockout set
at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, back when he was still just approaching octogenarian status.
Despite continuing to act as a mentor to up-and-coming musicians across a recording career that now spans nearly six decades, Mayall's first ten years as a recording and performing blues artist remain his best-known and, overall, most loved. So many of the musicians who passed through the many incarnations of his Bluesbreakers band and subsequent groups from 1965 through 1974 would go on to even more significant personal artistic achievements and, in some cases, greater fame and fortune. Amongst them, Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce moved on to form the guitar power trio Cream, before splitting up after a mere 29 months, with the guitarist building an even more successful solo career, a true guitar legend to this day.
Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood left Mayall en masse
, minting the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac and, continuing the blues tradition they'd honed with Mayall, lasting just shy of three years before Green's substance issues forced him to leave the group. The guitarist would disappear and reappear on the music scene more than once in the ensuing years, but continued to record and tour, ultimately experiencing an artistic revival with his Splinter Group beginning in 1997. Fleetwood and McVie, of course, soldiered on through various transitional Fleetwood Mac lineups until, having relocated to the USA, they encountered guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham
and singer Stevie Nicks. The rest, as they say, is history.
Mick Taylor took leave from Mayall to replace the increasingly unpredictable Brian Jones
in the The Rolling Stones
. Recording and touring with the band during its 1969-1974 heyday, he first appeared on the landmark Let It Bleed
(Decca, 1969), continuing to participate on five more studio and live albums through It's Only Rock 'n Roll
(Rolling Stones Records, 1974).
So: What's In the Box?
But it was Mayall's ever-shifting, ever-fertile musical turf that provided these and countless other musicians an early home to hone their skills in preparation for future accomplishments. A massive 35-CD box set and much, much more, The First Generation 1965-1974
finally places Mayall's seminal first decade as a bandleader in proper historical context. Containing newly remastered reissues of Mayall's first twelve studio albums, six live recordings and two compilations (including a few double-disc sets), many of them featuring additional bonus material, The First Generation 1965-1974
also includes Mayall's first two singles, and his EP-length collaboration, All My Life EP
(Decca, 1967), with the already emergent American singer, harmonica master and bandleader, Paul Butterfield
As if that weren't enough, the box also includes a two-disc set of BBC recordings from April 1965 through November 1968, taken from a variety of sources ranging from relatively low-fi radio broadcast recordings to more pristine masters. A further seven previously unreleased live recordings round out the set, all sounding like audience recordings of varying quality, but sonically restored as best as possible and still plenty listenable.
As with Madfish's two other recent mega-box sets, Gentle Giant
's Unburied Treasure
(2019) and Wishbone Ash
's The Vintage Years 1970-1991
(2018), the label has truly gone the extra mile to provide definitive remasters of every CD included in the box. Madfish has also taken an additional, most welcome step by housing all but the two singles and EP in gatefold mini-LP sleeves that often include liner notes and, occasionally, reproductions of Mayall's lyrics.
The CDs are also placed in individual paper sleeves for added protection. Such seemingly small details demonstrate the extent to which Madfish goes to deliver quality box sets that justify their irrefutably dear price tag. Still, when compared to recent, similarly priced box sets like Pink Floyd
's The Later Years 1987-2019
(Legacy Recordings, 2019), it becomes clear that Madfish, in its ongoing program of full or partial career-spanning mega-box sets, is providing true value for money.
With the understanding that there may be limitations in the source material, the label has created new, definitive remasters that are as broadly dynamic, rich, punchy and crystal clear as modern technology can manage. Sonically, it's no surprise that the original commercial albums largely shine the best.
Still, even the audience recordings sound pretty darn good. A collection of live material with the Peter Green/John McVie/Mick Fleetwood Bluesbreakers lineup, taken from four dates in April and May 1967, may come from audience recordings, but their restored, cleaned up audio makes a considerable difference. Elsewhere, the final live recording of a stellar set recorded at San Francisco's legendary Fillmore West, recorded in April 1970, sounds even better. This 45-minute performance features Mayall's first largely unplugged group with guitarist Jon Mark and saxophonist/flautist Johnny Almond but, unlike that group's game-changing, drummer-less live debut, The Turning Point
(Polydor, 1969), the Fillmore performance finds Mayall's quartet further fleshed out with the addition of drummer Duster Bennett.
If there's any criticism of The First Generation 1965-1975
, and it's a very small one, it's this: given that many of the remastered commercial albums in the box set include bonus tracks, splitting out Mayall's two singles and his EP with Paul Butterfield
into three separate CDs doesn't make a whole lot of sense. With both singles featuring Clapton, including them as added bonus tracks on the box set's two-CD version of Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton
(Decca, 1966) wouldn't have been at all inconsistent. Similarly, given that the core group on both A Hard Road
and All My Life EP
(both Decca, 1967) include Peter Green, John McVie and Aynsley Dunbar, there'd have been zero incongruity in appending the the 13-minute EP, in its entirety, as bonus tracks at the end of the full-length LP.
It is, indeed, a small quibble, even for those who always listen to hard media and will have to deal with some added inconvenience just to play three CDs that are between seven and 13 minutes in length. On the other hand, for those who extract the audio from their CDs onto a home server in order to stream music anywhere in their households, the issue becomes moot. So, overall, it's an even smaller quibble.
To dovetail with over 26 hours of music, The First Generation 1965-1974
also includes plenty of written material, photos, article reprints, and images of memorabilia like tickets and promotional adverts to go along with the notes and/or lyrics included with many of the CDs. Limited to just 5,000 copies worldwide, the box includes a signed photo of Mayall to authenticate the set, along with two large posters: one, from a festival at Lake Wyddrington in Birmingham; the other, an artistic promotional poster for Mayall and his Bluesbreakers. But it's the two books included in The First Generation 1965-1974
that contribute, along with all the music, to shaping as complete a picture of Mayall's first decade as can be found anywhere.
Following the various movements of musicians in, out and sometimes back into Mayall's orbit is complex enough to make the head spin. Still, an extensive biography, written by Neil Slaven and included in the 168-page, 12"x12" hardcover coffee table book (with additional material from Cliff Dane), provides a vivid view into the life of a maverick, musical and otherwise, who followed his own muse and, on many fronts, from a surprisingly young age. It also places into chronological context the multiple arrivals and departures that were, in part, a consequence of Mayall's band mates looking to move on to even greener pastures but, equally, the result of their bandleader's relentless, ongoing search for change, growth and evolution. Enlightening, engaging and entertaining, Slaven's biography is a perfect dovetail to Mayall's own autobiography, Blues from Laurel Canyon: My Life as a Bluesman
(Omnibus Press, 2019), written in collaboration with Joel McIver. The First Generation 1965-1974
's hardcover book also includes a wealth of images, article and newspaper clipping reprints, full-size reproductions of Mayall's multiple albums covers (front, back and inside gatefolds where appropriate) released during that first decade. A detailed tour history from 1964 through 1974, photos of the many musicians who passed through Mayall's groups during that all-important period, and a complete listing of all the CDs included the box flesh out this informative and attractive book.
If that weren't enough, a roughly 140-page softcover book provides even greater detail and insight into the bluesman's career, with artist bios, tour updates, interviews, pen-pal requests, classified instrument sale ads and much more, as told through newsletters mailed out during the roughly two-year lifespan of the John Mayall Fan Club. These monthly correspondences were initially handled by Goldaming, Surrey resident Doreen Pettifer from early 1968 through to August 1969. Julie Chapman assumed the fan club's secretarial duties when it was relocated to the central London office of Mayall's management company, with Penny Knight taking over in March 1970, managing the fan club newsletters (and more) until its apparent demise in July 1970.
Taken together, these two books, along with a press kit reproduction for Mayall's live debut LP, provide a fascinating account of Mayall's life and career, from the release of March 1965's John Mayall Plays John Mayall: Recorded Live at Klook's Kleek
, the first of nine LPs released by Decca, through to September 1974's The Latest Edition
, the last of nine albums released by Polydor.
An Intrepid Maverick
Beyond covering that all-important first decade as a recording artist, and what has ultimately become a long life spent as bandleader and mentor to countless musicians from both sides of the Atlantic, The First Generation 1965-1974
demonstrates the palpable growth of Mayall's skill and confidence as a singer, harmonica player, keyboardist, guitarist and songwriter. It also shines a bright light on a career that never stood still, not even for a moment, as Mayall experimented with various and sometimes most unusual instrumental lineups and contexts, especially for what was ostensibly a blues-rock band.
Born in November, 1933, as a teenager Mayall had already evolved into an independent thinker. Striving for autonomy and self-reliance, Mayall built the first of a number of treehouses in which he lived and which became increasingly sophisticated as he moved from his mid-teens through to his early twenties. Prior to relocating to London with his first wife Pamela in early 1963, in fact, the Mayall family (children included) was living in a spacious treehouse that even had electricity and running water. An article about Mayall's tree-living proclivities in the Manchester Evening News
waxed further on about his treehouse's carpets and wallpaper, stove and gramophone, as Mayall swayed "30 feet above the ground in the branches of the tree," and "practises on his guitar and listens to his large collection of records."
In addition to honing his musical abilities, Mayall was a talented artist and skilled craftsman. Beyond designing album covers and promotional posters, Mayall often built his own furniture and instruments. If that weren't enough, he stitched together his own clothing with a sewing machine, including the signature buckskin clothes and moccasins seen on the lyric insert to Blues from Laurel Canyon
(Decca, 1968). He also designed and made an around-the-body strap, used to hold his many harmonicas.
Many of those harmonicas (each in a different key) were acquired through blues great Sonny Boy Williamson, whom the aspiring British bluesman considered to be a personal mentor after supported him, while touring the U.K., with an early version of Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Taking him under his wing, Williamson even brought Mayall to a Hohner harmonica factory, ensuring that the younger musician was outfitted with a number of harmonicas made exclusively for the elder blues statesman, and which were otherwise not available for sale.
With each passing year documented in The First Generation 1965-1974
, it's possible to hear Mayall grow from a capable harmonica player to a far more accomplished one, capable of blues-drenched lines and chugging, percussive rhythms. Despite being a fine keyboardist, an increasingly impressive singer and a skilled guitarist it was on harmonica where Mayall's most distinctive voice would emerge.
When it comes to repertoire, Mayall has, of course, covered his fair share of songs, both classics and deeper tracks, many from well-known blues and soul/R&B stars, like Smokey Robinson's "When I'm Gone," Freddie King's "The Stumble," Willie Dixon and Otis Rush's "I Can't Quit You, Baby" and Sonny Boy Williamson's "Checkin' Up On My Baby." Mayall's breakout album, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton
(Decca, 1966), would prove, in fact, to be an exception in his early discography. Consisting largely of covers, Mayall only contributes three originals alongside the guitarist's one, plus the grinding "Double Crossin' Time," which is credited to both British musicians.
Still, even that album's covers were uniquely played, even beyond the band's simpatico support of Mayall and Clapton's often incendiary playing on an album richly steeped in the blues tradition. Tipping his hat to The Beatles
' "Day Tripper," released just seven months prior, Clapton quotes its signature guitar riff in the final verse to the group's fiery take on Ray Charles
' hit "What'd I Say," following Hughie Flint's impressive, extended drum solo.
Still, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton
is, indeed, an anomaly in The First Generation 1965-1974
. The balance of the recordings reveal a significant cornerstone and increasing differentiator in Mayall's work, beginning with his very first album. Of John Mayall Plays John Mayall
's dozen tracks, all but one are Mayall originals. This was in sharp contrast to many of his British blues-rock contemporaries. Unlike the Rolling Stones' early albums and contemporaneous releases from Alexis Korner
, Georgie Fame
and Graham Bond
, Mayall either wrote or co-wrote the lion's share of the music found in The First Generation 1965-1974
. Covers were the exception rather than the rule, though occasional originals were also contributed by some of his band mates.
Writing, Interpreting and Revisiting
Sifting through the massive amount of music in The First Generation 1965-1974
, it's also surprising to discover how little repetition takes place, relatively speaking. In most instances, it's found in either the live recordings, BBC sessions or the two retrospective collections also included (and for good reason). This represents another significant departure for an artist whose British blues-rock contemporaries either regularly revisited material or continued to draw their repertoire from the classics.
It's also the clear sign of an artist who, for the most part, has largely looked forward and rarely back. Of The First Generation 1965-1974
's 26-plus hours of music spread across a whopping 270 individual songs, only 60 of are repeated, and usually only once but very occasionally as often as three times. Even when Mayall purposefully reunited with some of his past band members on albums like Back to the Roots
(Polydor, 1971), it was invariably with a new collection of original compositions and in new instrumental configurations, never replicating his prior lineups.
Suffice to say, however, that the unique qualities which defined virtually every Mayall lineup from 1965 to 1974, whether in instrumentation or group size and ranging from quartet to nonet, ensure that even the relatively few instances of repeated material are different from one another. Beyond that, each and every musician that passed through Mayall's many lineups brought their own distinctive voices to bear, whether in tone, style and/or approach. One need only look at the significant stylistic differences between guitarists Clapton, Green, Taylor, Robinson and Mark, not to mention Mayall's constant shakeups in band composition, to fully appreciate just how much evolution and forward motion was taking place, no matter where a pin is stuck along the rather complicated timeline of Mayall's first decade.
Beyond shuffling musicians in and out of his groups, Mayall also pursued innovative ways of reinterpreting the blues in surprising contexts. One of his most highly regarded was the (relatively) unplugged, drummer-less group with finger-style acoustic guitarist Jon Mark, saxophonist/flautist Johnny Almond and bassist Stephen Thompson, first heard together on the groundbreaking live album (in itself, a ballsy move) The Turning Point
(Polydor, 1969) and studio followup released just six months later, Empty Rooms
(Polydor, 1970). Beyond being a most unusual lineup for a blues band of that (or any) time, the improvisational interplay amongst Mayall and this particular collection of musicians confidently straddled the line between blues and jazz, with the quartet taking unusual and unanticipated risks, especially during The Turning Point
's lengthier excursions.
When he brought the group to the USA, however, the bandleader began to invite multi-instrumentalist Tony "Duster" Bennett, who was opening Mayall's shows as a "one man band," to guest with his group on drums. Never documented on any of Mayall's commercial albums, Bennett is, however, well represented on the 1970 Fillmore West show included in The First Generation 1965-1974
Mayall's increasing commercial success was not always an advantage, however. Between the challenges of cutting through larger, noisy venues with an acoustic band, a failure to develop a large enough repertoire of new music, and his own issues with alcohol at the time, Mayall disbanded the group with Mark, Almond and Thompson, leading to a return to electricity for USA Union
(Polydor), released in October 1970. Still, Mayall's new lineup remained without a drummer, bringing together ex-Canned Heat bassist Larry Taylor and his former band mate, guitarist Harvey Mandel, alongside Mayall newcomer, Don "Sugarcane" Harris. The violinist (often using an electric instrument) had already made a name for himself with his extended soloing during two of Frank Zappa's longest tracks on Hot Rats
Challenging the Norm from Many Sides
Before and after the watershed of The Turning Point
, however, Mayall remained on the lookout for new and different ways to challenge a genre that might appear, for some, to be stylistically confined. Mick Taylor was just 18 and already a remarkably mature guitarist when he first appeared with Mayall on Crusade
(Decca, 1967) and the more experimental Bare Wires
(Decca, 1968), recorded and released just nine months apart. Bare Wires
' side-long, seven-song continuous title suite opens with a most un
bluesy, harmonium-driven and brief title song that sets the tone, lyrically, for what's to come:
"These are the bare wires of my life
Since it was cut down the middle by love
Tides have been turning
I have been learning
All my bare wires are alive
All my bare wires are alive."
The rest of the album is more firmly rooted in a kind of blues, especially when Mayall provides space for Taylor to let loose. Still, with saxophonists Chris Mercer and Dick Heckstall-Smith alongside cornetist/violinist Henry Lowther in the mix, Bare Wires
represents another luculent move towards a more jazz-inflected, free-wheeling approach to blues-rock. Jon Hiseman and Tony Reeves also stepped into these sessions, on drums and bass respectively, before subsequently moving on to form the jazz-rock collective Colosseum with Heckstall-Smith. Still, the pair was already working its seamless fusion of jazz spontaneity and rock energy in the context of Mayall's bluesier disposition with "Fire," the fifth song in the "Bare Wires Suite." An improv-heavy excursion in collective free play, Mercer, Heckstall-Smith and Lowther quickly fade out, however, leaving Mayall's harmonized lyrics and harmonica work accompanied solely by Hiseman's loosely responsive and increasingly frenetic kit work, clearly more rooted in jazz than blues but with a dynamic and spirit that's all rock.
In the midst of this revised and revisionist Bluesbreakers lineup, Mayall managed to record and release the more determinedly blues-centric The Blues Alone
(Ace of Clubs Records, 1967). Coming just two months after Crusade
, which was also drummer and future bandleader Keef Hartley's first recorded appearance with Mayall, The Blues Alone
represents yet another anomaly in a career not just filled with but defined by them, being Mayall's only proper solo album from his first decade.
With the exception of Hartley contributing drums to eight of the album's twelve original Mayall compositions, Mayall plays all the instruments, even playing drums on two tracks and bass on four. The box set version of The Blues Alone
also adds two bonus tracks: a more firmly swinging first take of the album-opening "Brand New Start," which substitutes organ for the released take's reverb-drenched guitar; and an initial reading of the spare piano and drums instrumentation heard on "Marsha's Mood," expanded with the addition of Hammond organ.
The entire The Blues Alone
features a surprising variety of unusual instrumental configurations, including "Catch That Train," which is a solo harmonica feature, blending Mayall's propulsive playing with a field recording of a train. But there are proper solo tracks too, like "Broken Wings," where Mayall sings, accompanied only by Hammond organ. Mayall does, however, take full advantage of the ability to overdub multiple instruments in the studio. The riff-driven "Harp Man," for example, features Hartley propelling Mayall's layered harmonica, bass and, most unusually for a blues record, celeste. The album-closing "Don't Kick Me," on the other hand, with its gritty rhythm guitar and Hammond organ, finds the multi-instrumentalist and singer, again accompanied by Hartley, also overdubbing voice, piano and bass to create a more full-fledged band sound.
Initially released on the Ace of Clubs Records imprint before being subsequently reissued by his regular label at the time, Decca (but not until 39 years later), The Blues Alone
stands out as yet another unique entry in Mayall's extensive and far-reaching discography.
Another example of Mayall's envelope-pushing came with the concurrently released live albums, The Diary of a Band Volume One
and The Diary of a Band Volume Two
(both Decca, 1968). At a time when live recordings were usually a far more expensive prospect, the ever-industrious Mayall, instead, acquired a portable Truvox Stereophonic P99 tape recorder, set it on top of his Hammond organ, and pressed "record" each night. Capturing over sixty hours of music with a sextet featuring Taylor, Hartley and new bassist Keith Tillman alongside Mayall, Mercer and Heckstall-Smith, these recordings were all made during a fall 1967 tour of the U.K.
The 12 tracks culled for the two-volume The Diary of a Band
(six tracks a piece) may suffer from less than ideal sonics, but they demonstrate the kind of rapid evolution a stable lineup can undergo from a regular, chock-a-block touring schedule that few can achieve in today's musical climate (pandemic excluded). Taylor, in particular, can be heard to staggering effect, especially on a 10-minute version of "I Can't Quit You Baby," the clear highlight of Volume One
. The guitarist seems to evolve almost moment-by-moment, deftly blending a blazing tone, distinctively broad vibrato and visceral blues-bends with pyrotechnic passages and a remarkably focused ability to build his solo from its scorched earth beginnings to a near-nuclear blast conclusion. Heckstall-Smith, too, delivers an impressively incendiary tenor solo, where he occasionally adds concurrent soprano saxophone, Rahsaan Roland Kirk
(Polydor, 1971) is another aberration in the discography of Mayall's first decade: his one and only drummer-less trio record. This time, Mayall is accompanied by two Americans: bassist Larry Taylor; and Jerry McGee, a session guitarist who'd racked up some significant credits by this time, from the Monkees and the Ventures to singer Nancy Sinatra and organist Booker T. Jones
, and who would go on to future work with singers Rita Coolidge
, Kris Kristoffersen, Rosanne Cash and Dwight Yoakam, amongst many others. An accomplished guitarist who also brings Dobro and sitar guitar to the Mayall session, McGee had actually made his first appearance with Mayall on the two-LP set, Back to the Roots
, released eight months prior to Memories
also stands on its own for Mayall's use of more unusual compositional forms on songs like the opening title track, despite nevertheless providing plenty of opportunities for improvisational forays. And if McGee was capable of bringing plenty of blues to the proceedings, he also possessed clear roots in country music, especially with his cleaner, tarter tone.
As an unshakable anchor still capable of greater freedom, Larry Taylor first guested with Mayall to great effect in a bass duo with the bandleader's then-regular bassist, Stephen Thompson, on Empty Rooms
' "To a Princess." He then replaced Thompson in the band for the subsequent USA Union
, remaining with Mayall until he shared bass duties with Victor Gaskin on the live, more soul-informed Moving On
(Polydor, 1972). Leaving Mayall's employ, Taylor subsequently returned for the bluesman's final studio effort in The First Generation 1965-1974
box, The Latest Edition
Looking Forward, Rarely Looking Back
Returning to Back to the Roots
, it was an ambitious project ultimately expanded, on CD, to include eight additional tracks from the original release that Mayall later remixed. Back to the Roots
was intended as a rare look back at the many musicians with whom Mayall had collaborated over the past six years but, instead of reuniting original lineups, Mayall brought together new groupings with players who had often not played together before.
For the propulsive album opener "Prisons on the Road," the first of eighteen new Mayall songs to appear on the original Back to the Roots
's two LPs, Eric Clapton ups the ante, following "Sugarcane" Harris' exhilarating solo with a positively high octane feature in a quintet that also includes Larry Taylor and Paul Lagos. A drummer who had already been playing with Harris and Mandel, both together and separately, Lagos would continuing to work with them into the decade, even if Back to the Roots
represents his only appearance with Mayall.
Mayall also brings some of his many past guitar partners together for the first time. So, beyond Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor and Harvey Mandel contributing separately to a number of tracks, they team up for the lengthier, drummer-less "Accidental Suicide," referring to the late Jimi Hendrix
and his tragic passing six months earlier. The three guitarists also collaborate on "Force of Nature," a feature for Taylor's slide work and with Mayall playing drums in addition to overdubbed harmony vocal lines.
Taylor and McGee also come together for the nearly eight-minute extended blues, "Devil's Tricks." Taylor's thickly overdriven Les Paul tone is featured during his lengthy solo, and contrasts significantly with McGee's more crystalline Fender, both in the American guitarist's accompaniment throughout the song and with some extemporaneous lines layered beneath Mayall's vocals during the song's closing verse and chorus.
"Sugarcane" Harris appears on nearly half the record, while Johnny Almond contributes saxophones and flutes to seven. His wonderful bass flute work at the start of the waltz-time "My Children" renders crystal clear that it can, indeed, be a credible blues instrument. Elsewhere, following Mayall's impressive organ excursion, Almond also delivers an equally substantive tenor saxophone solo. The majority of his contributions may be on saxophone, but Almond also adds flute to the softer complexion of "Dream With Me." With Mandel playing a harmony line against Almond's flute, the song feels almost like early Jethro Tull
, especially towards the song's conclusion, when Almond vocalizes alongside his flute.
On other tracks, Back to the Roots
is a more potent brew, with Hartley and Larry Taylor providing the chugging rhythm of a train on "Full Speed Ahead," as Mayall's harmonica solo matches Harris' searing, virtuosic violin gymnastics, with the tempo seeming, indeed, to pick up steam. Hartley and Taylor also drive the hard rocking "Mr. Censor Man," with Mick Taylor's gritty playing and Mayall's piano work lending the song a Stones-like vibe. Meanwhile, it may be a solo piano piece, but Mayall's appropriately titled "Boogie Albert" keeps the energy up, even as Mayall brings things down with the balladic "Goodbye December." A song that seems to have little to do with conventional blues forms, "Goodbye December" nevertheless feels aligned with the genre and the rest of the album, especially with Clapton's wah wah'd electric guitar solo in keeping with both the song and the style.
Mayall also shuffles the rhythm section throughout the album, but only a touch. So, barring some drummer-less tracks, Hartley splits percussion duties with Lagos, while Larry Taylor emerges as the only constant alongside Mayall, playing bass on every track for which the instrument is required.
That the album was recorded quickly and with no rehearsal only makes Back to the Roots
shine all the more. It's unfortunate, however, that some of the former bandmates with whom Mayall wanted to work were unavailable or impossible to track down. And so, Peter Green and Jon Mark, along with Roger Dean, Mayall's first recorded guitarist (who appeared solely on John Mayall Plays John Mayall
), were no shows. As were John McVie and Mick Fleetwood (both occupied with Green in Fleetwood Mac), alongside Aynsley Dunbar and many others. Still, beyond being a substantive reunion of many of Mayall's past collaborators, Back to the Roots
is also a more focused blues album that reflects its title, largely eschewing the jazz elements that had begun to creep into the band beginning with The Turning Point
. Mayall still manages to shake things up, however, with a drummer-less trio featuring Clapton and Larry Taylor on the swinging "Home Again," along with a bevy of other quartet and quintet offerings.
A Guitarist's Treasure Trove, Pt. 1
More than anything else, Back to the Roots
is a reminder of just how different the many guitarists that came through Mayall's bands were, even as they were all called upon to act as blues players. It's unfortunate, then, that former Mayall guitarists Dean, Green and Mark, along with more short-lived six stringers Geoff Krivit and Bernie Watson, were unavailable, as the album could have been a single place where all of the guitarists with whom Mayall played during his important first decade were compared and contrasted.
Despite his increasingly progressive (but still largely blues based) pop excursions with Cream, Back to the Roots
demonstrates that Clapton had lost none of the blues cred that made him such a vital contributor to the group responsible for Mayall's Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton
. Included here as a two-CD set, the album is presented in both mono and stereo, along with five songs, totalling 20 minutes, featuring the same lineup from an April 1966 date at the West London Soho area's Flamingo Club. Undeniably virtuosic and with, perhaps, the broadest reach of any of Mayall's British guitarists during these first ten years, Clapton was, nevertheless, a player of consummate taste, and one for whom every note counted.
It's more than a bit funny that, earlier in his career, Clapton was deemed "unrecordable" by the engineer attempting to lay Mayall's early single, "I'm Your Witch Doctor," backed with "Telephone Blues," down to tape because of the guitarist's "extreme" volume, the result of combining a Les Paul guitar and Marshall amplifier stack. This was, coincidentally, a powerful combo that Clapton's replacement in The Yardbirds
, future Led Zeppelin
guitarist and already seasoned session player Jimmy Page
, attributed to Clapton as the first guitarist to use it. Loud it may have been, but other engineers quickly figured out how to successively record it, with the combination quickly becoming one of the evergreen guitar/amp combos in rock music.
Another single with Clapton-era Bluesbreakers, "Lonely Years" released in 1966 and backed by "'Bernard Jenkins,'" is remarkable for being recorded at London's popular Wessex Studios in just a single afternoon. Both songs are simple duos by Mayall and Clapton, with "'Bernard Jenkins'" featuring just piano and guitar and freely improvised on the spot. Along with the guitar/harmonica/vocals blend of "Lonely Years," the two tracks were recorded with the (successful) intention of credibly emulating the blues sound coming out of Chicago.
Meanwhile, even at such a young age, Mick Taylor possessed a distinctive tone and approach that may have been less overtly blues-oriented when compared with Clapton's time with Mayall, but his slide work rendered him as a positive standout. And if Clapton was considered, by some, to be a more soulful player, Taylor's solo on Back to the Roots
' down and dirty "Marriage Madness" is just one example, alongside his staggering Diary of a Band Volume One
's "I Can't Quit You Baby" solo, of a guitarist who hardly lacked in the feel department.
Taylor also holds the record as the longest-standing guitarist during Mayall's first decade. Joining the band in May 1967 and remaining for two full years through May 1969, Taylor appears on Crusade
, Bare Wires
, Blues From Laurel Canyon
and the two Diary of a Band
live volumes, in addition to a sizeable chunk of the two-disc BBC Recordings
and four of The First Generation 1965-1974
's seven previously unreleased live sets. Taylor is also well represented on Looking Back
and Thru the Years
(1972), two fine Decca collections of largely previously unissued or non-album tracks that were issued, with Mayall's blessing, after he'd switched labels to Polydor.
The only musician who lasted longer than Taylor in Mayall's groups was bassist John McVie. A positively unshakable anchor, McVie was the bandleader's bassist of choice from February 1963 through August 1967, though he occasionally left and returned to Mayall's employ due to drinking and other issues. Still, despite his revolving door participation in Mayall's Bluesbreakers, McVie was a part of five different lineups. The bassist's deep grooves and gut-punching tone can be heard on a full eight albums, from John Mayall Plays John Mayall
, in addition to appearing on a number of the BBC sessions, assorted tracks on Looking Back
and Thru the Years
, and three of The First Generation 1965-1974
's previously unreleased live CDs.
As a Detroit-born American, Harvey Mandel held a different and, some might argue, deeper connection to the blues. By the time he teamed up with Mayall, he'd already garnered plenty of acclaim for his tenure in Canned Heat, including the band's knockout performance at Woodstock in 1969
, a gig that included the largely spontaneous, 29-minute epic "Woodstock Boogie," where Mandel's blend of blues and psychedelia was on full display.
Beyond his participation on seven of Back to the Roots
' 18 tracks (the most of any guitarist on the album), Mandel only appeared as Mayall's full-time guitarist on one album, USA Union
. Still, Mandel's disposition towards a cleaner tone, occasionally augmented with a wah wah pedal, gave USA Union
its own distinct complexion, and a particular contrast to The Turning Point
and Empty Rooms
' acoustic leanings. Mandel worked well with Mayall's own warm-toned guitar and Harris' reverb-heavy electric violin work to make the album a fine entry in The First Generation 1965-1974
's collection of commercial releases, and a stylistic alternative to Mayall's drummer-less group with Mark and Almond. USA Union
is also notable for liner notes contributed by renowned Downbeat Magazine
scribe, Leonard Feather.
Mining Life for Lyrics
An album quickly put together following the dissolution of Mayall's Turning Point
group and a one-off all star-heavy appearance at the U.K.'s Bath Festival, USA Union
also continues Mayall's largely autobiographical songwriting bent. Still, beyond a number of songs that documented his romance with Nancy Throckmorton (who provided some photos for the album sleeve), Mayall also contributes the album-opening "Nature's Disappearing," one of the first songs ever to address ecological concerns.
Mayall certainly didn't shy away from writing about love, a common source for blues lyric writing from the perspectives of both the good and and bad times. But in Mayall's case the subject matter largely remained about his own experiences, documenting various short-lived and longer-term romantic encounters experienced in his first decade.
Even so, Mayall didn't just write about love found, lost and then found again. He occasionally provided political commentary that, in some cases, remains relevant to this day. And if other blues writers documented their own lives in song, few went to Mayall's extremes. Blues From Laurel Canyon
, as just one example, is largely a travelogue of Mayall's three-week summer vacation in California, which led to his relocating to the USA for the next decade. Its tracks seamlessly move from one to the next as the album begins with the sound of a jet engine taking off, and Mayall's pondering:
"Ten hours in a plane, England left behind.
Back here in L.A., wonder what I'll find.
Summertime, my plane is coming down,
I'm wandering man and this is gonna be my town."
The rest of the album, featuring a knockout quartet with Mick Taylor, bassist Stephen Thompson and drummer Colin Allen, documents a variety of subjects in a musical context connected to the blues but, at the same time, different and innovative for the time. Beyond the inclusion of a jet plane in the opening "Vacation," the song was less blues and more progressive, psychedelic even, its repetitive four-chord figure mirrored by Mayall's dense Hammond organ and Thompson's rock-steady bass work. Further propelled by Allen's animated drumming, it was also a feature for some of Mick Taylor's most overdriven and ferocious playing on record.
Mayall also contributes some distinctly non-blues ideas to the record. Tablas and the sound of guitar strings being struck with drum sticks are just one example during the nine-minute album closer, "Fly Tomorrow," which opens in a rather obscure fashion before a blues pattern finally emerges. During the song, Taylor takes a full three-minute solo that builds, with Mayall's Hammond accompaniment, to a fever pitch before the bandleader takes a brief solo of his own, as the song gradually dissolves back to its more oblique beginnings.
Amongst the subjects documented by Mayall? A visit with Frank Zappa (a "hero" who is "trying to change the system") at the guitarist's Laurel Canyon log cabin home (address: "2401"). Mayall's first impressions of the renowned Sunset Strip ("Walking on Sunset"). An encounter with the famous groupie, Catherine James ("Miss James"), and a visit with Canned Heat ("The Bear"), where Mayall ultimately lived with co-lead singer Bob Hite, absorbing the band's huge collection of blues albums. It was there that Mayall met Larry Taylor and Harvey Mandel, who subsequently figured in his work following his decision to relocate to America. Peter Green makes a brief but notable return as a guest on the dark-hued "First Time Alone," adding some spare yet highly evocative soloing to a song that is otherwise confined to Mayall's vocals, supported solely by his Hammond organ.
With Mayall's California vacation ultimately leading to a 10-year relocation to America from 1969 to 1979, initially with Mick Taylor also in tow, he began to record there as well. Beyond recording parts of Empty Rooms
in London (the balance in New York City and Hollywood), all of Mayall's subsequent albums in The First Generation 1965-1974
box were recorded fully in American studios, most in Los Angeles but occasionally in New York City as well. The only exception was Back to the Roots
, where parts of the album were recorded in England to accommodate its Britain-based participants.
During the first five years of his career, Mayall toured extensively in the U.K. and, increasingly, across mainland Europe. He finally made it to USA for the first time in January, 1968, hitting the road for a brief tour that commenced with a 13-date residency at New York's Club Au Go-Go. Barring one night in Detroit, however, the balance of Mayall's dates during this tour took place in either Los Angeles or San Francisco, including the band's final nights at the Fillmore West from February 8-10.
The band, with Mick Taylor, was very well received. Billboard
's Hank Fox was particularly enthusiastic, writing that Mayall and his Bluesbreakers:
..."have the ingredients for making it in America. They've got a wide following in England... and most of all, professional stage presence and substantial talent. 'Palatable blues' is the best way to describe the Bluesbreakers' repertoire. Theirs is not gutsy blues; it can be quite commercial... Musically, the group evokes an exciting sound without the loudness usually associated with blues-rock... the group's set at Au Go-Go met with enthusiastic response from an audience which digs blues but the spectrum of the Bluesbreakers' audience is much broader."
After a return to Europe for more touring and the recording of Bare Wires
, Mayall and his band crossed the ocean to the USA once again in September of the same year. This time, however, they carved a broad swath across the country, from north to south and east to west, even including Mayall's first Canadian date in Montréal. While he'd ultimately return to Canada the following year with The Turning Point
lineup, playing dates in Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver, barring one final date in Vancouver later that year, Mayall would not return to the Great White North again during his first decade on the road.
As a relatively rare musician possessed, at the time, of a strong business sense to dovetail with his artistic proclivities, Mayall invariably took advantage of touring as a networking opportunity. Most gigs led, consequently, to meeting up with other musicians and industry folks. But there was more good news on the horizon after his return to England on February 12, 1968 where, following his first American tour, Mayall was met with the surprising news that he had eclipsed Eric Clapton, Georgie Fame
, Alexis Korner
and Long John Baldry
as the weekly Melody Maker
's top "Blues Artist: British."
Mayall managed to chart early in his career, starting in the U.K. with Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton
, which reached number six on the country's album chart. His first charting album in the USA was Crusade
, though it only reached a relatively meager 136. Still, from that point through USA Union
, Mayall's chart positions in America continued to rise. The Turning Point
, Mayall's first album, to make it onto Billboard
's Top 40, also spent the longest period of any Mayall record released during that first decade on the American chart, lasting a most impressive 55 weeks. The album achieved gold status in the USA and, peaking at number 32 on the Billboard
album chart, also managing to hit number six on the U.K. album chart. That represented a significant improvement over Blues from Laurel Canyon
, which peaked at number 33, a serious drop from Bare Wires
' number three position on the U.K. album chart. The Turning Point
's followup, Empty Rooms
, also fared well as Mayall's fifth and final Top 10 U.K. album, and success in the USA, where it also reached number 33, a drop of just one position following The Turning Point
's peak at 32.
A Guitarist's Treasure Trove, Pt. 2: Dean & Green
Of Mayall's many guitarists, Roger Dean (no, not the artist who designed so many covers for Yes
) may be the most unfairly overlooked. John Mayall Plays John Mayall
, as a first album for the leader, is far from a stellar outing. Mayall's ability as a lyric writer is still formative, his voice far from mature and his attempts at scatting alongside his 9-string guitar playing on tracks like "When I'm Gone" something he'd largely (and thankfully) desert on subsequent albums.
Still, this was an unmistakably strong band, concurrently tight and loose, even if it leaned a little more towards the R&B side of the blues equation. The record is anchored by John McVie, and Hughie Flint, an early Mayall drummer who, alongside McVie, also contributed to Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton
's creative and commercial successes. Dean shone the most in this early Mayall group however. Barring saxophonist Nigel Stanger's appearance on four of the album's dozen tracks, Dean was the group's primary soloist alongside Mayall.
The guitarist turns in gritty, acerbically toned features on tracks like "I Wanna Teach You Everything," the even more impressive "When I'm Gone," and, most notably, the vamp-driven "I Need Your Love," where he turns in a solo that combines sinewy bends with rapidly picked single notes and a series of ascending fast-strummed chords that drive the crowd at Klook's Kleek (and, equally, the vocal Mayall) to a most enthusiastic response. The solo may last just a little over a minute, but with McVie and Flint relentlessly pushing and pulling the guitarist, Dean builds to a climax that is one of John Mayall Plays John Mayall
most exhilarating moments.
Mayall's keyboard playing on the album is serviceable and his harmonica work already expressive and impressive, but Dean's playing remains the album's highlight, even if he ultimately parted ways with Mayall because he aspired to play more like George Benson
and less the purer blues guitarist for whom Mayall was searching. It's ironic, though, given that Mayall's American band on the live, aptly titled Jazz Blues Fusion
(Polydor, 1972) and the more transatlantic Ten Years Are Gone
(Polydor, 1973) featured, in Freddy Robinson
, a guitarist who combined blues cred with greater jazz sophistication and, yes, George Benson-informed dexterity.
As a finger-style acoustic guitarist, Jon Mark couldn't help but stand out, bringing a completely different complexion to The Turning Point
, Empty Rooms
and the Fillmore West 1970 show included in The First Generation 1965-1974
box set. He would continue to work, post-Mayall, with reed/woodwind multi-instrumentalist Johnny Almond, the pair forming the band Mark-Almond. That group achieved some success during the '70s, but never quite lived up to its promise. After Mark-Almond disbanded, Mark went on to release a sizeable number of solo albums beginning in the late '80s, while Almond would continue working as a session musician.
Despite effectively appearing on just one commercial album in its entirety, A Hard Road
(Decca, 1967), the real treasure of The First Generation 1965-1974
is Peter Green. His distinctly sweet tone, inimitably spare approach to the blues and visceral vibrato set him apart from the rest, even players as unique as Clapton and Taylor. Still, The First Generation 1965-1974
tries to right the wrong of Green's apparently brief contribution to the Mayall story by including seven tracks, recorded between January and February 1967, on the two-disc BBC Recordings 1964-1968
set, in addition to two additional live recordings and the two compilations, Looking Back
and Thru the Years
The first of the two live CDs comes from a 50-minute set at a gig at Bromley Technical College in Southeast London, while the other CD, titled simply Live 1967
, brings together nearly 80 minutes drawn from four additional U.K. dates in April and May of the same year. The recording quality may be less than perfect, but the exploratory power of this Bluesbreakers lineup more than makes up for it, with Green's unmistakable tone cutting through even the lowest fidelity sound. Elsewhere, with the improved sonics of "Ridin' on the L and N," from BBC Recordings
, Green's skill as a slide guitarist is also in clear evidence.
Green, who sadly passed away in 2020 at just 73, also had a fine voice and adds backup vocals to Mayall's "Ridin' on the L and N." An early example of his writing can be found on the instrumental "Curly," with different versions found on Live 1967
, Thru the Years
and two different BBC sessions. It adds another writing credit to A Hard Road
's "The Same Way," where Green sings lead, and "Supernatural," a minor-keyed blues instrumental that features one of Green's best solos in the set. Beyond his pellucid tone, whether clean or overdriven, and unerring taste regardless of context, Green takes advantage of some controlled feedback at various points to create some heartbreaking moments of tension during his extended solo.
Thankfully there's more. Thru the Years
also features a full eight tracks with the Green and McVie lineup, this time with Aynsley Dunbar on drums. A full half of those tracks are written by Green, including the studio version of "Curly." But the standout is his slow blues, "Out of Reach," with Green's lead vocals and a solo so paradoxically sweet and tender that it's no surprise Mayall later remarked about the guitarist: ""Peter in his prime in the '60s was just without equal."
Born Peter Alan Greenbaum, Green had long expressed an interest in joining Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and got a brief opportunity when Clapton became unavailable. Still, once Clapton became free again, Mayall leapt at the opportunity of bringing the rising star back into the fold. Finally, when Clapton left for good to form Cream with Jack Bruce, Green rejoined Mayall's Bluesbreakers, though not without making the bandleader pay for having dumped him so unceremoniously. Still, forcing Mayall to wait a full week for Green's reply when asked to rejoin the Bluesbreakers seems like a small price to pay, in retrospect.
Green was also instrumental in getting Mayall to replace drummer Aynsley Dunbar with Mick Fleetwood, who appears with Green on the two live CDs, as well as two tracks on the Looking Back
compilation. Undeniably a fine drummer, Dunbar was, however, simply too busy for the Bluesbreakers and subsequently went on to work, more successfully, with a wide range of artists, from Zappa's Mothers of Invention and David Bowie
to Lou Reed
, Herbie Mann
and Ian Hunter
Given Green's short but impressive early tenure with Mayall, and especially with the additional material included in The First Generation 1965-1974
, however, who knows what might have happened, had Green not left Mayall to form Fleetwood Mac?
Clapton can be heard on Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton
and a number of the BBC sessions included in the box. There's also a sole appearance, an outstanding look at "They Call It Stormy Monday," included in the Looking Back
compilation and featuring a brief but heartfelt solo from the guitarist. More significant, however, is that Clapton can be heard playing with Jack Bruce on the track, the bassist having briefly replaced John McVie beginning in early October 1965, providing an early window into a burgeoning relationship that would lead to much bigger things with Cream the following year.
Even more important, Bruce and Clapton can be found, together with Mayall and Flint, on the five bonus tracks appended to the stereo disc of The First Generation 1965-1974
's two-CD Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton
. Recorded live at London's Flamingo Club in November 1965 and previously released on the live LP collection Primal Solos
(London Records, 1977), these tracks were documented shortly before Bruce left Mayall's employ in order to join Manfred Mann on November 29, 1965. Along with the track on Looking Back
, these recordings remain consequential pieces of the puzzle representing, as they do, a most definite portent of things to come.
Bruce also appears, coincidentally, on five songs recorded for the BBC in October 1965 with guitarist Geoff Krivit, who substituted for the absent Clapton before Green ultimately replaced them both. While not exactly a slouch as a guitarist, Krivit is, at best, generic. It's no surprise, then, that when Green approached Mayall and suggested he replace Krivit because he was, pure and simple, a much better guitarist, the bandleader heard him play and immediately replaced Krivit.
Another guitarist who spent only a short time with Mayall, Bernie Watson was previously documented on Looking Back
's opener, the slow burn of "Mr. James," Mayall's ode to the passing of blues great Elmore James
. While a better player than Krivit, Watson, too, was a largely generic blues guitarist who can also be heard on Mayall's 1964 single version of "Crawling Up a Hill." That track appears on Thru the Years
, but does little to improve Watson's standing along with Krivi as two of Mayall's least impressive six-stringers.
Ten Years Are Gone
Moving ahead in Mayall's timeline, the double album Ten Years Are Gone
is another curiosity in his discography. Sporting an almost all-American septet, with "Sugarcane" Harris joined by guitarist Freddy Robinson, bassist Victor Gaskin
, saxophonist Red Holloway
and trumpeter Blue Mitchell
, Keef Hartley was the only other British player, though by this time Mayall had been living in the USA for a couple of years.
The renowned Mitchell had already made a name for himself in the jazz sphere, starting in the early '50s with alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson
before moving on to gigging and recording with singer Dinah Washington
, saxophonist Cannonball Adderley
, and pianists Horace Silver
, Cedar Walton
and future Weather Report co-leader, Joe Zawinul
, amongst many others. But the blues was always an undercurrent in Mitchell's playing, and if he largely continued to live in the jazz world, he would also be invited to collaborate with blues artists including guitarist Albert King
, violinist Papa John Creach and, subsequent to his time with Mayall, renowned blues-belter Big Joe Turner.
One of Mayall's favorite albums (no mean feat in a studio discography that's currently 36 strong, with an additional 34 commercially released live albums), the more soul and R&B-infused Ten Years Are Gone
is, indeed, a special record. Ever looking ahead, Mayall nevertheless uses it to lyrically recall what came before. The opening title track makes abundantly clear, over a funky blues with Mayall's chugging harmonica, the bandleader's characteristically autobiographical bent:
"Such a shame
Good times disappear
That will always be so dear
Ten years are gone
What of ten years from today?
All the guys
that have ever worked for me
See em around
In my heart they live with me
Ten years are gone
What of ten years yet to be?
All the women
That I'll never see again
That have meant the sweetest pain
Ten years are gone
Will I see their like again?
Will you give me the time?
With the strength of friends behind
Ten years are gone
Hope that the future works out fine."
Mitchell and Holloway (delivering a grinding tenor saxophone solo) are featured on the title track to an album whose first LP/CD is a studio session from Los Angeles' Sunset Sound studios, with the second culled from a live date at New York City's Academy of Music. The nine studio tracks for this septet, one of Mayall's largest bands of his first decade, are shorter by definition. The four-song (excluding the band intro track) second LP/CD, on the other hand, allow the group much more room to stretch out, in particular on the 17-minute, Latin-inflected closer, "Dark of the Night." This entire 12-song collection of new Mayall songs (plus Robinson's soul-drenched "Undecided," which the guitarist also sings) feels, however, completely relaxed and open to whatever territories through which the band might travel.
Robinson, who first appeared with Mayall on the aptly titled Jazz Blues Fusion
(Polydor, 1972) and for whom Ten Years is Gone
would be his final session, proves himself a staggering virtuoso, seemingly possessed of a far broader vernacular than any of the guitarists that preceded him. Blending a more traditional blues approach with lithe, George Benson-like sophistication, he's an intriguing inclusion, given Roger Dean's aspirations a decade earlier. Perhaps Mayall wasn't ready for such a player when he recorded John Mayall Plays John Mayall
on December 7,1964. That said, following the more jazz-centric, open-ended excursions of The Turning Point
and Empty Rooms
, perhaps he may have been more prepared for a jazz-driven group, after parting ways with Mandel, McGee, Taylor and "Sugarcane" Harris.
Bringing Robinson, Mitchell and bassist Victor Gaskin into the fold for the (again) aptly titled Moving On
(Polydor, 1972), Mayall employs a five-piece horn section of jazzers which also include saxophonist/flautist Charles Owens
, Mongo Santamaria
, Eddie Harris
), and saxophonists Fred Jackson
, Dee Dee Bridgewater
, Norman Connors
), Clifford Solomon (Clifford Brown
, Art Farmer
, Johnny Otis
) and Ernie Watts
, Charlie Haden
, Lee Ritenour
), making it the largest group found in The First Generation 1965-1974
. Gaskin, it must also be noted, is the only bassist on The First Generation 1965-1974
to double on acoustic bass, a texture that is particularly effective on Ten Years Are Gone
's gentle "Drifting," the more up-tempo "California Campground," and the four Academy of Music live tracks. Jazz Blues Fusion
represents yet another stylistic another shift for Mayall, this time towards a more jazz-informed blues rather than the extemporaneous complexion of both The Turning Point
and Empty Rooms
, which were more aligned with jazz in spirit than letter. By no means a jazz album either, Jazz Blues Fusion
was, however, closer to one, if only for the broader vernacular employed by so many of its soloists. This shift largely defined the remaining years of Mayall's first decade, including Moving On
and Ten Years Are Gone
. That said, Mayall's idea of fusion was considerably different when compared to contemporaneous jazz-rock fusion groups like Mahavishnu Orchestra
, Return to Forever
and Weather Report
Mayall pared things way back for The First Generation 1965-1974
's final studio recording. Despite retaining one horn player (Red Holloway), for The Latest Edition
Mayall shifted back to a more guitar-driven lineup that, for the first time in his career at this point, featured two regular guitarists in Hi Tide Harris and Randy Resnick. A fine but often overlooked album, it leaned more heavily on soul and funk, and featured the return of bassist Larry Taylor. With Harris and Resnick proving themselves to be impressive players, it's a shame that neither of them moved onto significant activity or success following their time with Mayall. The same can be said for newcomer Soko Richardson, though the drummer did continue to play with Mayall through the end of the '70s, and continued to work, largely in the blues arena, until his passing in 2004, age 64. He also worked with Ike and Tina Turner prior to joining up with Mayall, known for his knockout arrangement of Creedence Clearwater Revival
's "Proud Mary" for the Turners.
There are so many superb musicians on The First Generation 1965-1974
that it can be easy to forget about the very man who formed and led all of these players, and who provided a vast amount of material in a surprising variety of contexts. That Mayall continues to explore the nexus of the blues with a variety of other approaches as he nears the end of his ninth decade on planet Earth only makes The First Generation 1965-1974
's musical innovations and successes all the more impressive. 35 CDs are filled with a remarkably expansive exploration of the blues and beyond, both live and in the studio, including plenty of previously unreleased or hard to find material, now all collected in a single place.
Between the music, Mayall's story as told through his own autobiographical lyrics, and over 300 pages of revealing written material, all housed in a box that takes up a good amount of space on the shelf, The First Generation 1965-1974
is not just the box set for which Mayall fans have been waiting, it's the box set that tells the story that had to be told. The set renders, with absolute clarity, that of the British blues-rock artists who emerged in the 1960s, few were as important as Mayall when it came to recruiting and nurturing talent. Without the advantage of a crystal ball, it's difficult to predict what might have happened without Mayall's presence on the scene. It's a safe bet, however, that at least some of the musicians whose subsequent successes have eclipsed Mayall's might not have achieved such widespread acclaim without the early encouragement and experience he provided, not to mention his mentoring them, directly and indirectly, on the ins and outs of being bandleaders.
Make no mistake: there is a lot
to absorb with The First Generation 1965-1974
, and an unusual number of stellar musicians with whom to become acquainted or reacquainted. Compared with many of the Super Deluxe Editions
and, especially, the even more rarefied group of mega-box sets being released in ever-geater numbers these days, John Mayall's The First Generation 1965-1974
is a collection well worth the time necessary to take it all in.
John Mayall vocals, lead vocals (CD1-3, CD4#1-9, CD4#10-11, CD5#1-9, CD5#11-17, CD6,
CD7#1-2, CD7#4-9, CD7#11-14, CD8-23, CD24#1-5, CD24#7-9, CD25-34), keyboards,
harmonica (CD1-5, CD7-34), guitar; Roger Dean: guitar (CD1, CD14#2, CD20#1-2); John McVie
bass (CD1-4, CD5#1-12, CD6-8, CD14#1-2, CD14#4-8, CD20#1-4, CD20#6-11, CD27#1-23,
CD28#1-2, CD29-31); Hughie Flint: drums (CD1-5, CD14#1-2, CD20#1-2, CD27#1-18); Eric
(CD2-5, CD14#3, CD18#1, CD18#3, CD18#5, CD18#8, CD18#10, CD19#1, CD19#5,
CD19#12, CD27#1-4, CD27#10-18), lead vocals (CD4#10, CD5#10); Peter Green:
guitar (CD6-7, CD14#4-8, CD14#10, CD20#4-11, CD27#19-23, CD28#1-2, CD29-30), vocals
(CD7, CD20#4-11), lead vocals (CD7#3, CD7#10), steel guitar (CD14#11), harmonica
(CD20#4-11); Aynsley Dunbar (CD6-7, CD14#4-6, CD20#4, CD20#6-11, CD27#19-23,
CD28#1-2); Paul Butterfield: vocals (CD6), harmonica (CD6); John Almond: saxophone (CD7,
CD15, CD18-19, CD35), flute (CD15, CD18-19,
CD35), baritone saxophone (CD4#5, CD4#7, CD4#9, CD4#11, CD5#5, CD5#7, CD5#9,
CD5#11); Alan Skidmore: saxophone (CD7#5, CD7#7, CD7#13), tenor saxophone (CD4#7,
CD4#9, CD4#11, CD5#7, CD5#9, CD5#11); Ray Warleigh: wind instruments
(CD7#5, CD7#7, CD7#13); Dennis Healy: trumpet (CD4#7, CD4#9, CD4#11, CD5#7, CD5#9,
CD5#11); Mick Taylor: guitar (CD8, CD10-13, CD14#9, CD18#3, CD18#8,
CD18#11-13, CD19#3, CD19#5, CD19#11, CD20#12-14, CD28#3-18, CD30, CD32-34); Keef
Hartley (CD8-11, CD14#9, CD14#11, CD18-19, CD20#12, CD23-25, CD28#3-16, CD31);
Chris Mercer: tenor saxophone (CD8, CD10-11, CD12#1-7, CD14#9, CD20#12-13, CD28#3-
16, CD31), baritone saxophone (CD10-11, CD12#1-7); Rip Kant: baritone saxophone (CD8,
CD31); Keith Tillman: bass (CD10-11, CD28#3-11); Dick Heckstall-Smith: tenor saxophone
(CD10-11, CD12#1-7, CD14#9, CD20#12-13), soprano saxophone (CD10-11, CD12#1-7,
CD20#12), baritone saxophone (CD28#3-16); Tony Reeves: bass (CD12#1-7, CD20#13-14);
Jon Hiseman: drums (CD12#1-7, CD20#13-14), percussion (CD12#1-7); Henry Lowther: cornet
(CD12#1-7), violin (CD12#1-7), trumpet (CD20#13, CD28#12-15); Stephen Thompson: bass
(CD12#8-9, CD13, CD16, CD18#11, CD28#17-18, CD32-34); Colin Allen: drums (CD12#8-9,
CD13, CD28#17-18, CD32-34); Bernie Watson: guitar (CD14#1, CD20#3); Jack Bruce: bass
(CD5#13-17, CD14#3, CD27#5-9); Paul Williams: bass (CD14#9, CD20#12R); Martin Hart:
(CD14#1, CD20#3); Mick Fleetwood: drums (CD14#7-8, CD29-30); Jon Mark: guitar (CD15-16,
CD35); Larry Taylor: bass (CD16#11, CD17, CD18#10, CD18#1-14, CD19-23, CD26); Harvey
Mandel: guitar (CD17, CD18#2-4, CD18#7, CD18#10, CD18#13, CD19#1-2, CD19#5-6,
CD19#8, ); Don "Sugarcane" Harris: violin (CD17-19, CD24-25); Jerry McGee: guitar (CD18#5,
CD19#3, CD21); Paul Lagos: drums (CD18-19); Freddy Robinson: guitar (CD22-25), vocal
(CD24#6); Ron Selico: percussion (CD22); Clifford Solomon: alto saxophone (CD22-23), tenor
saxophone (CD22-23), flute (CD22); Blue Mitchell: trumpet (CD22-25); Freddie Jackson: tenor
saxophone (CD23), baritone saxophone (CD23); Charles Owens: tenor saxophone (CD23),
soprano saxophone (CD23), flute (CD23); Ernie Watts: tenor saxophone (CD23); Victor Gaskin:
bass (CD23-25); Red Holloway: alto saxophone (CD24-26), tenor saxophone (CD24-26), flute
(CD24-26); Hightide Harris: guitar (CD26); Randy Resnick: guitar (CD26); Soko Richardson:
drums (CD26); Geoff Krivit: guitar (CD27#5-9); Andy Fraser: bass (CD28#12-15);
Alex Dmochowski: bass (CD35); Dusty Bennett: drums (CD35).