John Mayall, the Godfather of British Blues, is one of the all-time great blues musicians of his generation. Having worked with a stellar line up of world famous musicians all of the working life, you might have thought with John now being well into his 80s he would have retired from the day job, so to speak, and sat back to look at his expanded history in music. Not so. 2019 sees yet another album of blues entitled Nobody Told Me from the English wizard of the 6/12 string, keyboard and harmonica. Matt Mead investigates the album and interviews John exclusively for Louder Than War.
As previously stated John’s impressive back catalogue is a testament to his absolute dedication to the blues. His 1960s releases are synonymous with many of the all-time great albums of the same era – Sgt Pepper, Pet Sounds and Let It Bleed. The Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton, A Hard Road (With a pre-Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green) Blues from Laurel Canyon (with Mick Taylor before he was handpicked by Jagger and Richards to join The Rolling Stones and replace Brian Jones) are stand-out pieces of work, with his 1970s work equally matching the 1960s pieces of work, especially live albums Jazz Blues Fusion and The Turning Point. John has an obvious passion for the blues which has been a driving force for his body of work for the best part of 50 years.
His new album was recorded at Foo Fighters Studio 606 on the vintage Neve Console that provides a connection with Mayall, since Fleetwood Mac used the desk to record their bestselling album Rumours (John McVie was the Bluesbreakers stalwart bass player in the 1960s, and Mick Fleetwood was in the Bluesbreakers in the 60s for a short while until John fired him for being drunk whilst playing).
The new album comes after John had some serious health issues in 2018, forcing him to cancel some of his live shows, but after a well-earned rest John is now firmly back in familiar surroundings. The album starts off with What Have I Done Wrong, a blues tidal wave featuring legendary blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa’s unmistakable, seemingly never-ending solo, which also features on Delta Hurricane. We get similar blues noodlings with the Moon Is Full and The Hurt Inside, featuring young blues player Larry McCray and Evil And Here To Stay featuring Alex Lifeson of Rush fame. The album boasts an absolute legend of blues/rock guitarists Todd Rundgren, founding member of 1960s fuzz guitar heroes The Nazz. We also get multi-instrumentalist Carolyn Wonderland who features on 3 numbers, and finally one of the most distinctive faces and guitar players in the world, Steven Van Zandt from The E Street Band, gets to play some delightful guitar on It’s So Tough, making the final piece of this album’s jigsaw fit perfectly. The album is undoubtedly a who’s who of the current state of the premier blues players in the world, making it an essential purchase for all blues fans.
Interview with John Mayall
Hi John. Can you tell me the first memory you can remember as a child?
Lying in a pram as a young child.
What was the very first music you can remembering hearing?
I actually don’t remember.
What was the first music you can remember purchasing?
Who influenced you to start singing?
I actually don’t recall who influenced me to first start singing.
When did you start to learn the guitar and keyboard?
Again, I don’t actually recall, I’m sure I had to borrow other peoples instruments.
Who influenced you to start to play the harmonica?
Sonny Boy Williamson.
What was it about the blues that you liked the most to make a career out of this music genre?
It’s the only music I’d ever wanted to play.
You have recorded and played with so many different and memorable artists including Peter Green, Eric Clapton, John McVie, Mick Taylor and wide range of other fantastic musicians. On a personal level, one of my favourite albums of yours is the live album Jazz Blues Fusion. Back to the questions: Out of all the musicians can you pick out 5 moments from your career that stand out to you as ultimate highlights? Maybe choose 1 from 1960’s, 1 from 1970’s, 1 from 1980’s, 1 from 1990’s and one from 2000’s?
1960s = First coming to London and playing the Flamingo in Soho
1970s – Hiring great violinist Sugarcane Harris
1980s – Reforming a band and reviving the name Bluesbreakers
1990s – Having Buddy Whittington on guitar
2000s – Continuing to be a teetotaller
From each decade of your career can you pick a favourite album of yours
They are all important to me.
How have you approached song writing throughout your career? If you hear a certain type of music have you tried to emulate it in your own form? Or is there another approach you have taken?
Song writing for me is all about writing about my own personal experiences in life.
Your new album touches on familiar, distinctive musical sound pieces, including the blues with touches of jazz. Why did you decide to record the album now?
Each song reflects the stories I’m telling in my current life experiences.
How did you form the band that appears on the album?
This is my regular band of Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums with the addition of some favourite favourite guest guitarists including Alex Lifeson of Rush, Todd Rundgren, Joe Bonamassa, Larry McCray, Carolyn Wonderland and Steven Van Zandt from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and his own Disciples Of Soul.
How long did it take to record the album?
Three days to record the songs and then sent to the guest guitarists to add their soloing
Will you be going on tour to support the album?
I go on tour regardless of album releases and will be very busy in the new year
What are your plans for the future?
Touring and recording as usual with up to a hundred shows a year worldwide
Finally, what is on your turntable/playlist at the moment?
That could be anything that reflects my mood.
All words by Matt Mead. Further articles by Matt can be found via the Louder Than War author archive pages.