John Mayall (Bluesbreakers) OBE

English blues singer, guitarist, organist and songwriter, John Mayall, OBE was born 29 November 1933 in Macclesfield, Cheshire. Mayall’s father Murray Mayall, was a guitarist and jazz music enthusiast. From an early age, John was drawn to the sounds of American blues players such as Lead Belly, Albert Ammons, Pinetop Smith, and Eddie Lang, and taught himself to play the piano, guitars, and harmonica. Mayall spent three years in Korea for national service and, during a period of leave, he bought his first electric guitar. Back in England, he enrolled at Manchester College of Art (now part of Manchester Metropolitan University) and started playing with semi-professional bands. After graduation, he obtained a job as an art designer but continued to play with local musicians.

In 1956, with college fellow Peter Ward, Mayall had founded the Powerhouse Four which consisted of both men and other local musicians with whom they played at local dances. In 1962 Mayall became a member of the Blues Syndicate. The band was formed by trumpeter John Rowlands and alto saxophonist Jack Massarik, who had seen the Alexis Korner band at a Manchester club and wanted to try a similar blend of jazz and blues. It also included rhythm guitarist Ray Cummings and drummer Hughie Flint, whom Mayall already knew. In 1962 John and his band were frequent and popular artists at all night R&B sessions at the ‘Twisted Wheel’ cellar club in central Manchester. Alexis Korner persuaded Mayall to opt for a full-time musical career and move to London, where Korner introduced him to many other musicians and helped them to find gigs. In late 1963, with his band which was now called the Bluesbreakers, Mayall started playing at the Marquee Club. The line-up was Mayall, Ward, John McVie on bass and guitarist Bernie Watson, formerly of Cyril Davies and the R&B All-Stars. The next spring Mayall obtained his first recording date with producer Ian Samwell. The band, with Martin Hart at the drums, recorded two tracks : “Crawling Up a Hill” as well as “Mr. James.”[6] Shortly after, Hughie Flint replaced Hart and Roger Dean took the guitar from Bernie Watson. This line-up backed John Lee Hooker on his British tour in 1964.

Mayall was offered a recording contract by Decca and, on 7 December 1964, a live performance of the band was recorded at the Klooks Kleek. A later studio-recorded single, “Crocodile Walk”, was released along with the album, but both failed to achieve any success and the contract was terminated. In April 1965 former Yardbirds guitarist Eric Clapton replaced Roger Dean. Releasing the single, “I’m Your Witchdoctor” b/w “Telephone Blues”. However, Clapton went to Greece with a band called the ‘Glands’ and Peter Green eventually became the new guitarist. John McVie was dismissed, and Jack Bruce, from the Graham Bond Organisation, played bass. In November 1965 Clapton returned, and Green departed as Mayall guaranteed Clapton his spot back in the Bluesbreakers whenever he tired of the Glands. McVie was allowed back, and Bruce left to join Manfred Mann. They recorded the single, “On Top of the World”, “Lonely Years” b/w “Bernard Jenkins” was also released. In April 1966 the Bluesbreakers recorded a second LP “Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton”. Several of the 12 tracks were covers of pure Chicago blues including Otis Rush’s “All Your Love” Freddy King’s hit instrumental “Hide Away”,”Double Crossing Time” and “Ramblin’ on My Mind”.

However Eric Clapton left the Bluesbreakers and formed the band Cream with, bassist Jack Bruce, and drummer Ginger Baker. Mayall replaced Clapton, with Peter Green and The album A Hard Road was released in February 1967. Then Peter Green also left and started his own project, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, which eventually included all three of Mayall’s Bluesbreakers at this time: Green, McVie, and drummer Mick Fleetwood. Mayall’s first choice to replace Green was 18-year-old David O’List, guitarist from the Attack. However O’List formed the Nice with organist Keith Emerson. Mayall replaced Green with Mick Taylor. May all released an album called The Blues Alone.

In 1967 John Mayall, Mick Taylor, John McVie , Hughie Flint or Hartley on drums, and Rip Kant and Chris Mercer on saxophones—recorded the album Crusade. The Bluesbreakers also toured abroad, and Mayall taped the shows on a portable recorder. Which At the end of the tour he edited to form a two volume album: Diary of a Band, Vols. 1 & 2. Meanwhile McVie departed and was replaced by Paul Williams, who himself quit to join Alan Price and was replaced by Keith Tillman. Mayall then replaced bassist Tillman with 15-year-old Andy Fraser. Within six weeks, though, Fraser left to join Free and was replaced by Tony Reeves, previously a member of the New Jazz Orchestra. Hartley was required to leave, and he was replaced by New Jazz Orchestra drummer Jon Hiseman (who had also played with the Graham Bond Organisation). Henry Lowther, who played violin and cornet, joined in 1968 and the Bluesbreakers recorded Bare Wires. Hiseman, Reeves, and Heckstall-Smith then moved on to form Colosseum. The Mayall line-up retained Mick Taylor and added drummer Colin Allen (formerly of Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band / Dantalian’s Chariot, and Georgie Fame) and a young bassist named Stephen Thompson. In August 1968 the new quartet recorded Blues from Laurel Canyon. However in 1969 Taylor left and joined the Rolling Stones and Drummer Allen also departed to join Stone the Crows.

Mayall experimented with lower volume, acoustic instruments, and no drummer, recruiting acoustic fingerstyle guitarist Jon Mark and flautist-saxophonist John Almond who had previously played with Zoot Money and Alan Price and also played baritone sax on Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton and some of A Hard Road. Mayall also moved to Los Angeles. The Bluesbreakers performed at the Fillmore East provided the tracks for the live album The Turning Point. A studio album, Empty Rooms, was recorded with Mayall’s next bassist, former Canned Heat member Larry Taylor, playing bass in a duet with Thompson on “To a Princess.” Mayall produced two more albums, experimenting with electric blues-rock-R&B band recruiting guitarist Harvey Mandel and bassist Larry Taylor, from Canned Heat, and wailing violinist Don “Sugarcane” Harris, from the Johnny Otis Show. In November 1970 Mayall released the double album Back to the Roots featuring Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Gerry McGee and Harvey Mandel on guitar; Sugarcane Harris on violin; Almond on woodwinds; Thompson and Larry Taylor on bass; and Hartley on drums. As usual Mayall wrote all the songs and sang all the vocals, played harmonica, guitar, keyboards, drums, and percussion. The follow up to USA Union and Memories was the album Back to the Roots.

Mayall spent most of the next 15 years, recording with local musicians. In August 1971, Mayall produced a jazz-oriented session for bluesman Albert King. In 1972 he released A live album Jazz Blues Fusion with Mayall on harmonica, guitar and piano, Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Clifford Solomon and Ernie Watts on saxophones, Larry Taylor on bass, Ron Selico on drums and Freddy Robinson on guitar. in 1973, he released the live album Moving On. During the next decade Mayall’s music evolved from electric blues played by rock musicians, incorporating jazz, funk or pop elements to even adding female vocals. In 1982 Mayall was reunited with Mick Taylor, John McVie and Colin Allen, three musicians of his 1960s line-ups, for a two-year world tour.

In 1984 Mayall restored the name Bluesbreakers for a line-up comprising the two lead guitars of Walter Trout and Coco Montoya, bassist Bobby Haynes and drummer Joe Yuele. On the occasion of the 40th year of his career Mayall received carte blanche to invite fellow musicians for the recording of a celebratory album. Along for the Ride appeared in 2001, credited to John Mayall and Friends with twenty names listed on the cover, including some Bluesbreakers, old and new, and also Gary Moore, Jonny Lang, Steve Cropper, Steve Miller, Otis Rush, Billy Gibbons, Chris Rea, Jeff Healey and Shannon Curfman. To celebrate his 70th birthday Mayall reunited with special guests Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor and Chris Barber during a fundraiser show. This “Unite for Unicef” concert at the Kings Dock Arena in Liverpool and In 2005, Mayall was appointed an OBE in the Honours List. November 2008, Mayall announced he was disbanding the Bluesbreakers. In 2009 he embarked on a solo world tour with: Rocky Athas on guitar, Greg Rzab on bass, and Jay Davenport on drums. Tom Canning, on organ and An album was released in September 2009.

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