John Mayall has been called “The Father of British Blues”, with good reason. As bandleader and songwriter for John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, he was instrumental in launching the British blues boom in the 1960’s.
Mayall is probably best known for the landmark 1966 album Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton (the “Beano” album), which brought Clapton to “Clapton is God” status. Mayall’s Bluesbreakers band was also an early incubator for other notable talent including guitarists Peter Green (who along with other Bluesbreakers alums John McVie and Mick Fleetwood formed the early Fleetwood Mac) and Mick Taylor (who went on to join the Rolling Stones).
Mayall has recorded dozens of albums over the decades, and at 79 years old continues to tour extensively. The following interview was for a preview article for his 5/22/13 concert at SOhO in Santa Barbara. Answers were received by email on 5/6/13.
Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at your upcoming show in Santa Barbara?
John Mayall: It will be first and foremost a really stimulating set featuring songs old and new. I’m sure everyone will be thrilled.
JMo: Can you tell me a bit about the band that will be joining you?
JMa: My wonderful band has been with me for the last five years and counting. Two of the guys are from Chicago – bass player Greg Rzab and drummer Jay Davenport and my guitarist Rocky Athas is from Fort Worth. For more about them please check out our website johnmayall.com.
JMo: Going way back, why do you think that the blues were embraced so much in Great Britain in the 1960’s?
JMa: I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we didn’t have this music easily accessible. Europeans have always revered American jazz and blues music more than Americans who had it on their own doorstep.
JMo: It seems that it can’t be a coincidence that so many musicians who passed through the Bluesbreakers continued with notable careers after they left. From your perspective, what do you think those (younger) musicians like Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, etc, learned from you? And what did you learn from them?
JMa: Blues is a musical palette that allows so much interpretation and I’ve always encouraged musicians I’ve hired to explore their own ideas within the framework of my bands.
JMo: Do you stay in close touch with any of the musicians that you played with in the 1960’s?
JMa: Not really. Most are too famous to have access to and they choose to guard their privacy. I have no way to contact major stars.
JMo: What are some highlights from your first tour of the U.S.?
JMa: Just the fact that I was finally in the USA and meeting a lot of my blues heroes on their own turf. The first shows at the Cafe a Go Go and the Fillmores in New York and San Francisco and the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles were the most noteworthy.
JMo: Why did you move to the United States?
JMa: Mainly because of the climate and the way of life.
JMo: What are a few of the songs that you wrote that are your favorites?
JMa: I don’t have specific favorites as they all have special meanings to me.
JMa: Nobody has mentioned anything to me so I expect it will be business as usual on the recording and live performance front.
JMo: What’s your secret for longevity in the music business?
JMa: I keep healthy and always treat my audiences with respect because without their support I’d be sitting at home.
JMo: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?
JMa: Always follow your instincts and your ideas and just hope that people will respect that and want to hear your original ideas.