Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 29 November 1933, Macclesfield, Cheshire) UK R&B bandleader, vocalist, guitarist, writer, producer; also harmonica and keyboards, but mainly a leader who was largely responsible for shaping '60s rock: many of its biggest stars passed through his hands. His father was a professional guitarist in a big band who had a good record collection; young John became a collector, and during national service in Korea bought his first electric guitar. He formed the Powerhouse Four while at college '55 and backed visiting US bluesmen; went to London '62-3 at behest of blues godfather Alexis Korner and formed his first Bluesbreakers with bassist John McVie, drummer Peter Ward, Bernie Watson on guitar, replaced by Hughie Flint (b 15 March 1942) and Roger Dean before recording John Mayall Plays John Mayall live '65. Adding Eric Clapton on lead guitar made a classic Bluesbreakers lineup: Clapton had made his name in the Yardbirds, but left in protest at their pop direction; he revelled in the traditional blues format and Bluesbreakers -- John Mayall With Eric Clapton '65 was a no. 6 LP in UK, served as a rock guitar primer for Gary Moore and uncounted others: 'Steppin' Out' was a standout track. Jack Bruce replaced McVie; he and Clapton left '66 to form Cream; Mayall rebuilt the band, replacing Flint with Aynsley Dunbar (b 1946) and Clapton with Peter Green and rehiring McVie. A Hard Road showed Green to be as impressive as Clapton in his own way, while Mayall's sleeve note promised no horns. But history repeated itself: Dunbar left to form Aynsley Dunbar's Retaliation (albums '68-70), Green and McVie left to form Fleetwood Mac (named after an unreleased Bluesbreakers instrumental: drummer Mick Fleetwood had been a Bluesbreaker for two months). Mayall hired Dick Heckstall-Smith on sax, ex-Artwoods drummer Keith 'Keef' Hartley (b 8 April 1944, d 26 November 2011, Preston) and unknown guitarist Mick Taylor for Crusade '67 and two-disc live set Diary Of A Band; while Mayall himself recorded The Blues Alone with Hartley. For Bare Wires '68 Taylor and Heckstall-Smith were joined by Henry Lowther on trumpet, bassist Tony Reeves and drummer Jon Hiseman; this last Bluesbreakers lineup left to form Colosseum, Taylor later replacing Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones.

Mayall's albums were henceforth credited to him alone, ever-changing personnel including bassist Steve Thompson, drummer Colin Allen (later with Stone the Crows), guitarist Jon Mark and Johnny Almond on sax and flute (later the jazz duo Mark Almond). The former pair with Taylor and Mayall made Blues From Laurel Canyon '69, suggesting an alignment with U.S. musics; the latter two joined Mayall and Thompson in a daring drummerless quartet for The Turning Point '70. Empty Rooms '70 was Mayall's first on Polydor, and Back To The Roots '71 reunited Mayall, Clapton, Hartley and Taylor. USA Union '70 had seen Mayall's first all-American lineup, with guitarist Harvey Mandel, bassist Larry Taylor and Don 'Sugarcane' Harris on violin; he stayed in the USA and seemed to decline in influence, but that was an illusion: Colosseum and the rest soon finished, while Mayall has carried on, still doing 120 gigs a year in the mid- 1990s.

Thru The Years was a two-disc compilation of (mostly unreleased) Bluesbreakers; Down The Line was another, one-disc studio and the other a reissue of the live debut. Memories '71 included Taylor and Jerry McGee (ex-Ventures) on guitar; Jazz Blues Fusion, Moving On and Ten Years Are Gone '72-3 all included Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Freddy Robinson on guitar. He switched to ABC/Blue Thumb for New Year, New Band, New Company (with Taylor, Harris, Rick Vito on guitar, vocalist Dee McKinnie) and Notice To Appear '75 (made with Allen Toussaint), John Mayall and A Banquet Of Blues '76, Lots Of People '77 (live in L.A.) and Blues Roots '78, switched to DJM for Bottom Line and No More Interviews '79 and Road Show Blues '80. He recruited McVie and Taylor for a reunion tour '82; then Coco Montoya on guitar joined '84: albums were Behind The Iron Curtain '86 on GNP Crescendo, The Power Of The Blues '87 on Entente, Chicago Line '88 and A Sense of Place '90 on Island, Wake Up Call '93 on Silvertone. After ten years of touring the USA (supporting ZZ Top '91 after the Black Crowes were fired) the new deal with Silvertone seemed to make a good home; the long-serving Montoya left the road, replaced by Buddy Whittington, said to be Mayall's best leadman for decades, for Spinning Coin '95, Blues For The Lost Days '97. His son Gary disc jockeyed in London ('Gaz's Rockin' Blues'), a walking encyclopaedia of Jamaican music.