John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers
John Mayall was born 29th of November 1933 in Maccelsfield, a small English village near the industrial hub of Manchester--a far cry at that time from the black American blues culture we are familiar with today. The eldest of three from humble working class origins, and in the shadow of WWII, this skinny English lad grew up listening to his guitarist father’s extensive jazz record collection and felt drawn to the blues. Strongly influenced by such greats as Leadbelly, Albert Ammons, Pinetop Smith, and Eddie Lang, from the age of 13 he taught himself to play and develop his own style with the aid of a neighbor's piano, borrowed guitars, and secondhand harmonicas.
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John Mayall's first brush with fame, however, was not for his music. As a teenager, he decided to move out of the house, and, showing the signature eccentricities and artistic qualities that have added to his legendary status, he moved into his backyard treehouse. This gained him notoriety enough to receive newspaper attention. Even more so, since, upon returning from a stint in Korea, he brought his first wife Pamela to live with him there.
From an art college training, to three years with the British Army in Korea, to a successful career in graphic design, his blues singing and playing took a back seat until he reached the age of 30. From 1956 until 1962, John was performing publicly on a part-time basis fronting The Powerhouse Four and, later on, The Blues Syndicate. It was then that Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated pioneered what was to become known as The British Blues Boom of the Late 60's. Alexis was quick to encourage and help John make his move to London where he soon secured enough club work to be able to turn professional under the name John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. After a couple of years and a constant turnover of musicians, he met his soulmate in Eric Clapton, who had quit the Yardbirds in favor of playing the blues. This historic union culminated in the first hit album for the Bluesbreakers and resulted in worldwide legendary status.
After Clapton and Jack Bruce left the band to form Cream, a succession of great musicians defined their artistic roots under John's leadership, and he became as well known for discovering new talent as for his hard-hitting interpretations of the fierce Chicago-style blues he'd grown up listening to. As sidemen left to form their own groups, others took their places. Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood became Fleetwood Mac. Andy Fraser formed Free, and Mick Taylor joined the Rolling Stones.
In 1969, with his popularity blossoming in the USA, John caused somewhat of a stir with the release of a drummerless acoustic live album entitled "The Turning Point", from which his song "Room To Move" was destined to become a rock classic. He received a gold record for this album. Attracted by the West Coast climate and culture, John then made his permanent move from England to Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles and began forming bands with American musicians. Throughout the 70's, John became further revered for his many jazz/rock/blues innovations featuring such notable performers as Blue Mitchell , Red Holloway, Larry Taylor, and Harvey Mandel. He also backed blues greats John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, and Sonny Boy Williamson on their first English club tours.
The year 1979 proved to be a pivotal, transitional, and climactic year for John Mayall, both personally and professionally. With the public climate being at an all-time low for blues music, Mayall struggled to keep his live and recording career afloat. Personally, however, he began the 20+year relationship with his current wife Maggie (Parker, née Mulacek), a singer/songwriter from Chicago who had been hired with Harvey Mandel’s band as Mayall’s backup. And extreme misfortune came his way when a brush fire destroyed his hand-crafted and legendary Laurel Canyon home, taking with it his scrupulously-kept diaries, his father's diaries, master recordings, extensive book & magazine collections, Mayall artwork, and much much more. Determined to rise from the ashes, Mayall persevered.
Motivated by nostalgia and fond memories, in 1982, John (together with Mick Taylor and John McVie) decided to re-form the original Bluesbreakers for a couple of tours and a video concert film entitled Blues Alive, which featured Albert King, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Etta James, and Sippie Wallace and others. A whole new generation of followers could get a taste of how it all sounded live two decades before at the birth of the British Blues explosion. By the time Mick and John had returned to their respective careers, public reaction had convinced Mayall that he should return to his driving blues roots.
Back in Los Angeles, it didn't take him long to seek out and select his choices for the new Bluesbreakers. Also in the 80's, in order to more faithfully interpret the best-known classic tunes and a proportionate selection of new pieces, two exceptional guitarists were hired and they soon began to develop creatively in the tradition of Clapton and the other greats. Coco Montoya and Walter Trout were added to The Bluesbreakers and when these two men got together, audiences went wild with excitement. Both guitarists have gone on to lucrative careers as solo artists.
Rather than resting on his reputation and marking time, the 90's has seen the release of several John Mayall albums that have set new standards for the telling of the blues. His 90's albums, "Chicago Line", "A Sense of Place", "Wake Up Call" (which received a Grammy nomination in 1994), "Spinning Coin", and "Blues For the Lost Days" began a new chapter in Mayall recording history and all won critical and popular acclaim. These albums featured guest artists such as Buddy Guy, Mavis Staples, Albert Collins, Mick Taylor, Sonny Landreth, and Red Holloway, just to name a few. His newest effort, "Padlock On The Blues", released in June 1999, has been lauded as a continuation of Mayall's extraordinary work. Co-produced by John and his wife Maggie Mayall and flawlessly engineered by Joe McGrath, "Padlock On The Blues" features a rare contribution from special guest blues legend John Lee Hooker (who has been Mayall's close friend since the early 60's). "Padlock On The Blues" remains true to the timeless music that first inspired this skinny young British lad, living in the shadow of WWII, to teach himself the guitar, harp, and piano so many years ago.
In 1993, Texas guitarist Buddy Whittington joined the Bluesbreakers and, during the last 6 years, he has proved to be more than equal to following in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessors.
Working with his core group of Bluesbreaker mainstays--Buddy Whittington, longtime drummer Joe Yuele and the newest Bluesbreaker recruit, ex-Buddy Guy bassist Greg Rzab, Mayall and his band slash their way across musical boundaries as they update the blues for a new generations. The father of six and grandfather of six, at 66 years young, John Mayall shows no signs of slowing down and plans to keep the blues alive for years to come.
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