The Hippo


Oct 18, 2019








John Mayall. Courtesy photo.

John Mayall

When: Friday, Sept. 12, at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Flying Monkey, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth
Tickets: $35 and up at 
Note: Tupelo Music Hall show on Saturday, Sept. 13, is sold out.

Mr. Bandleader
Mayall performs a pair of New Hampshire shows

By Michael Witthaus

Though inexplicably not a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, John Mayall is a most influential musician. The pioneering English blues singer, songwriter, guitarist, keyboard player and harmonica player is often called the “Father of the British blues.” His band served as an early incubator for Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Peter Green, Jack Bruce and many other future stars. 
Albums like The Turning Point and Jazz Blues Fusion helped reshape music’s landscape. Still going strong at 81, Mayall plays a pair of shows with a new album, A Special Life, and a band he calls his best ever. 
Mayall spoke with the Hippo from his home in California.
When you were playing in London in the early 1960s, did you feel like something special was happening?
Yeah, it was really very evident. In London all the clubs were absolutely bursting. Definitely a feeling that a new generation had come along and discovered this music, there was a lot of work for everyone. It was very noticeable.
Bands seemed to change personnel a lot — was that a problem or a good thing? How did it affect you?
Well, in my case if a musician through getting his chops together in my band he was ready to put together a group of his own that was just the way it went, you know? They left and I put somebody else in. 
How did you recruit guys like Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor into your band?
Well, it’s something that people always talk about but for me it was a very simple thing. A bandleader knows what he wants; it’s always been simple for me but hard to explain. That’s what a bandleader does, he puts together a band with who he thinks will be creative. I don’t know what else to tell you.
You were a bit older than them. Were you a mentor in any way?
I think they did learn a lot from me because I had more experience than they had. They were just starting out and for me it was something that had been happening for many years. I didn’t feel like I’d got a lead on them.
Your music changed a lot in those years. What made you decide to strip down to an acoustic, jazzier sound?
I like to keep my music fresh and as soon as a new idea hits me it seems a very logical step to take. So in the case of the Turning Point band it was just an idea I had that I forced into practice. You take some risks, I suppose, but I always have faith in what I do.
What prompted the move to the States in ’69, and what impact did it have on your music?
It didn’t have much impact on the music itself other than that I was able to have access to American musicians I’d always admired, particularly in the jazz world. It was more personal; the climate was wonderful and a sharp contrast to anything you get in the U.K. 
You worked with Bill Graham then; talk about the live music scene in the late ’60s and early ’70s. 
The fact that it was a new scene developing and Bill Graham was one of the most notable promoters of that era. He wanted to respect musicians’ worth and put on a proper show with lights and professional people running the sound; he was a pioneer in that respect and I really regard him as a very important figure at that time. The Fillmores on the East and West Coasts were very important to get people coming to the music.
How was working with CJ Chenier on the new record?
I’d never met him before but the song on the album is a song his father recorded many years ago. We used to have it in the repertoire when Jack Bruce was in the band because it needed another voice. Jack was at that time in the ’60s the only musician I had who did any singing. So it’s a nice resurrection for me, and quite a thrill for CJ to do a song that his father wrote.
You say, “I’ve got no plans to fade away” on the title song of A Special Life. In the early London club days, did you think you’d be here at 81?
You don’t think that far ahead, you just concentrate on the here and now … fulfilling the gigs as they come up. We had a very busy schedule and it’s been that way all through my career. So as long as I’ve got my health and the energy to do it properly I haven’t found any reason to think about quitting. Music is part of my life. 
What motivates you to keep on doing it?
I have a lot of fun! It’s as simple as that. With the band I have I can’t believe how much energy we put out and it’s a great band, the best one I’ve ever had. 

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