The Hippo


Jun 4, 2020








John Mayall. Courtesy photo.

John Mayall

When: Thursday, Sept. 8, 8 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 2 Young Road, Londonderry
Tickets: $45-$60 at

Mayall still has more room to move

By Michael Witthaus

 At age 82, John Mayall is amidst one of the most prolific phases of his career. That’s saying a lot for a man who helped invent British blues rock in the early 1960s, playing with a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame wing’s worth of sidemen along the way. He cut his teeth backing blues legends John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker and Sonny Boy Williamson on initial forays into England. 

As bandleader of the Bluesbreakers, Mayall gave early work to Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor and a pre-birth lineup of Fleetwood Mac. Half a century later, Mayall isn’t slowing down. From now until early December, he has no fewer than 47 shows on his schedule, a staggering number for performers half his age and then some. 
He’s released two new studio albums in three years — 2014’s A Special Life and last year’s Find a Way to Care — and completed another in early spring. Called Let’s Talk About, it’s due out next year. Add to that two volumes of vintage Bluesbreakers performances, and Mayall has an impressive list of new offerings. 
Talking by phone from his home in Los Angeles, Mayall said that switching record labels was the main source of his current activity. 
“Nothing to do with creative energy really … the last label promised a new album and never came through with it,” he said. After releasing Tough in 2009 to solid response, “they dragged their feet. ... It was a very frustrating decade with them.” 
That changed when Mayall hooked up with Forty Below Records, run by his producer Eric Corne. His first two studio albums for the label contained originals and nuggets from performers long admired by Mayall, like Percy Mayfield and Lightnin’ Hopkins.
“I always try and highlight certain artists … that people have not really heard too much about,” he said. 
His forthcoming album is “mostly material of my own composition,” Mayall said. It includes a guest appearance from Joe Walsh. The two had never met before the sessions. 
“He came into the situation because he was a friend of the people at the House of Blues Studio; he just wanted to come down and play on a couple of tracks,” Mayall said.
Mayall added that he wasn’t really familiar with Walsh’s music. 
“I had to go and check out his play list to see if it was a good fit, and, of course, it did,” he said. 
In the studio, they hit it off immediately. 
“Really fabulous … it took all of one hour to do what he had to do on it … all first takes,” Mayall said. 
Walsh played a straight ahead solo on “The Devil Must Be Laughing,” which Mayall described as a topical song about “the Devil’s work in the world today and how everything is going wrong.”   
Along with the Mayall’s three studio albums, the new label released a pair of live Bluesbreakers albums from archived performances featuring Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie as his backing band. Shortly after the shows, the three musicians formed the original Fleetwood Mac.
The 1967 performances were recorded in five London clubs by Dutch fan Tom Huissen, who used a one-track reel-to-reel recorder he somehow concealed. Things were different in the days before smartphones. Huissen kept the tapes in his personal collection for decades before reaching out to Mayall, who began the restoration process with Corne. 
“While the source recording was very rough and the final result is certainly not hi-fidelity, it does succeed in allowing us to hear how spectacular these performances are,” Corne said in a 2015 press release. 
“After the passage of time, he thought it was time that people heard it rather than [letting] it lay buried...,” Mayall said. “We had been in touch several years before, but now he was ready to let them go. So we did the deal and it’s proved to be very successful. … What a great band that was.” 
Mayall feels his current combo is even better. The group playing with him in Londonderry on Sept. 8 bears his name; he retired the Bluesbreakers in 2008. 
“It didn’t seem right to assemble different people and call it the same thing, so it was back to being just John Mayall,” he said.
 For the past eight years he’s worked with Texas guitarist Rocky Athas and bassist Greg Rzab, with Jay Davenport on drums. 
“It’s the best band I’ve ever had,” he said. 

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