Bluesbreaker - John Mayall Interview

Andy Howells chats with legendary Blues musician John Mayall about his forthcoming Cardiff show.

As John Mayall embarks on his 80th decade, the Blues legend shows no signs of slowing down. He is about to embark on a yearlong world tour which sees him stop off at Cardiff’s St David’s Hall in October.

This all follows a career spanning over half a century which has seen him release some 60 albums while simultaneously contributing to the rock-blues scene more than any other musician in history. He recently released his first new studio album in 5 years, “A Special Life”, along with his band, Texan guitarist Rocky Athas, bassist Greg Rzab, alongside fellow Chicagoan Jay Davenport.

“The preparation for it was only a couple of weeks,” says John, “with the same band you just fall into things naturally. The actual recording of the tracks only took three days to do and a couple of more days to put vocals and bits and pieces on, it was all very quick. That’s the way we like to work.”

While the trend for many musicians is to spend, months or even years laboring over recording an album, John’s approach to recording the album was spontaneous. “It’s very important to catch the feeling before you start running it into the ground,” he continues, “it was pretty much all first takes, just like we play live.”

John’s place in music history goes back some five decades, when he put together the first of his bands, the Bluesbreakers in 1963.  “It was pretty easy because people were so thrilled with this new music in the clubs,” he recalls. “There were so many venues for people to play.  They called it the British blues boom because there were so many bands that started off at the same time.”

The Bluesbreakers, acted as a finishing school for the leading blues-rock musicians of the day including Peter Green, Mick Taylor and Eric Clapton who joined Fleetwood Mac, Rolling Stones and Cream respectively.

John recalls Clapton’s arrival in The Bluesbreakers as a very important move for them both. “Eric had left the Yardbirds because of the direction they were going in," he says, “He wanted to play blues, so it just coincided with me hearing him properly because his progress was quite rapid. It was perfect timing for me to hire him; it was just what he wanted and just what I wanted. “

The forthcoming tour sees John still shining limelight on new talent as Glasgow four piece, King King play support. The concerts will also hold some special treats for Blues fans old and new. “The set list changes every night,” says John, “it’s not always the same show but I try to make it a pretty good match of old and new stuff. I think there’s something for everyone.”

I ask John how after over 50 years of performing he still manages to make his music sound so fresh and exciting.  He responds philosophically and poetically, “The blues is an endless fountain of inspiration, with so many shades of expression of what’s going on around you, what’s happening with you, emotionally all these things are the source of it all.”

  • Catch John Mayall at St David’s Hall, Cardiff on October 22.  Tickets available online at stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk or at the box office on 029 2087 8444.
  • A version of this interview with John Mayall by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during August, 2014.
  • Visit John Mayall's official website

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