The 1st review was studio album reviews John Mayall (part one) – The First Generation 1965-1974 – 35 CD Career Retrospective – Studio Albums; this review focuses on compilations, live, unreleased live/BBC dates, & an EP with Paul Butterfield.
Looking Back (1969/38-minutes) was actually John’s 7th release. It had 11 cuts of single releases (A/B sides). According to producer Mike Vernon songs by the Bluesbreakers & cracked the Billboard Top 100 with original songs mixed with classics. Many name musicians: Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Roger Dean, (guitars), Jack Bruce, John McVie, (bass), Dick Heckstall-Smith (saxes), Mick Fleetwood, Keef Hartley, & Aynsley Dunbar (drums) + others.
Of course, songs (some short) are firmly rooted in the blues. While not all blistering, they’re bluesy humid, authentic, with the necessary Delta & Chicago atmosphere. Imagine the paint peel from a juke joint wall as Mayall wails on what was a Decca B/side “Mr. James” (Bernie Watson lead). The harmonica-driven instrumental with Roger Dean’s lead on “Blues City Shakedown” (Decca B/side).
“So Many Roads,” is a slow tempo piece (a B/side) that showcases Mayall with his blackest vocal. Mayall’s take on the classic Tampa Red (1940) classic “It Hurts Me Too,” is effective. Not as compelling as the late Karen Dalton that could warp floorboards in a juke joint. But a wise choice. Superb Mayall vocals.
A charging cavalry of saxes from Chris Mercer & Dick Heckstall-Smith dominates “Suspicions (Part 2).”
Peter Green provides stinging pedal steel on “Picture on the Wall.” Perhaps because John never lived the blues as its forefathers had some originals are a bit cliched. A mere Mayall shortcoming. The novelty-oriented “Crocodile Walk,” is one. Mayall does the same on “Hoot Owl,” on an earlier LP. Charming songs but hardly necessary from someone of Mayall’s caliber. Maybe Spike Jones. This is filler. Not very memorable as a blues. A scraping of the bottom of the barrel of B-side/non-LP tracks.
The compilation Thru the Years (14-cuts/1971/43-minutes) is on a label Mayall already departed. It did crack Billboard’s Top 200 & does have redeeming value.
Some songs indeed have a patent leather shine. The slow blues “Out of Reach” is moody, well performed with good guitar tone & Peter Green vocal.
Basically, the same musicians as Looking Back, the skill level evident with a few minor additions including a 5th drummer. The late Jon Hiseman (former Colosseum/Jack Bruce). The Mayall composed “Suspicions – Part 1” drives impressively. Surprising funk-veneer could’ve been covered by War or Earth, Wind & Fire. Don’t laugh.
The Bluesbreakers debut was recorded Dec. ’64 (London) as John Mayall Plays John Mayall (1965/Prod. by Tony Clarke/12 cuts + 1 bonus/35-minutes). All Mayall compositions plus a 2 cut classic medley. Roger Dean (guitar), John McVie (bass), Hughie Flint (drums) & Nigel Stanger (tenor sax). Generally overlooked it’s a satisfying rock/R&B. Not as exciting as what followed with Clapton, Taylor & Green. Nigel Stanger’s sax keeps it fresh. Some are live tracks; others are different versions of previous takes from Thru the Years.
The recording quality is muddy, dated, typical of the 1964-5 era. It doesn’t detract from the crucial thread of blues Mayall conveys. “I Wanna Teach You Everything,” captures Dean’s guitar & the live energy is consistent. “When I’m Gone,” has a musical approach similar to early Little Richard. From here John ventures into blues territory reminiscent of what’s found on old 78s. The live “I Need Your Love,” sounds cut eons ago but considering when this was recorded Roger Dean applies himself brilliantly.
With the medley “Night Train/Lucille,” & “Doreen,” Mayall channels his inner Chuck Berry. The hot jam of “Chicago Line,” ignites with harmonica. Only blues fanatics would be interested in this LP, not heavy-duty rock fans already solidly into The Rolling Stones.
Excellent musicianship but recorded poorly at various English venues between Oct 19 – Dec 7, 1968, is The Diary of a Band (1968/1 hr-33 min/Vol. 1&2 /13 live cuts). The 2 offer live Bluesbreakers of the era but isn’t the finest recorded because Mayall opted to use a home recorder. It was not captured on professional equipment & it suffers. But listening closely to the performances is indeed exciting. If you’re a novice you may not tolerate repeated listening. If you’re a Mayall fan – there are moments.
Mayall’s notes even admit not all shows were excellent. The shoddy interviews & dialogue could’ve been eliminated. Vol. 1 (6 cuts): an exceptional encore “I Can’t Quit You, Baby.” 18-year-old Mick Taylor is buried in the mix, as well as Keef Hartley’s drums. Heckstall-Smith’s sax is sturdy. Despite the Mayall band’s solid-state musicianship, you can’t hear Mayall’s vocals very well.
Vol. 2 (6 cuts) continues with muddy, lo-fi quality. Garage band austerity. Mayall’s error in judgment was not allowing the label to record these live shows professionally (they offered). A missed opportunity since all the musicians played with enthusiasm & energy. “The Train,” has spine-tingling Chris Mercer/Dick Heckstall-Smith sax soloing. A guitar snarl & Mayall’s Hammond buried deep. Great drums when you can hear them. Bill Tillman (bass) is there…somewhere.
The LP dipped a toe into the Billboard Top 100 but barely. Excerpts/snips of dialogue/interviews — barely audible. I admit if I were a record company executive this part would’ve been deleted.
An impeccably recorded live Fillmore East, NY show (1 hour-4 minute – 2nd gig from 1969) The Turning Point features Jon Mark (acoustic fingerstyle guitar), Johnny Almond (saxes/flutes), Steve Thompson (bass) & Mayall (all other instruments). The sound quality — light years better than The Diary collection. This was an intentional shift from heavier playing. No big lead guitar/drums. All live originals, (7 cuts+3 bonus). “So Hard to Share,” has colorful sax. “Sawmill Gulch Road,” is the most accessible for those, not die-hard blues fans. Recorded so well you’d think it was done in the studio. The 9-minutes are captivating. The well-arranged “California,” has lively bass lines, Johnny Almond sax, & other great solos. Mayall’s vocals are expressive. Bright acoustic guitar adds to the cohesive blues that became Mayall’s sound. An ensemble tune, absolutely brilliant.
More delicious guitar/sax solos come on “Thoughts of Roxanne.” Almond’s sax answers Mayall’s vocal. I think Mayall would’ve kept this lineup longer if Mark/Almond didn’t become a band of its own. “Room to Move,” is a fast harmonica/acoustic guitar-flute stinger that became a Mayall staple. The 3 well-recorded bonus cuts are boldly stylish. “Don’t Waste My Time,” is as good as the Empty Rooms track. “Can’t Sleep This Night,” is vocally good but owned by Johnny Almond’s sax. This is a great LP.
Jazz Blues Fusion is 45 minutes of live ’72 music from Boston (4 songs), & Hunter College, NYC (3 songs). Had US chart action & featured exquisite Freddy Robinson (guitar), Larry Taylor (bass), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Clifford Solomon (saxes), Ron Selico (percussion) & Mayall the rest.
“Country Road,” has a bluesy-jazz motif with a studio ambiance. Enjoyable. Has not aged & the musicians remained tight. Tight? As in you couldn’t stick a razor blade between them. Trumpet/sax combo is a refreshing redirection with John’s savory harmonica. The same can be said for the roaring “Good Time Boogie.” Robinson’s guitar tone skims Wes Montgomery/Les Paul. Both Solomon’s sax & Mitchell’s trumpet smoke. The NY set arrives with engaging clarity on “Dry Throat.” If you didn’t know the band moved on to another venue 2 weeks later, you’d think it was the same show. The entire NY set is remarkable.
‘72’s Moving On – a 9-cut, 47-minute cohesive LP also recorded live at LA’s Whiskey A-Go-Go has many of the same musicians as Jazz Blues Fusion. Freddy Robinson (guitar) with a much wider brass section of Charles Owens, Ernie Watts, Fred Jackson, Clifford Solomon, & Blue Mitchel. Victor Gaskin string bass + Larry Taylor (bass guitar).
As before, production has clarity, energetic music with a studio-quality sound. The jazz-blues hybrid obviously agrees with Mayall. The sax solos/trumpet, Hartley drums – all splendid.
This – all before Steely Dan explored these musical regions with Aja.
The miscellaneous: John Mayall’s Blues Breakers with Paul Butterfield (1967/12-minutes) features both renowned bluesmen together with Butterfield, of course, the main harmonica. An entertaining curio.
The original release was an England only Decca EP: 2 singles/4 songs. Lionel Hampton’s 1946 tune “Riding on the L & N” is exceptional. Peter Green (guitar), Aynsley Dunbar (drums), & John McVie (bass).
John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers’ had 2-singles of original Mayall songs with “I’m Your Witchdoctor,” & “Telephone Blues,” (‘65). Produced by Jimmy Page. A single showcases Eric Clapton’s (‘66) “Lonely Years,” & “Bernard Jenkins,” another curiosity.
Closing things are 9-early live full CDs (’67/‘70) from many European/US dates, & BBC shows. These appear as 1st-time vintage treasure trove show issues. All name musicians as previously noted.
A wealth of music but these don’t always possess the clarity of the live production found on “Turning Point,” or “Moving On.” These are for purists, aficionados, & completists. The playing? Still magical. It’s too bad Mayall didn’t, for prosperity, always record his shows routinely professional. His live gigs always had something that could justify recording live or for satisfying a contract.
John Mayall Live 1967 (white cover/14 cuts) – is almost early Fleetwood Mac with John Mayall. An incredible extended John McVie bass solo on “Chicago Line” features Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green, & Mayall.
There’s propulsive harmonica despite the poor reproduction. None is broadcast quality. The majority seesaw between basement quality, fair to middling & quite acceptable. Many exceed 1-hour. The excitement? Some tunes on two ‘67 BBC Recordings (blue covers) have superior clarity. These are motherlodes. Worth being dissected. Mayall fans are like Grateful Dead fans – they’re staunch dedicated followers who dig up old familiars & obscurities. A forgotten Clapton solo, Taylor take, or Green riff.
John Mayall never presented anything dull. In modern-day blues, he may have kept the genre alive more than anyone. Though he may not have lived the blues life or had written the most memorable blues songs or sang with a Delta growl or Chicago attitude, John did, as jazz-blues innovator Graham Bond, made the blues accessible. To many. He made it attractive without making it commercial & earned his place beside the greats. Ironically, he outlived many.
You have to respect that.