Three For The Road By John Mayall

February 17, 2019

John Mayall just keeps rolling along. Now in his early 80’s, he maintains an extensive concert and recording schedule.

Mayall’s new live album, Three For The Road, began two years ago when guitarist Rocky Athas missed a concert due to plane connections. Forced to play as a trio, John Mayall decided to continue within that context. His new album was recorded at two concerts in Germany during March of 2017.

Bassist Greg Rzab and drummer Jay Davenport have been with Mayall for a decade and their chemistry together is excellent. Mayall, vocals, keyboards, and harmonica, is more in the limelight than he has been in years. His music has always had a guitar focus but now his keyboards are central and it is a new and welcome direction for an artist whose career has passed the 50 year mark.

The nine tracks include 7 covers by classic blues artists and two original Mayall concert favorites. They all run from 5 to 11 minutes, so their is a lot of room for experimentation and improvisation.

Mayall’s “Streamline” and “Lonely Feelings” have been concert staples for some time but here they take on new textures within the trio format. “Congo Square” at 11 minutes and “Tears Came Rollin’ Down” at nine plus minutes are excellent examples of how three instruments can interact over an extended period of time.

Mayall’s voice may have lost a little over time but it is still an effective blues instrument.

John Mayall is travelling a different road in the twilight of his career, which is not an easy thing for a veteran artist. Three For The Road is an album well-worth exploring.

Live In 1967 Volume Two By John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers

January 23, 2017


This is the follow-up release to Volume one, which was issued a little over a year ago. It may not be as overall strong as that first release but it still does a very credible job in capturing one of John Mayall’s classic line-ups.

Not many albums begin with a fan but back in 1967, a super-fan named Tom Huissen, took his one channel tape recorder to a number of London clubs and recorded Mayal, Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, and John McVie, who would soon leave Mayall and form the original Fleetwood Mac. Over forty years later, Mayall obtained the tapes and two live albums were born.

The music was originally recorded on a one track recorder, so even with modern technology, the sound is only adequate. Green’s guitar dominates the sound with Mayall’s harp a close second. The rhythm section of Fleetwood and McVie tend to fade into the background at times. Still, the talent of the band, and particularly Green, manage to shine through.

The 8 minutes plus “So Many Roads” and the instrumental “Greeny” show why Peter Green is considered on the better guitarists of the last half-century. Mayall cranks up his harp on Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Your Funeral and My Trail.” The 7 minute “Tears In My Eyes” is a slow blues ballad and remains one of Mayall’s better original compositions.

A very interesting track is “Stormy Monday,” on which Ronnie Jones of Blues Incorporated sits in and provides the vocal.

This incarnation of Mayall’s Bluesbreakers quickly fell apart, which makes these never before issued tracks a historical treasure. The 70 minutes of music, sound aside, is what British blues were all about.

Live 67 By John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers

October 13, 2015


So who is Tom Huissen and what is he doing in a music review? Back in 1967, he managed to sneak a one channel reel-to-reel tape recorder into not one but five London Bluesbreakers concerts. Nearly fifty years later John Mayall acquired the tapes with the result being the Live In 1967 CD.

Literally over 100 musicians have played with John Mayall throughout the years including such guitar legends as Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Coco Montoya, and Mick Taylor. 1967 found one of his best configurations with lead guitarist Green, bassist John McVie, and newly added drummer Mick Fleetwood joining Mayall on stage.

The good news is that the music actually exists. These performances were never meant for release, so they should be appreciated as a glimpse into the careers of four musicians who would leave a mark in rock music history. They were one of the Bluesbreakers groups that has gained a lot of fame as the years passed but their time together was short as Green, Fleetwood, and McVie would quickly leave to form Fleetwood Mac, so live material of their time together is extremely rare.

The bad news, as can be guessed, is the sound quality. There is only so much cleaning that can be done with a 48 year old reel-to-reel tape from 1967. Plus, the sound from many small clubs was not very good in the first place. It is basically what it is but one cannot help but think the sound quality gives it an authentic 1967 feel.

The 13 tracks come from three sources. They were still playing music from the Eric Clapton’s Beano album. Green had been a part of the A Hard Road album and his guitar virtuosity drives “The Stumble” and “Someday After Awhile.”

It is the blues covers where the band really shines. They rock through Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Looking Back.” There is a very jazzy version of the old R&B hit “Hi Heel Sneakers.” “Stormy Monday,” “San-Ho-Zay,” and “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” all stretch out to over eight minutes and give Green ample room to improvise and prove why he is one of the better guitarists in music history.

Live In 1967 is a rare treat for fans of the electric blues to travel back in time to hear a legendary band at work. It is well-worth the price of admission.


A Special Life By John Mayall

July 15, 2014



Many 80 year olds are taking it easy in a retirement community anticipating visits from their grandchildren. Such is not the case with John Mayall who remains active on the road and in the studio. Despite his age, he remains an important link in the electric blues movement. He has just released one of the better albums of the second half of his career titled A Special Life.

Close to one- hundred musicians have passed through his Bluesbreakers down through the years.  Rock And Roll Hall Of Famers Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, John McVie, Mick Taylor, and Mick Fleetwood all honed their craft while playing with Mayall. At times this constant flow of musicians has affected the quality of the music. This is not the case with his latest release as guitarist Rocky Athas, bassist Gregg Rzab, and drummer Jay Davenport have been together for over five years and form a tight band. Also a lean four piece band gives Mayall and Athas room to stretch out and improvise.

Many of Mayall’s better albums contain original compositions and a number of cover tunes and that is the approach here. The only guest musicians is accordion player C.J. Chenier who plays his instrument on a rollicking cover of his father’s classic song “Why Did You Go Last Night.” Sonny Landreth’s “Speak Of The Devil” provides room for Mayall and Athas to trade guitar and harmonica licks. Mayall also brings his harmonica expertise to “That’s All Right” in one of the more innovative performances of his long career.

Mayall contributes three new compositions and one re-make from the Jack Bruce era. “World Gone Crazy” contains just the right amount of weariness one would expect from an octogenarian. Mayall takes the lead guitar position on the title track as well as on Albert King’s “Floodin’ In California.”

John Mayall remains a force in the world of the electric blues.  A Special Life” is an excellent addition to his legacy.


Stories + Road Dogs + In Place Of The King bu John Mayall

May 28, 2014


John Mayall is 80 years old and nearing the 60 year mark in a career that stretches back to 1956. His early bands contained a virtual who’s who of musicians including Eric Clapton, Peter Green, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, and Mick Taylor.

He has been a constant in the studio and on the road. He has released dozens of albums during the course of his career. His early releases found commercial success in the United States and the U.K. As time passed, he continued to be a good concert draw but his albums were less successful.

Eagle Rock Entertainment has gathered three of his late career albums and issued them in a three for one package. Stories (2002), Road Dogs (2005), and In The Palace Of The King (2007) may not be among the better known albums in his huge catalogue of releases but they contain a lot of his unique brand of electric blues.

Mayall has always been a consummate musician and band leader. Stories is a combination of original compositions and classic blues tunes. The Bluesbreakers line-up of guitaristBuddy Whittington, keyboardist Tom Canning, bassist Hank Van Sickle, and drummer Joe Yuele had been with him for seven years and was a tight unit. The underlying theme of the original material was a series of tributes, or stories if you will, about some blues legends. He channels Little Walter with “Southside Story,” Leadbelly on “Oh Leadbelly,” and some blues legends in “I Thought I Heard The Devil.” Complementing the theme; “Dirty Water” and “Feels Just Like Home” are fine examples of modern day electric blues.

Road Dogs contains 15 original compositions written by Mayall (13) and his band (2), which is essentially the same as on his previous album. This is probably the weakest of the three releases. Mayall has written a huge number of blues tunes and while the compositions here are adequate, most are not among his better creations. The playing on such tracks as “Forty Days,” “Snake Eye,” “Beyond Control,” and “Burned Bridges” is excellent but the lyrics throw everything off a little.

As average as Road Dogs may be; In The Palace Of The King is excellent throughout. It is a worthy tribute to blues legend Freddie King. The sound travels back several decades to Mayall’s classic period. “Cannonball Shuffle” is a chugging instrumental while “Palace of the King” is a blues rocker. “You’ve Got Me Licked,” “King of Kings,” and “Big Legged Woman” are all heartfelt tributes.

A lot of work went into the technical side of the release and the sound is excellent. The liner notes could have been a little more complete but that is a minor complaint.

John Mayall’s career has spanned three generations. Stories + Road Dogs + In The Palace Of The King is a worthy addition to any blues collection.

Blues Breakers: John Mayall with Eric Clapton

September 26, 2009

Blues Breakers: John Mayall With Eric Clapton is one of the few vinyl albums that I have replaced with the CD version. Yes it’s that good!

Eric Clapton left The Yardbirds in 1965 because he felt they were becoming a pop group rather than continuing in the rhythm & blues direction he preferred. He would serve two short stints as a member of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1965 and 1966. It was a match made in heaven, as Clapton would emerge as one of the most respected guitarists in rock ‘n’ roll.

He would only record one album with Mayall and it would be released after he departed. It would, however, become one of the essential albums in rock/blues history, as he would combine his style and technique to produce sounds that were innovative and new. His smooth and energetic solos helped to define the fusion of rock and blues as it propelled the guitar, as an instrument, into the modern age. Much has been written about his genius of using his Les Paul Gibson guitar with a Marshall amplifier, but it created such a different sound that it opened up the world of guitar playing to all sorts of new possibilities.

When listening to this album you need to focus on Clapton’s guitar and not be sidetracked by Mayall’s vocals which are adequate at best. Bassist John McVie and drummer Hughie Flint are a functional rhythm section and provide a solid foundation for Clapton’s searing solos.

The twelve tracks that formed the original release are a combination of Mayall compositions and blues classics. “Have You Heard” contains the perfect guitar solo. The old Mose Allison tune “Parchment Farm” is just under two and a half minutes of blues bliss. Even the Ray Charles classic “What’d I Say” succumbs to Clapton’s virtuosity. “Ramblin’ On My Mind” is notable for his first recorded lead vocal. The songs that comprise this release are about as close as he would come during his career to emulating the old blues masters that he so revered.

Blues Breakers: John Mayall with Eric Clapton is a perfect guitar album that changed the face of modern music. It would make his short span with The Bluesbreakers well worth the time and effort and provide a link to his next project.

Clapton would always seem to stay within a group setting for a short time and then move on to something else. In this case he would move on to one of the great super groups in rock history.

Tough by John Mayall

September 20, 2009

It’s doubtful that Murray Mayall could have imagined in 1933, when his son John was born, that he would one day be appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. As a guitarist he might have imagined his son becoming a musician but it is doubtful he could have conceived his progeny becoming one of the legendary rock/blues artists in music history.

John Mayall is now in his mid-seventies and over half a century into his career. His Bluesbreakers have included such luminaries as Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Peter Green, and a host of others. His current aggregation consists of guitarist Rocky Athas, bassist Greg Rzab, drummer Jay Davenport, and keyboardist Tom Canning. Mayall continues to supply the vocals in addition to playing the harmonica, organ, and guitar.

The albums publicity states that this is his 57th studio album and I will assume that it correct. Through that vast catalogue of releases he has always kept the faith as a rock/blues fusion artist. His work in the sixties was unique and cutting edge and opened up new possibilities for future generations of musicians. In many ways he can be considered the Godfather of the British Blues.

His new release is titled Tough and while it breaks no new ground, it covers the old very well. His vocals may not be as strong as several decades ago but he can still sing the blues as well as anyone and age has added an authenticity and emotional feel to his delivery. He is still a good organist and guitarist but it is his harmonica playing that provides many of the instrumental highlights of this album. It forms the heart and soul of his music and presents the blues at their best.

Mayall only writes three of the eleven tracks but they are the strongest. “Slow Train To Nowhere” is a slow and smoky number that uses his organ as the foundation. He sings with passion about the partying and boozing of his past. “Tough Times Ahead” is another moody number with commentary about the state of the world’s economy. “That Good Old Rockin’ Blues” is a hard driving number. It sums up his life long commitment to the blues and is joyful music at its best. Just roll down the car window and turn up the volume.

There are a number of other tasty treats that are included. “Nothing To Do With Love” uses a guitar solo with his harmonica playing on top of the sound. “An Eye For An Eye” includes a Booker T type of organ sound mixed with a heavy bass line to drive the song along. “Train To My Heart” cranks up the guitar sound as Rocky Athas shows off his virtuosity as the latest in a long line of Mayall lead guitarists.

Only mortality is going to stop Mayall from playing the blues. Tough proves that talent and passion can win out over age every time and that is good and comforting news for those of us who have aged with him

Live At Iowa State University (DVD) by John Mayall

March 31, 2009

John Mayall is often more remembered for who has passed through his group than he is for his music. Such artists as Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, and a host of others are ex-Bluesbreakers. John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers: Live At Iowa State University was recorded in 1987. His band at the time consisted of dual guitarists Walter Trout and Coco Montoya with Bobby Hayes on bass and Paul Hines behind the drums. He was in his mid-fifties at the time this concert was recorded and appeared healthy. His voice is in fine shape. He even seems to be having fun on stage.

The music contained on this DVD is excellent. I wish I could say the same for the packaging. The songs are listed out of order both on the DVD package and on the DVD menu itself. Some of the songs are not complete and are joined in progress. There is little flow between many of the tracks, which takes away from an actual concert experience. The extras promise a backstage interview with John Mayall which consists of one question that was not answered. I am going to take their word that the concert was actually recorded at Iowa State University. The music is superb. John Mayall plays the blues and nothing but the blues. The band is tight and the sound is full. He always sounds better when he carries two guitarists in his band. He and Walter Trout trade creative leads. Trout is an excellent player who can get almost a weeping sound from his instrument. Mayall also rotates to keyboards and harmonica with equal aplomb.

“Parchment Farm” is an old Mose Allison tune that features frenetic harmonica playing by Mayall. Very few people can use the harmonica as a lead instrument but he pulls it off, complete with some improvisation that always returns to the songs original structure. “Birthday Blues” is a song that focus’ upon Mayall’s blusy vocal. He accompanies himself on keyboards and this is as close to a one man show as he will come during this concert.

The Little Walter instrumental tune, “It Ain’t Right,” is a complete group effort. It is a two guitar attack by Trout and Montoya along side some more harmonica by Mayall. It is an virtual assault on the senses. The different guitar styles of Trout and Moore are obvious on their respective solos. Trout is more of a classic and technical blues guitarist while Montoya is a rock/blues fusion player. It is a good union and neither of the musicians intrude upon the others territory.Trout plays lead guitar almost as much as Mayall. “Little Girl,” “Steppin’ Out” and “One Life To Live” all showcase his skills. He is just one of those creative guitarists who can almost make the instrument talk. His tone is also crystal clear.

“Room To Move” can be considered to be funky blues if there is such a thing. It is a virtual extravaganza of Mayall’s harmonica playing and a must listen for any blues lover.

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers: Live At Iowa State University proves that John Mayall was still on top of his game in 1987. Ignore the package and just listen to the music.