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the Tapestry of Delights:
John Mayall was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire, on 29 November 1933. He grew up on American jazz, which his father was heavily into, and learnt to play piano and guitar. At 13, he went to a Junior Art School in Manchester and later advanced onto the city's Regional College of Art. He had his own band, called The Powerhouse Four, which included Peter Ward who was later in The Bluesbreakers. By now, he was in his element, having got himself a job in an art studio attached to an advertising agency.
Mayall's next band, Blues Syndicat, was inspired by Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated. It was a raw R&B band which played mostly at Manchester's Twisted Wheel Club. In 1963, John decided to go down to London, get a day job (which he did as a draughtsman) and then put a band together. By early 1964, Mayall had signed a short-term contract with Decca, having got a semi-permanent band together. Line-up (A) recorded his debut album at an R&B dive, 'Klooks Kleek', in West Hampstead. Mayall had already released his first two 45s; the album contained a couple of cover versions (Night Train and Lucille) but the remaining 11 tracks were all originals.
Mayall's next coup was to recruit Eric Clapton, who'd left The Yardbirds, disenchanted with their movement away from the blues, but around the same time his Decca contract expired and they chose not to renew it. So line-up (B) recorded just two singles for Immediate and Purdah, but by early 1966, Decca seemed to acknowledge their mistake and took him back. However, in the Summer of 1965 Clapton headed for Greece and when he came back it was only for a short while. Jack Bruce (formerly of the Graham Bond Organisation) was with the band for a few weeks as a replacement for John McVie, who'd been sacked for boozing, but when Bruce left to join Manfred Mann, McVie was invited back into the fold.
In the Spring of 1966, line-up (C) recorded Bluesbreakers, which received wide acclaim and made Eric Clapton a star. It is recognised as the first classic British blues album. Indeed, before the year was out, he'd left to form Cream with Ginger Baker. Hughie Flint, who'd been with the band since 1964, left in September 1966. He later played with McGuinness Flint and Savoy Brown.
Aynsley Dunbar came in on drums and a new line-up made an EP with visiting American bluesmen Paul Butterfield, three 45s and another fine album, A Hard Road. Dunbar soon left for The Jeff Beck Group and Mickey Waller (ex-Steampacket and Brian Auger's Trinity) replaced him briefly. Next to fill in on skins was Mick Fleetwood but he was fired within a month for over drinking. In June 1967, Mayall expanded the band beyond a quartet, with Keef Hartley coming in on drums. However, this line-up didn't last beyond September when McVie, who'd been by far Mayall's longest-serving bandsman, decided to join the newly-formed Fleetwood Mac, which included Mick Fleetwood and Peter Green. The new line-up toured the US, which paid off in terms of record sales when their fourth album, Crusade, made No 136 in the US Album Charts as well as No 9 in the UK.
After McVie left, Mayall went through a series of bassists in quick succession. First Paul Williams (formerly of Zoot Money) then Keith Tillman and Andy Fraser, but line-up (I) recorded the Suspicions and Jenny 45s and Diary Of A Band, Vols 1 and 2, which included music, interviews and chat.
Mayall wanted to recruit Tony Reeves (New Jazz Orchestra) to fill the bass-player slot, but he would only join on condition that John Hiseman (ex-Georgie Fame and Graham Bond) would join as drummer. Consequently Hartley was sacked and went on to form his own band. Mayall then recruited Dick Heckstall-Smith (formerly of Blues Incorporated and Graham Bond Organisation) on sax, and with this new line-up (J) he recorded Bare Wires. His most successful album yet in terms of sales in the UK, it also sneaked to No 59 in the US Charts. He also put out a single, No Reply.
In September 1968 when Hiseman, Reeves and Heckstall-Smith all departed for Colosseum, Mayall's band, which now ceased to be called The Bluesbreakers and operated under his own name, reverted back to a quartet, as it had been for most of its early life. He found a new bassist in Steve Thompson and recruited Colin Allen (formerly of Zoot Money and Stone The Crows) on drums. The Blues From Laurel Canyon album recorded by this line-up actually sold better in the US, where it charted at No 68. Perhaps this was not surprising since it was Mayall's impression of a three week US holiday. This line-up survived until May 1969 when guitarist Mick Taylor joined The Rolling Stones and Allen departed for Stone The Crows. Now Mayall dispensed with a drummer altogether and switched labels to Polydor. Decca took the opportunity to issue Looking Back, a compilation of all the band's early singles. Line-up (L) was the last as a regular band. It put out the Turning Point and Empty Room albums. Thereafter, Mayall didn't bother to maintain a regular band, preferring to simply recruit suitable musicians whenever he needed them to tour or record. Turning Point veered much nearer to jazz than any of Mayall's earlier contributions and it featured some great sax playing from Johnny Almond.
On U.S.A Union, Mayall used American musicians for the first time. The album was full of social conscience and ecological protest songs but was musically disappointing as was Back To The Roots, despite the fact that Mayall assembled a plethora of illustrious musicians to appear on this lavish double set. Hereafter, he increasingly switched his base to America and his subsequent albums:- Jazz Blues Fusion, Moving On and Ten Years Are Gone were increasingly in a jazz-blues style. In 1975, he switched to ABC and used a female vocalist, Dee McKinnie, for the first time, but what followed falls outside the time frame of this book.
Bare Wires (Mayall)
Where Did I Belong (Mayall)
Start Walking (Mayall)
Open A New Door (Mayall)
I Know You (Mayall)
Look In the Mirror
Featured soloist in order: John - Henry - Mick - Chris - John & Jon - Tony & Dick
I`m A Stranger (Mayall)
No Reply (Mayall, Taylor)
Hartley Quits (Taylor)
Killing Time (Mayall)
She`s Too Young (Mayall)
Featured soloist in order: John & Chris - Mick & John - Mick, Henry & Mick - Jon, John & Dick - John & Henry
John Mayall - vcls, harmonica, pno, harpsichord, orgn, harmonium, assorted gtrs
Chris Mercer - tenor & barutone saxes
Dick Heckstall-Smith - tenor & soprano saxes
Jon Hiseman - drms, prcssn
Henry Lowther - cornet, vln
Mick Taylor - gtr, hawaiiah gtr
Tony Reeves - string bss, bss gtr
Recorded at Decca West Hampstead Studios in April 1968 (four days)
Engineer: Derek Varnals
p 1968 Decca Records