2009 marked a new year with a new band, a new album and a new lease on John Mayall’s musical life! Disbanding the former Bluesbreakers was not a decision made lightly and, like so many of John Mayall’s former band members they will continue to be successful and grow.
Mr. Mayall’s current touring band, notably including his latest guitar discovery from Texas, Rocky Athas, is rounded out with a hard-hitting blues rhythm section from Chicago: Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums; and, of course, John Mayall on keyboards, organ, harmonica, guitar and vocals. Blues411 got a special chance to talk with the ‘godfather of British Blues’ and here is what transpired. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did speaking with this iconic British Blues man.
B411: How did this happen, was it a set direction that you wanted to take, or did it just emanate from the players who joined you in the band?
JM: Yes very much so from the band. I think that the energy that they brought was such a lift that it was just amazing, the recording that emerged was a product of all of us at that moment. The recoding was mostly first takes of everything, tracks were all done in three sessions. It just took care of itself with the expertise of the musicians.
B411: Greg and Jay are from Chicago area, Rocky out of Texas, how did they come together as a band?
JM: I have worked with Greg before, about eight/nine years ago, because I knew Greg’s worth I asked him to recommend a drummer, you know that the bass and drummer must dovetail to get the best out of them. Greg suggested Jay and I hired him straight off without giving it a second thought. It has worked out very well because they have worked together many times over.
With Rocky, I knew he lived somewhere near Buddy Whittington (previous guitar player for band) lived, they were friends. I met him and heard him when we were playing together a few years ago, we went to a club afterward and Rocky was playing. That’s how I got connected with him. It was a big surprise for Rocky to have me call him after several years and offer him the job.
I had only met Jay when he came into town, a mere three days before we went into the studio. So Greg and Jay arrived and shook hands on a Friday – we did a gig on Sunday, and Monday we went into the studio and by Thursday it was done. Another fact is that nobody had met Rocky before, so there were all these threads that came together.
B411: I think that happens because of the atmosphere you create, and your attitude and encouragement with the musicians that you work with.
JM: It’s a very free atmosphere, cause that ‘s the only way that music will come - if it is relaxed, and everyone is on the same page.
B411: You always seem to ‘push the envelope’ when it comes to the Blues. When you enlisted Jon Mark & Johnny Almond for ‘The Turning Point’ release it seemed to set the Blues Music world in a tizzy, did you expect that reaction?
JM: Hah hah hah, I thought that it would be somewhat of a gamble, but I had very good faith in the fact that we could come up with something that showed you didn’t really need drums to have rhythm in it. The thing is it did work. It was the confidence I had which came from hearing The Jimmy Giuffre 3, they were just a trio with no drums, and they swung like mad. I knew it could work, but, as always, I have faith in what I attempt.
B411: How is the current state of the Blues?
JM: I think the Blues is definitely alive and well. Everywhere you go in the world, it seems like there’s a Blues club, somewhere in just about every city. It’s definitely taken root in the overall picture of what goes on in music. It is here to stay, and it’s also noticeable that with each generation it is alive and well with people wanting to play it.
B411: That’s great to hear, can I just say sometimes I think we are preaching to the choir within the community and does it resonate outside our family group?
JM: I do think there is an aspect of preaching to the choir here. In my particular case after all these years it doesn’t get space or entries into the Grammy’s or anything like that (or Hit Parade) but in the meantime I’ve had all these years of finding my audience, maybe more than some of the hit paraders out there.
B411: Well this year I discovered the pre-grammy telecast on live feed and was able to see Mavis Staples, Buddy Guy, Maria Muldaur and others sing and receive awards.
JM: Oh really, that’s great. To tell you the truth it depresses me cause I’m not in them. I am the ultimate outsider, but it’s nothing new to me, as long as I have my audience and can still play for them.
B411: I understand, and you have maintained that audience over these many years, that’s an accomplishment not many have achieved.
JM: Yes, quite so, thank you.
B411: How do you look back on your releases, any favorites that stand out?
JM: It’s very hard to compare your work. That’s sort of like asking which of your children is your favorite. They all have their own place in time and in your memories, and when I hear any of these pieces of albums they just remind me of the times and stories of the life I was leading, it’s a musical diary.
B411: I mentioned to Debbie Davies that I would be speaking to you, and she sends her love. She recalls you being a major mentor for her and how she played rhythm on the 1990 release ‘Sense of Place’, because of her ability to cop a Jimmy Reed riff.
JM: Oh my! I had forgotten about that. That’s quite true. I think it was the simplicity of the riff and the tone of the guitar, it was not really Sonny Landreth’s expertise, and Debbie felt right at home with that.
Speaking of that moment in time, we caught one of Coco’s Montoya’s shows out here, and he’s made such improvements. I was really impressed with his choices of material and the subtleties that have entered his repertoire, they are just quite amazing, a great performer and entertainer.
B411: Do you often get a chance to listen to music these days, it seems that the life of a professional musician is chocked full of things that take up lots of time and leave little room for guilty pleasures like listening to music.
JM: I got a good collection of Jazz and Blues and beyond. But I don’t get much chance to listen unless I am on the road. I put the CD’s in my car to listen to them. It’s really the only chance I get to give them a listen.
B411: I really appreciate your time here and I hope that I did justice to you and your career. See you when you get to Rochester in April.
JM: Thank you, it’s been fun, you’ve done well. See you then.
To listen to some sound bytes from Mr. Mayall’s illustrious career click here
http://www.johnmayall.com/listen.html - and the link will also take you to his site on the web, where you can see his tour dates and other great info.
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,
photos courtesy of Artist