John Mayall was born November 29, 1933 in Macclesfield, an English town near the industrial hub of Manchester - ar cry at that time from the black American blues culture we are familiar with today. The eldest of three from humble working class origins, and in the shadow of World War II, this skinny English lad grew up listening to his guitarist father’s extensive jazz record collection and felt drawn to the blues. Strongly influenced by such greats as Leadbelly, Albert Ammons, Pinetop Smith, and Eddie Lang, from the age of thirteen he taught himself to play and develop his own style with the aid of a neighbor’s piano, borrowed guitars, and secondhand harmonicas.
John Mayall’s first brush with fame, however, was not for his music. As a teenager, he decided to move out of the house, and, showing the signature eccentricities and artistic qualities that have added to his legendary status, he moved into his backyard treehouse. This gained him notoriety enough to receive newspaper attention. Even more so, since, upon returning from a stint in Korea, he brought his first wife Pamela to live with him there.
From an art college training, to three years with the British Army in Korea, to a successful career in graphic design, his blues singing and playing took a back seat until he reached the age of 30. From 1956 until 1962, John was performing publicly on a part-time basis fronting The Powerhouse Four and, later on, The Blues Syndicate. It was then that Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated pioneered what was to become known as The British Blues Boom of the Late ‘60s. Alexis was quick to encourage and help John make his move to London where he soon secured enough club work to be able to turn professional under the name John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. After a couple of years and a constant turnover of musicians, he met his soulmate in Eric Clapton, who had quit the Yardbirds in favor of playing the blues. This historic union culminated in the first hit album for the Bluesbreakers and resulted in worldwide legendary status.
After Clapton and Jack Bruce left the band to form Cream, a succession of great musicians defined their artistic roots under John’s leadership, and he became as well known for discovering new talent as for his hard-hitting interpretations of the fierce Chicago-style blues he’d grown up listening to. As sidemen left to form their own groups, others took their places. Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood became Fleetwood Mac. Andy Fraser formed Free, and Mick Taylor joined the Rolling Stones. As Eric Clapton has stated, “John Mayall has actually run an incredibly great school for musicians.”
In 1969, with his popularity blossoming in the USA, John caused somewhat of a stir with the release of a drummer less acoustic live album entitled “The Turning Point”, from which his song “Room to Move” was destined to become a rock classic. He received a gold record for this album. Attracted by the West Coast climate and culture, John then made his permanent move from England to Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles and began forming bands with American musicians. Throughout the ‘70s, John became further revered for his many jazz/rock/blues innovations featuring such notable performers as Blue Mitchell, Red Holloway, Larry Taylor, and Harvey Mandel. He also backed blues greats John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, and Sonny Boy Williamson on their first English club tours.
The year 1979 proved to be a pivotal, transitional, and climactic year for John Mayall, both personally and professionally. With the public climate being at an all-time low for blues music, Mayall struggled to keep his live and recording career afloat. Personally, however, he began the 20-plus year relationship with his current wife Maggie (Parker, n裠Mulacek), a singer/songwriter from Chicago who had been hired with Harvey Mandel’s band as Mayall’s backup. And extreme misfortune came his way when a brush fire destroyed his hand-crafted and legendary Laurel Canyon home, taking with it his scrupulously-kept diaries, his father’s diaries, master recordings, extensive book and magazine collections, Mayall artwork, and much, much more. Determined to rise from the ashes, Mayall persevered.
Motivated by nostalgia and fond memories, in 1982, John (together with Mick Taylor and John McVie) decided to re-form the original Bluesbreakers for a couple of tours and a video concert film entitled Blues Alive, which featured Albert King, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Etta James, and Sippie Wallace and others. A whole new generation of followers could get a taste of how it all sounded live two decades before at the birth of the British Blues explosion. By the time Mick and John had returned to their respective careers, public reaction had convinced Mayall that he should return to his driving blues roots. As John McVie returned to Fleetwood Mac and Mick resumed his solo career, Mayall returned to Los Angeles to select his choices for a new incarnation of the Bluesbreakers. Officially launched in 1984, it included future stars in their own right, guitarists Coco Montoya and Walter Trout, as well as drummer Joe Yuele, who is still John’s rhythmic mainstay.
With onstage popularity gaining each year, the ‘90s kicked in with the release of several John Mayall albums that have set new standards in rock blues - Behind the Iron Curtain, Chicago Line, A Sense of Place, and the Grammy-nominated Wake Up Call that featured guest artists Buddy Guy, Mavis Staples, Albert Collins, Mick Taylor. In 1993, Texas guitarist Buddy Whittington joined the Bluesbreakers and over the years he has energized the band with his unique and fiery ideas. Making his recording debut on Mayall’s Spinning Coin album, he proved to be more than equal to following in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessors. After that, they released two modern classics - Blues for the Lost Days and Padlock on The Blues, (the latter co-produced by John and his wife Maggie, featuring a rare collaboration with the great blues legend John Lee Hooker, who had been Mayall’s close friend since the early ‘60s). These albums have all garnered great reviews, critical and popular acclaim and represent Mayall’s ongoing mastery of the blues and his continuing importance in contemporary music. In addition, Mayall released three CDs through his own private label, Private Stash Records - Time Capsule (containing historic 1957-62 live tapes-no longer available), UK Tour 2K (live recordings from the Bluesbreakers 2000 British tour), and a selection of solo performances from John entitled Boogie Woogie Man.
The release of the popular tribute album led to such a heavy touring schedule that it began to take its toll on John physically. He therefore reluctantly decided to take time off to re-evaluate his career. In October 2008 he made the decision to disband and retire the long standing Bluesbreakers, which caused quite a stir in blues circles and led to rumors about total retirement. Since then Mayall has made some guest appearances with Mark Hummel’s Harmonica Blowout and so enjoyed the freedom that he decided to put together some new musicians with a view to touring on a more limited basis. The reaction to this plan has been so positive that two tours of Europe have been put together for 2009, including several shows with BB King in the UK. John has recorded a new album, Tough (2009) for Eagle Records, featuring the rocking blues contributions of Rocky Athas, Greg Rzab, Jay Davenport and Tom Canning.
As for the man himself, the father of six and the grandfather of six, John Mayall, at 75, hopes to keep the blues alive for many more years to come.