Mayall’s the be-all and end-all of British Blues icons

Friday, September 16, 2016

By Shelley Koppel
St. Lucie Voice
Setpember 15, 2016

At various times, the Bluesbreakers, the British band that brought the blues to Britain, had Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and a touch of Cream named Eric Clapton. Behind it all was the man known as “The Godfather of British Blues,” John Mayall. More than 50 years after he formed the famed Bluesbreakers, Mayall is still performing and recording. In May, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

John Mayall and his current band will perform Oct. 14 at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart. Mayall was first exposed to the blues listening to old albums his father, a jazz enthusiast, played. While guitarists like Leadbelly and Josh White first caught his ear, once he heard the boogie-woogie piano playing of Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, playing that music became his dream. As a teen he attended the Junior School of Arts outside his native Manchester and he played the piano for the first time. He also studied the guitar and the harmonica.

A career playing the blues was hard to come by, and Mayall worked in the art department of a department store until 1962, when a club opened in London, dedicated to the blues. Mayall quit his job, moved to London and began putting together the band that would become the Bluesbreakers. He honed his craft, playing back-up for some of the most influential blues musicians, including John Lee Hooker, T-
Bone Walker and Sonny Boy Williamson. In 1966, he and Clapton released “Blues Breaker,” an album Rolling Stone rated 195 in the “Top 500 Albums of All Time” in 2003.

Even after some of the musicians moved on, forming Fleetwood Mac and Cream, Mayall and his bands were attracting fans. His 1969 album, “The Turning Point,” with the hit song, “Room to Move,” went gold. In the 1980s, a new version of the Bluesbreakers produced albums like “Behind the Iron Curtain,” “Chicago Line,” and the Grammy-nominated “Wake Up Call.” More recently, he has released “A Special Life” (2014) and “Find a Way to Care” (2015), as well as “Live in 1967” (2015), a release of the original band’s music.

While he worked with some of the greatest rockers of all time, he doesn’t have a favorite band. “Every band I put together is special,” he said. “We’re there to create music. I don’t believe in rehearsals. You hire somebody because you like what they’re playing and go for the gig.”

The 500-seat Lyric is more intimate than a large venue and more like a club. Mayall said the size of venue doesn’t matter. “You respond to the audience and communicate with them,” he said. “It’s a shared experience with the audience. You respond to them and communicate with them.”

Mayall said that the audience can expect a great show. “They’re in for a treat,” he said, “The majority of people have been fans for years. Our job, whether it’s the first time or they’ve (seen us) many times, is to come up with something new and exciting, a different show. There’s so much material. We’ll play a cross-section, back to the early days right up to the present time. It’s varied to keep people’s interest. We have personal contact with the audience. You talk to them as you would to friends. It’s a good party feeling. I always have fun and we all love to play. That’s why we come to play.”

For many of the musicians who played with Mayall or were influenced by him, he was the master. On Mayall’s website, there are quotes from BB King, Paul McCartney, Walter Trout and Eric Clapton. Clapton summed it up best. “John Mayall has actually run an incredibly great school for musicians,” he said.

John Mayall appears at the Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $45.
For ticket information, call 772-286- 7827 or order online at