WALKING TOWARDS SUNSET

Chapter One: A potted history from 1963 – 1967

Being an ambitious but ultimately ludicrous attempt to summarise the early days of  blues legend John Mayall. Skip to Chapter Three if uninterested in early British blues.

John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers started playing London’s famous Marquee Club in late 1963. In the following year they released a first single and backed John Lee Hooker on his British tour. In April 1965, just after his 20th birthday, Eric Clapton joined the Bluesbreakers. After some lightning membership shuffles and lots of in and out and round about, the seminal Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton album was recorded and released in July 1966. It did rather well at the time – rising to a chart position of #6 –  and is worthy of a place in any serious record collection.

Bluesbreakers_John_Mayall_with_Eric_Claptonjohn mayall - a hard road

Later that year, Clapton left and Peter Green returned. (Can you see I’ve left a bit out there? It really was a complex dance of players and playing). A Hard Road was released in February 1967. This is the definitive ‘Peter Green with Mayall’ album and another essential from Mr Mayall’s catalogue. Most of the Bluesbreakers were released around this time too – or rather buggered off to form Fleetwood Mac – but Mayall, undismayed, recorded The Blues Alone pretty much on his own. In July ’67 the album Crusade was recorded, introducing new guitarist Mick Taylor who was 18 at the time. Mr Mayall liked his guitarists young and fresh. Anyway, they went out on the road and toured extensively, the shows being captured on a portable tape recorder.

Chapter Two: A New Year, A New Clutch of Albums

Being more about bands and incubators

Early 1968 saw the release of two volumes of The Diary of a Band, culled from Mayall’s live recordings. Andy Fraser put in a brief work experience stint before joining Free. Then there was a new touring band, more road trips and the recording of the Bare Wires album in April. This Bluesbreakers line-up included Jon Hisemen on drums and Dick Heckstall-Smith on saxes, soon to form Colosseum. The role of Mayall bands as incubators for new combinations is impressive, isn’t it? At this point Mayall disbanded the Bluesbreakers, though he kept Mick Taylor on the payroll.

By now you are probably panting with the effort of keeping up with this swirling blues ecosystem and its ever shifting cast of players. Need a break? John Mayall thought so and booked himself a holiday. He opted for the warmth and hedonistic delights of the West Coast of the US of A, touching down in LA around the middle of 1968.

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The Mayall Tree (from the album Back To The Roots)

Chapter Three: “My Summer Holiday” by John Mayall

Being an imaginary holiday journal of the gregarious Mr M.

♣ Been working hard. Building bands, discovering future legends, recording, touring, disbanding bands, discovering next legend. Need a break. Need some flippin’ sun. Got it! California! Buy ticket, fly out.

♦ Phew, what a cool place. Just walkin’ around gives me a buzz. Makes me randy too. Actually, just walkin’ around often makes me randy, especially when the sun is out. Anyway, first things first: digs. Not as in “I really dig yer blues, man” but a place to hang out and sleep and make out with chicks.

♠ OK. Pad sorted. Laurel Canyon is the place to be and I am so here. Visit some neighbours. Frank and Gail are cool. Those GTOs are amazing (and a bit scary). Moon Unit cute as a button. Funny name though.

♥ Pad: tick

♥ Party: tick

♥ Get Laid: tick

♥ Get the clap: tick.

Rats.

♣ Some of these chicks just aren’t evolved enough. Need to hang out with some brothers. Visit Canned Heat, spin some black wax. Got ramblin’ on my mind. Again.

♦ Found someone super hot. Did a bit of chasin’. Result.

♠ Wonder why these holiday flings don’t last. Oh Well.

♦ Headin’ back to Londinium tomorrow. It’s a hard road. Got some great song sketches though. Must call up Mick T and book some studio time.

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Photos of LP courtesy of sinistersaladmusikal

Chapter Four: Blues From Laurel Canyon

Being the album recorded on return to the UK in August 1968 and released in November that year

There are a dozen songs on Blues From Laurel Canyon, telling the story of John’s holiday in endearingly candid detail. The fantasy diary above is, in fact, a précis of each song. It’s like being shown a slide show of someone’s holiday while you have a few drinks and they regale you with amusing, boastful, intimate or just plain embarrassing stories. It is so much fun.

The plans form in ‘Vacation’, complete with aeroplane sounds and an early ripsnorter of a Mick Taylor solo. On arrival, we segue straight into the boogie bounce of ‘Walking on Sunset’, followed by a slow piano blues as John finds his temporary home and sinks into the new environment. The visit to the Zappas is chronicled in a medium-paced electric boogie with a nice slide solo from MT and a chirpy harmonica break from the boss.

Things get slow and sleazy as John takes his mojo out dancing in ‘Ready to ride’. Lovin’ he does indeed get, but with an added extra: an STD. The slow toms of ‘Medicine Man’ set a quiet rhythmic pulse as John ruefully reflects upon his bad luck and the necessity of staying ‘out of circulation’. His harmonica is quite teary (but it’s hard not to chuckle, unsympathetically, “Serves you right you randy old git”). Side One closes out with the boogie shuffle of ‘Somebody’s acting like a child’. I often feel quite uncomfortable about how Mayall writes about women, so I’m not going to linger on this one. Suffice to say that for all the hippy free love 60s shtick, it often comes across as patriarchal, patronising and more than a little self-centred.

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Click the image to visit Marco’s blog. The pics and info are great and there are clips of songs from the album to watch/listen to

The mid-paced electric boogie of ‘The Bear’ is a lyrical and musical homage to the mighty Canned Heat. Sure, it’s name-dropping again, but upbeat and fun with some barrelhouse piano from JM. ‘Miss James’ and ‘First time alone’ plot his pursuit and congress with a lady who, it is said, was a notable ‘groupie’ on the LA scene. The first is a bouncy, organ driven blues while the next is full of late night atmospherics. ‘Long gone midnight’ is a slow blues of longing with a short sweet MT solo. The last song, ‘Fly tomorrow’, slowly unfolds to complete the autobiographical cycle as John heads home.

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MOJO #37, December 1996

Chapter Five: Context is all

Being an explanation for all this rambling

When I went to live in Mainz, Germany in mid-1996 I took only a handful of CDs, figuring that perhaps clothes were more important. Reading and entertainment were provided by locally sourced copies of Mojo magazine, its pages providing hours of escape from learning German vocabulary. After publishing an article entitled ‘100 Best Guitar Solos – Ever’ Mojo invited readers to submit a brief argument/example supporting their case for any omissions. With the vast majority of the Vinyl Connection library in a Melbourne storage facility the options were severely limited and my chance of Mojo glory seemed slim… until I spied amongst the meagre travelling collection Blues from Laurel Canyon.

*

John Mayall was born in Macclesfield, UK, on the 29th of November 1933.

Congratulations, Mr Mayall. Hope you are still enjoying life on the West Coast.

*

SOURCES

John Mayall “Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton” [Decca 1966]

John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers “A Hard Road” [London 1967]

John Mayall “Blues From Laurel Canyon” [London, 1968]

23 comments

  1. I had a few of these albums ‘…with Eric Clapton’ being the first album I bought. Yet I haven’t thought much about John Mayall since I left a concert in Sandringham VIC Au with ringing ears. This was bad luck for Mayall, and, as it turned out, ultimately for me, as it was also at around the time I began to switch over to CDs.
    Another illuminating and amusing piece, thanks, Bruce.

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    1. So you saw Mayall in Sandringham? Was that mid-80s?

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  2. Wonderful as always. There’s a brilliant BBC documentary on John Mayall that gets put on over here quite a lot.

    Didn’t realise he was from Macclesfield, thus squaring the Eric Clapton/Joy Division circle.

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  3. John Mayall is 80? I thought he was a young bloke like me. Oh, wait…

    Andy Fraser would have been only 15 or 16 when he joined the Bluesbreakers, albeit briefly. Remarkable!

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    1. Yep. Those decade thingees just keep sliding past.
      Maybe you’re only as old as the music you play. Oh, wait…

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  4. Yes, John Mayall came to Melbourne in the eighties (~ ’83?) and I saw him play at the Sandrigham Hotel. He got crossed-off my Xmas list for playing achingly loud stuff with no finesse. Indeed I could not drink enough to make it bearable.

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  5. Mr. M’s holiday journal almost killed me, ha! Too bad his “to do list” ended on such a sour note. Poor Mr. M. But I guess it was just desserts if he really was such a misogynist at the time, heh heh.

    Really enjoyed this piece! 🙂

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    1. Thanks Marie. Although there are many things to savour about the 60s, attitudes towards women are not one of them. However I’m sure all those narcissistic “chick magnets” have reached more enlightened planes over the intervening decades.

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      1. True – they probably look back and shake their heads sadly over their misspent youth, just like many “regular people”. Ah well, gather ye rosebuds, ye chick-magnets, while ye may. Too soon your to-do list will include things like “eat prunes” and “take blood pressure meds”. 😉

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        1. Most amusing. Wish my laughter didn’t sound so hollow.

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  6. I’m right there with you, my brother. At least we can look back and be happy that we were young at a time when music was amazing. We were lucky that way.

    “Hey Nineteen, no, we can’t dance together, no, we can’t talk at all…” 😉

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  7. “Hey Nineteen”… Yeah. +1

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    1. Time for a Steely Dan article???

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  8. Yep. Go for it, Bruce. I’m all bogged down in Jeff Beck right now. 😉

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  9. The Prudent Groove · · Reply

    “Serves you right you randy old git” Wow! What a ruckus of a story! I’m more than a bit ashamed I didn’t realize his connection with Slowhand. Great post!

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    1. One of the joys of rock music is the eternal archeology and occasional discovery of missing bits and unknown delights. Thanks for your comment.

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  10. […] What dubious souvenir did John Mayall acquire in LA, circa summer […]

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  11. CB has lots of John’s music. We already touched on ‘Turning Point’ (a fave). Discovered so many good players and music through Mayall. Well done article to a deserving “Keeper of the flame”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If this one isn’t in the CB collection, I can highly recommend it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. CB’s brain is smoked today. Are you talking ‘Laurel Canyon”?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes. Decca did a nice re-issue on vinyl a couple of years back.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. You know what Bruce. I will take you up on that recommendation. Back when I was starting out on this musical trip. JM played a big part. ‘Blues Breakers With EC’ ‘Looking Back’ and especially ‘Back to the Roots’ were the albums that I played a lot along with ‘Turning Point’. ‘Roots’ has the cool booklet . I’ve kept up with him but not religiously. Inherited a bunch of his newer music from a friend. John’s still doing it. You keep doing pieces like this and you’re stuck with me.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. I like catching up on these posts that I missed the first time around Bruce.
    I also now aspire to one day writing a slow & sleazy track, complete with a ripsnorting-esque solo!

    Liked by 1 person

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