Every lover of the blues has a large hat to doff at John Mayall. The British singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist founded John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers in the ‘60s. With each year and each album, the band became something bigger than itself — a repository of British blues, a powerhouse of names who redefined the genre — Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, among others. At the heart of it was Mayall, 84, whose love for the blues has seen him perform for over five decades and is still going strong. Next month, Mayall will take the stage at the 8th Mahindra Blues Festival. Excerpts from an email interview:
You did 130 shows last year and are bringing out album after album (64 albums total, at one count). Have you ever felt like you were running out of steam?
Luckily, so far, I’ve been blessed with good health. As long as I have maximum energy, the albums will keep coming. I’ve always loved touring and playing for audiences from a live stage.
You have been playing the blues since the early ’50s. What was the blues scene in Britain like then?Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies kicked off what became the British Blues Boom and it attracted a new generation of listeners and players to such a vital form of music. The thing about playing the blues — it’s not something that any musician I know can put into words. You just have to express your honest feelings.
Your 1966 album with Eric Clapton, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, brought the Bluesbreakers a lot of acclaim and popularity. You’ve also said that Clapton “was the first person who had an understanding of where blues was coming from”.
Eric is one of a kind and I’ve always respected him tremendously. It’s so good that he’s reached so many people throughout his career and helped to spread the word of the blues.
You’d never been without a lead guitar player until very recently, when Rocky Athas exited the band. Was that by accident or a considered decision to try out something different?
Rocky was unable to reach us during a snowstorm that grounded planes out of Dallas. That led to us playing as a trio in the scheduled concert. From that moment, with the energies of bass player Greg Rzab and his drummer partner, I’ve found I get more opportunities to show what I can do. The public has been very supportive and we’re all having a ball.
Who was the first blues musician you saw live and when? Who do you like listening to these days?
I can’t remember specifically who that would have been as there were so many classic players gathered together for concerts in the ‘50s. But Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, Muddy Waters and Little Walter come to mind. Regarding who I enjoy listening to on record, the scope is so varied that I can’t come up with anyone.
Have you planned anything for your India trip?
It will all be a big adventure for all of us and we are looking forward to our part in spreading the power of the blues. There’s never any plan one can make in that area until we actually get to where we’re going and we are always open to anything that comes up.