John Mayall, one of the first British musicians to fully embrace and perform American blues, was a pioneer. Throughout the 1960s, his band the Bluesbreakers granted PhDs in blues to a steady stream of musicians who became rock royalty, including guitarists Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor, who moved on to join or form Cream, Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones, respectively. Other graduates included Fleetwood Mac’s John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, Cream’s Jack Bruce and Free’s Andy Fraser.
Now 81 years old, Mayall remains vibrant and active. After going five years without a new studio album, he has released two in two years, including the new “Find a Way to Care,” featuring his steady quartet.
Speakeasy talked to him on the phone from his Los Angeles home just before he set off for a 53-date, two-month tour of Europe.
You’ve had a very busy run here, with two albums in two years.
We’ve been touring consistently all these years. We do at least 100 shows a year, but our record company was just holding us back. I finally asked them to put something out or release us, which they did. I signed with 40 Below Records and we’re back in business, which is great because I really feel like this is the best band I’ve ever had.
Your Bluesbreakers were like the University of British Blues, with Eric Clapton being replaced by Peter Green being replaced by Mick Taylor, for instance. It enhanced your reputation but was it frustrating to constantly have to make a new band? Were you a difficult boss?
No. That was all entirely due to the musicians that I chose to be in my bands. They were free to develop their own styles and in very short time they were ready to put their own bands together. It was always that way. I was such a good bandleader that I allowed a band to develop in its own way. If someone was ready to move on, they were replaced with someone else who was ready to step up. They were all very young and they were just finding their own direction. The thing was to encourage them to go on and develop their styles and personalities — and everyone was pleased with that.
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