Ray Shasho had the rare privilege of chatting with John Mayall recently about the current tour, his incredible band of blues virtuosos and a musical career that has spanned more than 50 years.
Ray Shasho: Hello John, happy Friday the thirteenth.
John Mayall: “Is that what day it is … oh my God.”
Ray Shasho: You’re currently on a rather lengthy tour.
John Mayall: “Not sure which tour you’re talking about, we do several tours. We’ve got an east coast tour which is almost three weeks, is that the one you’re talking about?
Ray Shasho: So you correlate the tour as east coast or west coast in the states and maybe by continent when travelling abroad instead of classifying it as a worldwide tour?
John Mayall: “It’s just whenever the offers come in and where the agents can group together and we tour. The next one we’re doing is the east coast tour and like I say is about three weeks.”
Ray Shasho: You’ve got about eighty confirmed dates worldwide and counting, in my book that’s still a lot of touring.
John Mayall: “It’s really nothing …nothing at all.” (All laughing)
Ray Shasho: John, you’ll be making a rather rare appearance in Sarasota, Florida on November 29th at the Municipal Auditorium. I for one is extremely excited to have John Mayall performing in my backyard.
John Mayall: “We’ll certainly try and stir things up for you. I will also be celebrating my 80th birthday when we perform in Sarasota.”
Ray Shasho: I just can’t believe it.
John Mayall: “Yea, time rolls on doesn’t it?
Ray Shasho: It’s obvious you still have a passion for touring and you look incredible man …Do you have any secrets for looking young and keeping so incredibly fit?
John Mayall: “No, I guess I’m just blessed with good genes I suppose. But I keep healthy and I’m always very active and always have been so. I don’t really see any signs of aging yet. Music keeps you young.”
Ray Shasho: We have a lot of Brits that live here in Sarasota, usually on a part-time basis, do you have any connections here?
John Mayall: “Florida is a state that we don’t get to nearly often enough, but we don’t pick places, it always has to do with promoters in various areas and coming forward with gig offers. So it’s not really up to us.”
Ray Shasho: John, I really like your current band … Rocky Athas on guitar, Greg Rzab on bass guitar and Jay Davenport on drums … they’re all amazing musicians.
John Mayall: “They are pretty amazing; we’ve been together for five years now but it really doesn’t feel like anything at all, we just love playing together.”
Ray Shasho: They all have incredible resume too. What inspired you for putting this particular band together?
John Mayall: “Initially it was because I was taking a break after the disbanding of The Bluesbreakers and it coincided with Eagle Records wanting a new album. It was the last one on the contract that I have with them and that kind of triggered a new chapter.”
Ray Shasho: The band definitely captures that traditional classic blues sound and image onstage. I watched numerous You Tube videos from various 2013 live performances and the band sounds great! My favorite video was the group performing “Stormy Monday” the classic T- Bone Walker tune at B.B. Kings … just awesome!
John Mayall: “We just started doing that one again. A lot of things songs we lay dormant for several years and then decide to bring them out again … giving them a fresh life.”
Ray Shasho: John, it’s reassuring seeing the blues persevering and attracting audiences worldwide.
John Mayall: “Just judging by the amount of young players that always seem to be popping up … it will. Some of them are better than others, but the whole point about it is they are all attracted to the blues and want to play it.”
Ray Shasho: I’ll admit, I’ve been worried about the blues genre sustaining. Younger generations may not be able to sense or experience what it takes to conceive a bona-fide blues song … maybe too preoccupied with their cell phones.
John Mayall: “Anybody can get the blues because the world in a tangle the way it is; there are plenty of things to get you depressed about. Smartphone’s aren’t for everybody, there is an amazing amount of young players who devote all of their time to learning the guitar or whatever instrument …it’s usually guitars that seem to attract everybody.”
Ray Shasho: You play a variety of instruments effortlessly and you’re also an incredible harp player. I’ve never been able to master the harmonica, were there any special techniques that you used in learning how to play?
John Mayall: “It’s all self-taught and I just bumble my way through it into whatever best way I can. I don’t know how to explain it; I guess I do the best I can with any instrument I get attracted to. But they’re just tools in order for you to express yourself and that’s really the upshot of it.”
Ray Shasho: There were so many great blues artists from the very early days. Kim Wilson of the Thunderbirds introduced me to Harmonica Frank Floyd who actually played the harmonica without holding it or assistance of a neck brace while singing at the same time. And Maria Muldaur turned me on to the legendary Memphis Minnie.
John Mayall: “There was a lot to listen to out there. Memphis Minnie was one of the very few and very popular female blues singers and guitar players in the 30’s. She was a friend of Big Bill Broonzy who saw it all from that era of the 30’s and 40’s.”
Ray Shasho: John, what do you remember about growing up in England during World War II?
John Mayall: “We had the bomb shelters in the schools and had air raid drills. So I guess that was exciting I suppose. It was all part of what was going on. I was about eleven or twelve so I remember a lot of it. We lived about twelve miles from Manchester and Manchester was bombed pretty heavily. You could see the sky was red from the bombs.”
Ray Shasho: Was it difficult finding blues music while growing up in England?
John Mayall: “I had my father’s record collection right from when I was a kid and so I was kind of weaned on jazz and blues … mainly on jazz I suppose. 78’s were the only thing invented at that time, so there were plenty of 78’s to get the background of what was going on.”
Ray Shasho: Jim McCarty told me that Eric Clapton actually auditioned for The Yardbirds. Did he have to audition for The Bluesbreakers?
John Mayall: “No, he was a known quantity by then. The Yardbirds were a pop band from the beginning although they were doing blues material. Their final direction showed where they were really at.”
Ray Shasho: John, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish like the movie, to play, sing or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
John Mayall: “I guess Big Maceo Merriweather was one of the people that I missed. He’s my idol on piano. So he’s the first one that comes to mind. I just feel lucky because I’ve played with most of the people who are no longer with us, so it’s great to have had that experience. But there are lots of people I would have loved to heard play … Lead Belly… Blind Lemon Jefferson … All the pioneers of boogie-woogie … just so many people, the list is endless.”
Ray Shasho: John, thank you so much for being on the call today but more importantly for all the incredible music you’ve given us and continue to bring. We’ll see you in Sarasota on November 29th for your 80th birthday.
John Mayall: “Excellent Ray, we’ll see you in Sarasota.”
Visit Ray Shasho’s classic rock music blogs at www.classicrockhereandnow.com