John Mayall: The Hard Road
Having been the kingpin of the British blues scene since the mid-60s, John Mayall is showing no sign of throwing in the towel just yet, as he releases his new album and hits the live trail...
It’s only natural to talk of retirement when you reach your eighties – some might say that’s leaving it a little late – but John Mayall hasn’t got round to it yet. On the cusp of his 82nd birthday he gives no indication that he’s going to quit what he’s been doing for the last six decades.
That hasn’t stopped others talking on his behalf though, possibly out of a desire to wrap up his outstanding career in ribbons and bows. There were murmurs back in 2003 after his 70th birthday concert in Liverpool that featured appearances from two of his illustrious former guitarists, Eric Clapton and Mick Taylor. But there was no perceptible change in Mayall’s relentless touring schedule, and the albums continued to emerge on a regular basis.
Five years later the murmurs rose up again when Mayall himself used the “r” word after dissolving the backing band who’d been with him for 16 years. But it turned out that the only thing that was being retired was the Bluesbreakers moniker – three weeks later Mayall had recruited a new band and was back out on the road.
Then the albums dried up after 2009’s Tough, raising further speculation that was only quelled by last year’s A Special Life. And now, a year later, comes another album of new material, Find A Way To Care, to underline that normal service has been resumed. Mayall himself can’t see what all the fuss is about. The interruption was just another blip from a record industry still trying to get to grips with the digital age.
“We were with Eagle Records who were increasingly slow to the point of standstill,” he explains down the phone from his Los Angeles home, where yet another sunny morning vindicates his decision to move to America’s west coast more than 40 years ago. His accent, though, remains resolutely British, without even a hint of the mid-Atlantic squawk that afflicts so many of the long-term expats living out there.
“Maybe they were going through financial problems, I don’t really know, but they just didn’t ask for a new album,” he continues. “In the meantime I put out a couple of albums on the website, to hold the fort so to speak.” These included the CD/DVD Live In London, which was recorded at the Leicester Square Theatre in November 2010 featuring his current band. “We just did the best we could until Eagle finally decided they weren’t going to deal with us any more. I kind of forced their hand by saying: ‘We can’t keep hanging around like this.’ And they gave me the okay to go ahead on my own. That allowed me to make a deal with producer Eric Corne and his Forty Below record label.”
Linking up with Corne, one of a new generation of producers working in Los Angeles, rejuvenated Mayall’s sound on A Special Life and is even more evident on *Find **A Way To Care*. Mayall describes it as “a great experience” while Corne was so excited when they first met he dropped any pretence of cool and asked Mayall to autograph his copy of the *Beano* album. “I first came into contact with Eric when he was making an album with Walter Trout and they wanted me to do a spot on one of the tracks,” says Mayall. “So that’s how I came to meet him and see the House Of Blues studio. He runs a small outfit and he’s very hands-on, which is perfect for me because he gets the job done. It may not be the biggest record company in the world but we’re certainly getting a lot more attention and publicity and everything else through being with him.”
So well has their relationship developed that Mayall entrusted Corne with the historic tapes of the Peter Green/ Mick Fleetwood/John McVie Bluesbreakers line-up recorded at various London venues by an eager Dutch teenager with a single mic and a portable reel-to-reel, and finally released earlier this year as Live In 1967. “Actually the tapes were in pretty good shape in the first place,” says Mayall. “Eric ￼just sweetened them up a little bit, particularly at the beginning and end of the songs, overlapping the sounds of the audience from the different venues just to make it sound a bit more realistic. The good thing is that there’s enough there for another album, which will be coming out next year.” Hopefully Corne now has a signed copy of A Hard Road to add to his collection.