He’s had the blues more times than the rest of us have had hot dinners.
Sid Smith 2010
Although he’s woken up and had the blues more times than the rest of us have had hot dinners, it’s a life-long diet that certainly agrees with John Mayall. This retrospective package, covering a 10-year period in the great blues singer-songwriter’s career, shows Mayall’s most enduring talent was being able to pick a winner when it came to choosing his side-men.
The Bluesbreakers were, until the arrival of Jimi Hendrix, the band you went to if you wanted to know what was hip and happening in the blues rock world. Theirs was the sound of a rule book being burnt in an exemplary fashion, their classic calling card still their iconic Beano album of 1966. Recorded with Eric Clapton aboard as guitarist – what else? – it’s a record that still possesses an incandescent power and grabs the attention.
Whilst the triumphant procession of the great and good in those early Bluesbreakers line-ups is well documented, this collection reminds us, particularly as it moves into discs three and four, just how well Mayall maintained his position as a serious talent magnet.
Although the sound was more stripped back by 1969’s live release, The Turning Point, the cool, potent swooping and soaring of Johnny Almond’s sax and the subterranean ruminations of bassist Stephen Thompson are nothing short of jaw-dropping. On California, Mayall has the canny judgment to give these players lots of space in which to breathe. Jazz-tinged and somewhat cerebral, Almond’s approach transforms what might’ve been a modal dirge into a thing of rare beauty.
Don “Sugarcane” Harris’s pungent violin, found on the albums USA Union and Back to the Roots, and the audacious runs of Blue Mitchell’s trumpet roaring out of Jazz Blues Fusion and Moving On, are proof, were it needed, that Mayall’s recorded output of the period deserves to celebrated for more than simply being the place where a few guitarists got a leg-up in their careers.