John Mayall – Talking About That
One of the Godfathers of the British Blues scene has been back out on the road promoting his current Talk About That album on Forty Below but the UK tour schedule had no available time in London for a meet, so Pete called him later in California to talk about everything new and old in – for John – an early morning call….
JLTT: Morning John, hope you’re fit and well?
JM: Yes thanks, good to hear from you, thanks for the album review by the way.
How were the recent dates here?
Well it’s Ronnie Scott’s, they’re always good, a more intimate venue, quality sound and keen audiences. A club atmosphere rather than a big place, but yes we always have a good time there.
This was in the trio format?
Yes – me on keyboards, guitar, harp, vocals plus my guys that you’ve met Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on the drums. Gives a tight sound and range of material. Been doing that for some six months now, like a well-oiled machine for the live dates.
Yes, the nimble lads in the rhythm section – I have met them a few times now and they love the freedom they have..but how do you select the material now with this line-up?
Now of course some of the songs in the repertoire are very guitar-dominated so they may not be so suitable now. If they don’t work so well I’m inclined to drop them out, BUT there’s so much else to consider for inclusion. About 80% – I’d say – of what we did as a quartet does work very well still as a trio.
What instruments are you playing on tour at present?
We take the Hammond organ out on dates plus another keyboard for the piano.
Have you added anything to the guitar armoury? Besides the ones you make?
No, pretty much what we have had with us over the last three or four years and they give us the range we need for the songs we want to do
These days what make of harmonica do you favour?
The only ones I use still are Hohner – they go by different names but from my point of view they do all sound pretty much the same, for playing response. Same notes in the same place, that’ll do!
As regards material, I think more and more that for your career it just HAS to be the jazz influence and knowledge that gives you this eternal freedom
That is true – every single show we do there is so much improvisation and by all of us not just me. So even if we’re playing the same song two nights in a row they will have different inflections and emphases. There aren’t any rules, Pete – we play the way we feel in the moment. No right or wrong to it. There’s a direct connection to the jazz attitude being the freedom there to explore.
I am finding that – reviewing a lot of new acts as well as the vintage or experienced – that they just don’t swing ever, mainly because they don’t have jazz drummers. Which you, Ten Years After, Cream, Hendrix, Tull all did…is that slipping away?
(Ponders) I think it’s quite true that the drummers I have hired – like Jay – ARE versed in jazz tempo’s and as they have to work with the bass players that ready inter-action needs to be there. So that may be declining in that newer wave of acts, yes.
The records can live forever, if they capture that vitality in the studio. For setlists, you do get requests and I think I am probably responsible for recent airings of Broken Wings.but can you accommodate them?
It’s not really possible to do that too often. I haven’t stopped to count how many albums or songs I have recorded, but it’s a lot now. This is over sixty years! Now naturally people have their own favourites. In reality it’s going to be rare that they will coincide at any given time. We have about forty songs that we are currently playing together, but from all eras I would say.
I really like Mail Order Mystics…
That’s one we can’t really do now, Pete – it’s guitar-dominated in the ideal arrangement. It was always a lot of fun, though
I was looking at some vintage posters for American shows the other day and the names are just fantastic. Did you ever appear anywhere on a bill with Paul Butterfield?
Yes, it might well have been so BUT it would be a very long time ago!
No I don’t think so..I wasn’t a great fan of Mike Bloomfield and I don’t think we did any shows together, anywhere….
A recent sadness – James Cotton has passed. I so admired that man. Did you ever meet him?
Yes, a couple of times in our travels. We did a show about a year ago, on the same bill. Because he’d had cancer of the throat he could barely talk, so it was remarkable that he could carry on playing the way that he did. One of the all-time greats, I agree there.
John, we’ve spoken a couple of times about the live tapes from the fan of the London gigs with you, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood and Peter Green. Were you surprised at how well those historic albums were received?
Not really – the music on them does speak for itself, doesn’t it ? I don’t think you’ll ever hear Peter Green playing that level anywhere else than on those club tapes. In his time he came up with those fine live performances which I don’t think can be beaten by anybody
I tend to agree and I find them very repeat-playable. It’s atmosphere. He could take you somewhere, couldn’t he?
(Warmly) Yes! Unbelievable! It was a great period for us. It was only a short time that Mick Fleetwood was with us. I am really glad that it’s all preserved. For all time now.
Looking back in time – to use a term – what are your thoughts on drummer Keef Hartley?
Well he was always a great friend of mine, we bonded together early on and not just by the music but also by who he was as a person. We had a lot of fun together and it came out in the music, too – you can hear it.
He did like you have the knack of finding good musicians to bring on board
Yes, Keef being a drummer he had to find players who could be front men..so in that respect I agree he did rather well. Keef really worked hard at what he did.
Back in the Sixties, you put up the notion of A Great Crusade to get quality and forceful music heard – do you still look upon your endeavours in that light?
I don’t really know how to judge that. I just wanted and want to make sure that people are listening to me and are able then to maybe enjoy what we do. That Crusade time was one where the press and media were not too aware of the lesser-known acts which seemed a shame to us. As blues men it was an attempt to spread the word, as it were. Crusade was a hook to make people aware of the names.
It worked on my generation but then you made this very brave move of The Turning Point with no drummer!
Yeah – that scared a lot of promoters ! I think the changeover was about to take place half-way through a German tour..they were fearful that people would be turned off by this drummerless lineup and wanted the Mick Taylor ensemble as Part One or whatever. I turned that down said they’d just have to trust me!
When I play that record now there are echoes to me of that old film Jazz On A Summer’s Day
Yes the link there is definitely the Jimmy Guiffre set that is part of it – The Train & The River. That showed me that you could make rhythmic music but without a drummer. I thought, well that should work for me. It was a proving point
Also, the songs on that album were particularly strong
They were designed for that lineup, you see. Ultimately there wasn’t anywhere else you could go with that format so it didn’t last that long. Just over a year and two albums.
BUT then you made another of my favourite records with the Americans – Harvey Mandel, Larry Taylor, Sugarcane Harris – USA Union and still no drummer, till you toured..
That was the continuation of that idea, really but with different players. We did ultimately add a drummer.
Paul Lagos, the late Paul Lagos. I saw that tour
I had relocated to the States and I now had access to all these American musicians. Who wanted to play with me, so that’s how all that happened.
Mandel is one of ‘my’ guitar players and you did that ecological-aware song Nature’s Disappearing
Ah! Which is part of what we are doing now, funnily enough. Has been for quite some time. The message is still important, I think.
Can you play it to Donald Trump maybe??
Ha ha! We’re in danger there! Dangerous ground…
What concerns John Mayall about the world right now?
(Sighs) I think it’s crazy. Getting crazier all the time. The world is in turmoil and there doesn’t appear to be any answer to it all. We have people who are dissatisfied with everything and all they want to do is kill each other. For their beliefs. I don’t think we can do anything about that. There’s a song on my new album The Devil Must Be Laughing addressing all that. As musicians all we can do is put our opinions out there and that’s as far as we can go.
Cos you did military service, didn’t you? What did that do for the young Mayall?
Yes I was three years in The Army. It was hard work and overall a waste of time, but I did get to see some new parts of the world. All these experiences add to your individual profile. They have to.
Your songs are still inspired by the news of the day and humanity-based..you haven’t wandered off to elves and gnomes and some of those Progressive lyrics
Now THAT’s what The Blues is all about – it’s supposed to put out the word of what you are feeling about what’s going on around you. When it comes to making an album, I always bear that in mind… I look around me and there is the subject matter!
I am a news junkie, but it scares me. A French philosopher said that ‘every generation was equi-distant from savagery’….now, the latest record you put out included some contributions from Joe Walsh. Where did you first meet Joe?
I first met him when he came in to the studio to record the two songs we had in mind actually! I hadn’t to be honest ever taken much notice of him as he is not known as a blues player, is he? However, it turned out at he was fan of mine of long standing! And he wanted to come and play with us, so we agreed arrangements for that. I think he came in on the second day, to the studio. Managed to do his contributions in three hours or so, very professional. Pops in.joined in on the two songs and it was a great experience to do it.
Rocky told me that he took him aside and asked Rocky to kick his butt so he played out and played his best for you!
(Laughs) I missed that exchange but I believe you, when you hear it all back! It is good when something works naturally and you are not doing loads of takes
With my outfits, it’s that first or second take that has the magic, the spirit
Exactly! That has proved itself to me, over the years. That’s the important thing, when you play live so much you are used to working that way, producing the goods on the spot. That’s the attitude you should have – play what you need on your instrument and make the ensemble work, there and then.
And that’s where I think soaking up jazz is your best friend, you’re not afraid to vary the beat or take a solo
When I put an album together I really want to get it so that track to track they all have a different, feel, mood, tempo, key..it’s almost that you are playing someone a bunch of singles
Ah, well when I get one of your albums it’s always as though someone has handed me a set of photographs or postcards but in musical form
Yes ! so the songs each have a different flavour to them. The story will really dictate what’s going to come out of it. You shouldn’t get bored by the time you reach the end of an album, you should want to go back to the beginning and savour all the differences.
You do vary the keys a lot, to the extent that you sometimes note them in the liner info
You know, people are interested in that, I get a lot of comments. It’s to prove to people that every key has a different mood, or tone. It matters, in my view
What are your next recording plans? Or are you taking a rest?
Well, it’s probably time to get on and record the trio, obviously. We’re going to take that pretty seriously. No schedule as yet, but that’s the next venture .
Last question, John and it’s selfish one – the record of yours that I keep returning to is an early one Blues From Laurel Canyon, with Mick Taylor. It’s very varied, obviously evokes memories of Canned Heat, with The Bear..there is something magical about that record, but do you feel that way? Or is it just another record to you?
No, it’s a very important album to me as it tells a story from start to finish. It goes through a set of musical experiences in that three-week stint in LA. I packed a lot of adventures into those three weeks, so there was enough material there to make it a journey….
Thanks Pete. Look forward to seeing you at one of the shows later in the year. Take care
(Thanks John, Lewis and Tracy) ..
John Mayall’s new studio album ‘Talk About That’ is out now on Forty Below Records.
You can read our full review of the album here: http://bit.ly/2kzv2y9
For artist info, point the desert boots towards http://bit.ly/2kzwm44
In addition, John Mayall will be embarking on an extensive 36-date Autumn 2017 UK tour with special guest Buddy Whittington Band.
A full list of dates, venues and ticket links are listed below:
Tuesday 17th October 2017 – The Hawth, Crawley, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2jKvuwh
Wednesday 18th October 2017 – Venue Cymru, Llandudno, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/29HJY7V
Thursday 19th October 2017 – Victoria Hall, Stoke-on-Trent, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2peOjds
Friday 20th October 2017 – Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2nabbqP
Saturday 21st October 2017 – Town Hall, Birmingham, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2o9Nhwy
Sunday 22nd October 2017 – Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2pB7Zoh
Tuesday 24th October 2017 – City Hall, Sheffield, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2kH5sd4
Wednesday 25th October 2017 – Theatre Royal, Norwich, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2oyHAKr
Thursday 26th October 2017 – City Hall, Salisbury, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2peQ6PG
Friday 27th October 2017 – Truro Hall for Cornwall, Cornwall, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2pBjWKI
Saturday 28th October 2017 – Cheese And Grain, Frome, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2peOuFN
Sunday 29th October 2017 – Kings Theatre, Portsmouth, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2peNeCi
Tuesday 31st October 2017 – Grand Opera House, York, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2pf2IGt
Wednesday 1st November 2017 – Southport Theatre, Southport, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2nN99k8
Thursday 2nd November 2017 – Cadogan Hall, London, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2bIcCFT
Friday 3rd November 2017 – Cadogan Hall, London, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2bIcCFT
Saturday 4th November 2017 – Corn Exchange, Cambridge, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2a1l5XR
Sunday 5th November 2017 – Colston Hall, Bristol, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/29StdKT
Tuesday 7th November 2017 – Regent Theatre, Ipswich, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/1TXMVEe
Wednesday 8th November 2017 – New Theatre Oxford, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2pfc30Z
Thursday 9th November 2017 – Cliffs Pavilion, Southend, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2oW0Ui4
Friday 10th November 2017 – G Live, Guildford, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2ofxZVb
Saturday 11th November 2017 – Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2ocbr8z
Sunday 12th November 2017 – Grand Theatre, Blackpool, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2p3pMbO
Tuesday 14th November 2017 – The Sage, Gateshead, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2a3RVJk
Wednesday 15th November 2017 – Victoria Theatre, Halifax, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2ocrKCD
Thursday 16th November 2017 – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2pB4SNm
Friday 17th November 2017 – The Anvil, Basingstoke, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2hfncuz
Saturday 18th November 2017 – The Orchard, Dartford, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2oHA544
Sunday 19th November 2017 – Princess Theatre, Torquay, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2pBfoE5
Tuesday 21st November 2017 – Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2a1mKN5
Wednesday 22nd November 2017 – Opera House, Buxton, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2nVYZKj
Thursday 23rd November 2017 – St Albans Arena, St Albans, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2p3fFDB
Friday 24th November 2017 – Playhouse Theatre, Weston Super Mare, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2pB5IK7
Saturday 25th November 2017 – Pavilion Theatre, Bournemouth, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2p0bJzI
Sunday 26th November 2017 – Leas Cliff Pavilion, Folkestone, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2gwKiMa