Tuesday, April 27, 2010


As the elder statesman of British blues, it is John Mayall's lot to be more renowned as a bandleader and mentor than as a performer in his own right. Throughout the '60s, his band, the Bluesbreakers, acted as a finishing school for the leading British blues-rock musicians of the era. Guitarists Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor joined his band in a remarkable succession in the mid-'60s, honing their chops with Mayall before going on to join Cream, Fleetwood Mac, and the Rolling Stones, respectively. John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, Jack Bruce, Aynsley Dunbar, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Andy Fraser (of Free), John Almond, and Jon Mark also played and recorded with Mayall for varying lengths of times in the '60s.

Mayall's personnel has tended to overshadow his own considerable abilities. Only an adequate singer, the multi-instrumentalist was adept in bringing out the best in his younger charges (Mayall himself was in his thirties by the time the Bluesbreakers began to make a name for themselves). Doing his best to provide a context in which they could play Chicago-style electric blues, Mayall was never complacent, writing most of his own material (which ranged from good to humdrum), revamping his lineup with unnerving regularity, and constantly experimenting within his basic blues format. Some of these experiments (with jazz-rock and an album on which he played all the instruments except drums) were forgettable; others, like his foray into acoustic music in the late '60s, were quite successful. Mayall's output has caught some flak from critics for paling next to the real African-American deal, but much of his vintage work -- if weeded out selectively -- is quite strong; especially his legendary 1966 LP with Eric Clapton, which both launched Clapton into stardom and kick-started the blues boom into full gear in England.

When Clapton joined the Bluesbreakers in 1965, Mayall had already been recording for a year, and been performing professionally long before that. Originally based in Manchester, Mayall moved to London in 1963 on the advice of British blues godfather Alexis Korner, who thought a living could be made playing the blues in the bigger city. Tracing a path through his various lineups of the '60s is a daunting task. At least 15 different editions of the Bluesbreakers were in existence from January 1963 through mid-1970. Some notable musicians (like guitarist Davy Graham, Mick Fleetwood, and Jack Bruce) passed through for little more than a cup of coffee; Mayall's longest-running employee, bassist John McVie, lasted about four years. The Bluesbreakers, like Fairport Convention or the Fall, was more a concept than an ongoing core. Mayall, too, had the reputation of being a difficult and demanding employer, willing to give musicians their walking papers as his music evolved, although he also imparted invaluable schooling to them while the associations lasted.

Mayall recorded his debut single in early 1964; he made his first album, a live affair, near the end of the year. At this point the Bluesbreakers had a more pronounced R&B influence than would be exhibited on their most famous recordings, somewhat in the mold of younger combos like the Animals and Rolling Stones, but the Bluesbreakers would take a turn for the purer with the recruitment of Eric Clapton in the spring of 1965. Clapton had left the Yardbirds in order to play straight blues, and the Bluesbreakers allowed him that freedom (or stuck to well-defined restrictions, depending upon your viewpoint). Clapton began to inspire reverent acclaim as one of Britain's top virtuosos, as reflected in the famous "Clapton is God" graffiti that appeared in London in the mid-'60s.

In professional terms, though, 1965 wasn't the best of times for the group, which had been dropped by Decca. Clapton even left the group for a few months for an odd trip to Greece, leaving Mayall to straggle on with various fill-ins, including Peter Green. Clapton did return in late 1965, around the time an excellent blues-rock single, "I'm Your Witchdoctor" (with searing sustain-laden guitar riffs), was issued on Immediate. By early 1966, the band was back on Decca, and recorded its landmark Bluesbreakers LP. This was the album that, with its clean, loud, authoritative licks, firmly established Clapton as a guitar hero, on both reverent covers of tunes by the likes of Otis Rush and Freddie King and decent originals by Mayall himself. The record was also an unexpected commercial success, making the Top Ten in Britain. From that point on, in fact, Mayall became one of the first rock musicians to depend primarily upon the LP market; he recorded plenty of singles throughout the '60s, but none of them came close to becoming a hit.

Clapton left the Bluesbreakers in mid-1966 to form Cream with Jack Bruce, who had played with Mayall briefly in late 1965. Mayall turned quickly to Peter Green, who managed the difficult feat of stepping into Clapton's shoes and gaining respect as a player of roughly equal imagination and virtuosity, although his style was quite distinctly his own. Green recorded one LP with Mayall, A Hard Road, and several singles, sometimes writing material and taking some respectable lead vocals. Green's talents, like those of Clapton, were too large to be confined by sideman status, and in mid-1967 he left to form a successful band of his own, Fleetwood Mac.

Mayall then enlisted 19-year-old Mick Taylor; remarkably, despite the consecutive departures of two star guitarists, Mayall maintained a high level of popularity. The late '60s were also a time of considerable experimentation for the Bluesbreakers, which moved into a form of blues-jazz-rock fusion with the addition of a horn section, and then a retreat into mellower, acoustic-oriented music. Mick Taylor, the last of the famous triumvirate of Mayall-bred guitar heroes, left in mid-1969 to join the Rolling Stones. Yet in a way Mayall was thriving more than ever, as the U.S. market, which had been barely aware of him in the Clapton era, was beginning to open up for his music. In fact, at the end of the 1960s, Mayall moved to Los Angeles. Released in 1969, The Turning Point, a live, all-acoustic affair, was a commercial and artistic high point.

In America at least, Mayall continued to be pretty popular in the early '70s. His band was no more stable than ever; at various points some American musicians flitted in and out of the Bluesbreakers, including Harvey Mandel, Canned Heat bassist Larry Taylor, and Don "Sugarcane" Harris. Although he's released numerous albums since and remained a prodigiously busy and reasonably popular live act, his post-1970 output generally hasn't matched the quality of his '60s work. Following collaborations with an unholy number of guest celebrities, in the early '80s he re-teamed with a couple of his more renowned vets, John McVie and Mick Taylor, for a tour. It's the '60s albums that you want, though there's little doubt that Mayall has over the past decades done a great deal to popularize the blues all over the globe, whether or not the music has meant much on record. ~ Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide

Tracks :

1. Sunshine
2. You Can't Put Me Down
3. I Got Somebody
4. Turn Me Loose
5. Seven Days Too Long
6. Table Top Girl
7. Lady
8. Fantasyland

Friday, April 16, 2010


Tore Down House was Scott Henderson's second blues release, and he expands on the musical territory first explored on Dog Party. Henderson brings his harmonically sophisticated approach to bear on a variety of blues-based compositions. Tore Down House opens with hard-hitting funk of Dolomite, which conjures visions of 70's blaxploitation movies. The title track is a colossal blues, melding jazz-level harmonic imagination, Hendrixian scorch, and Thelma Houston's soaring vocals. Meter Maid features a Bo Diddley beat married to crunching guitars. I Hate You starts out as a hilarious parody of 50's love songs, syrupy chord changes and all, before Henderson's metallic solo takes the song into another dimension. Gittar School is an Stevie Ray Vaughn-styled vehicle with silly-but-funny lyrics. Xanax is one of the highlights, pairing Henderson's raw, no-holds-barred guitar with Thelma Houston's intense vocals. Continuum provides a respite before the hard blues-rock assault of You Get Off On Me, the heavy-hitting slow blues Mocha, and the jackhammer funk of Harpoon. The nonsensical lyrics on Tore Down House will be a turnoff to blues purists, but I kind of admire the fact that Henderson didn't try to write typical blues lyrics. The more compelling thing about Tore Down House is Henderson's expansion and re-imagination of blues-rock guitar. A stellar effort. Review by Thelonious

Tracks :

2.Tore Down House
4.I Hate You
5.Gittar School
8.You Get off on Me
11.Same as You

Sunday, April 11, 2010


GRAVY TRAIN's ("A Ballad of...") is a magnificient work of art and may represent one of the 70's most impressive albums. Combining delicate prog (aka JADE WARRIOR and CRIMSON's "In The Court" ) with well timed and thought out harsher explosive moments and extended jams. "A Ballad Of A Peaceful Man" is filled with heavy "Psychy" guitar, loads of delicious analog keyboard parts and a lot of amazing flute playing. One word of caution is that lead vocalist Norman Barrett has a very distinctive heavy sound which I love but may not appeal to everybody out there. I actually think that my love affair with GRAVY TRAIN's music rests somewhere in the cleverness and beauty of the musical contrast these guys deliver. Essential music for your ears...!

Tracks :

1. Alone in Georgia (4:35)
2. (A Ballad of) A Peaceful Man (7:06)
3. Jule's Delight (6:58)
4. Messenger (5:58)
5. Can anybody hear me (2:59)
6. Old Tin Box (4:45)
7. Won't talk about it (3:00)
8. Home again (3:25)

Saturday, April 3, 2010


This Grammy-nominated disc heralds the origins of the highly acclaimed acoustic duo of Jerry Garcia (guitar/vocals) and David "Dawg" Grisman (mandolin). They had been chums for years by the time they began their direct partnership in earnest on December 7, 1990, with a nine-song set at the Sweetwater in Mill Valley, CA. Over half of that material would be reworked the following spring -- for inclusion on this disc -- at Grisman's newly appointed, plush, and well-lit Dawg Studios. Along with David Grisman Quintet members Jim Kerwin (bass) and Joe Craven (percussion/fiddle), Garcia and Grisman revive a few familiar tunes covering every dimension of popular music, ranging from the blues ("The Thrill Is Gone") to folk-rock ("Friend of the Devil"), as well as pop music standards such as Irving Berlin's "Russian Lullaby" -- which Garcia had previously covered on his 1974 Garcia (Compliments) album -- and Hoagy Carmichael's "Rockin' Chair." They also examined the origins of authentic traditional folk ("Walkin' Boss"/"Two Soldiers"). Additionally, the pair collaborated on the original instrumental "Grateful Dawg," which coalesces the distinct styles of Grisman's "Dawg Music" with Garcia's Grateful Dead intonations. The results are categorically brilliant and undoubtedly helped usher in the contemporary bluegrass and progressive bluegrass movements. Grisman's sonically perfected studio coupled with his decades of hands-on engineering and producing expertise helped immensely in capturing and accurately reproducing their unaffected acoustic intimacy. Nowhere is this more evident than the 16-plus minute "Arabia" -- which would become a showstopper once they hit the road in the early '90s. The sound quite literally envelopes the listener, who autonomically becomes drawn into the track as it twists and slithers through several different movements -- including the central theme, credited in the liner notes as being based on the traditional Cuban melody "Hasta Siempre." All dimensions of "unplugged" enthusiasts who have not already made Jerry Garcia/David Grisman a top priority are strongly encouraged to do so. ~ Lindsay Planer, All Music Guide

Tracks :

The Thrill Is Gone
Grateful Dawg
Two Soldiers
Friend of the Devil
Russian Lullaby
Dawg's Waltz
Walkin' Boss
Rockin' Chair

tracker tracker