Since 1967, when a friend handed him a copy of A Hard Road by John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, author Dino Logoz has looked to the British blues legend for guidance on understanding blues music. As the years past, Logoz began to wonder why more people didn’t give Mayall the proper level of respect the author felt he deserves for a career that was constantly in a state of flux. Mayall was never afraid to move beyond traditional sounds in search of new approaches that challenged his band members and his fans. As Mayall points out in the Foreword, “Let’s face it, I’ve never had a hit record…I’ve only got one Grammy nomination, You’ve got to realize, I’m pretty much an underground figure except to blues lovers who follow me and my career”.
Thanks to the extensive research that Logoz conducted, Mayall’s fans now have a in-depth review of his bands and the many notable musicians who have backed him through the decades. While some chapters delve into aspects of Mayall’s personal life, the majority of book follows the ebb & flow of his career, paying particular attention to key collaborators and groups that helped Mayall take the music in new directions, like the acoustic band on the seminal Turning Point album.
The opening chapter spends a scant eight pages on the formative years. At the start of the next chapter, Mayall is twenty-nine, living in London with a wife and children. Like many, he received a helping hand from Alexis Korner before deciding to put together a band that would feature his vocals and keyboard playing. It took months of long nights and bad gigs until he assembled a solid cast with Bernie Watson on guitar, John McVie on bass, and Peter Ward on drums. Blues music became the new sound for the hipster portion of London’s population. A year later the band had developed a tight sound that made them the backing band of choice for legends like John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, and T-Bone Walker when they toured England.
The band leader’s career really took off once Eric Clapton joined the Bluesbreakers after leaving the Yardbirds. Sharing a deep passion for the music, Clapton lived with the Mayall family, listening and practicing to his host’s extensive record collection. With McVie and drummer Hughie Flint under Mayall’s leadership, the band quickly rose to the top of the London scene before Clapton decided to keep pursuing his musical muse. Following chapters detail Bluesbreaker bands with two other legendary guitarists, Peter Green and Mick Taylor. Through it all, Mayall remained at the forefront with his singing, harp & keyboard playing.
Mayall’s strength as a songwriter stood out when he grew tired of the guitar-based sound, opting for a quieter acoustic approach for the Turning Point project, then shifting to a line-up featuring horns as he blended jazz and blues elements in notable fashion. Like many musicians, Mayall suffered through a number of dry years and shifting line-ups as Disco music dominated the record industry. But in 1985, Walter Trout joined Coco Montoya in a new version of the Bluesbreakers that tore up stages around the world. Logoz also chronicles Buddy Whittington’s lengthy fourteen year tenure before wrapping things up with the current band featuring another Texas guitar slinger, Rocky Athas.
Each chapter provides a wealth of information regarding live shows, personnel changes, and illuminating remembrances from friends, musicians and family members on each phase of Mayall’s career. Also included are numerous pages of photos, a detailed breakdown of his custom guitars, keyboards and harmonicas, a fifty-plus page “Bandography” section that lists the members of every band in chronological order, followed by a twenty page Discography of Mayall’s recordings and concert footage.
While there are some glimpses into Mayall’s personality, this is not a standard biography. Logoz wanted to set the record straight and press the case for Mayall receiving the acclaim and recognition he has earned over a star-studded sixty year career. You will find it hard to argue with him after reading this well-done tribute to the Godfather of British blues.