John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – Live in 1967
Forty Below Records 2015
13 tracks; 77 minutes
John Mayall’s bands in the 1960’s spawned a wealth of great blues players who went on to become the icons of their generation: players such as Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Jon Hiseman and Keef Hartley went on to form Cream, Colosseum and The Keef Hartley Band but none have perhaps retained their long-standing reputation as long as the original Fleetwood Mac, the core members of which were all in Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1967: Peter Green (guitar), John McVie (bass) and Mick Fleetwood (drums) joined John Mayall (organ, harmonica and vocals).
Between February and May of that year a Dutch fan of the band managed to record five separate shows in and around London, the tapes then lay unheard for fifty years before they reached John Mayall’s attention. Mayall has restored them to enable fans to hear that version of the band as they were live, this CD therefore complementing the studio “A Hard Road” which was recorded a little earlier with Aynsley Dunbar on drums.
This incarnation of the Bluesbreakers only existed for three months before the band members left Mayall to form Fleetwood Mac, so collectors and fans of Peter Green in particular will be fascinated to hear what they sounded like. However, one needs to be aware that these are pretty lo-fi recordings, even after restoration. Nevertheless, they do demonstrate the power of Green’s playing, nowhere better heard than on the opening “All Your Love”, one of four songs associated with Otis Rush covered here. Equally popular with Mayall at the time was Freddie King, the source for another four tracks, including Green’s ‘signature’ instrumental “The Stumble” (Clapton had used “Hideaway”). The remaining five cuts include two Mayall originals, Tommy Tucker’s “Hi Heel Sneakers”, T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday” and “Looking Back” by Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson.
Taking the Otis Rush songs first the short, sharp version of “All Your Love” makes a good start to the album with Green’s lead lines particularly strong. A more extended run through “Double Trouble” is also good, with Mayall’s organ providing a warm background to Green’s very strong solo work. Although for much of this CD Green’s guitar is far more muscular and aggressive than one might imagine from early Fleetwood Mac tunes like “Albatross”, “Need Your Love So Bad” and “Man Of The World” there are certainly hints of that style in “Double Trouble”.
Another Rush showstopper “So Many Roads” follows a similar pattern with Mayall again on organ. The recordings do not do any favors to Mayall’s vocals and they are put under strain on this song though Green’s guitar is again excellent. Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” has been covered by many blues artists and Otis Rush did a stellar version which may well be the inspiration for this cover which is one of the technically weaker tracks here.
“The Stumble” gets an extended workout that runs to almost seven minutes and is then followed by two further FK tunes in “Someday After A While” and “San-Ho-Zay” though the three tracks are in fact from separate gigs. The vocals sound distant on the slow blues but the instrumental fares better as Green gets to grips with the familiar chunky riff. The final excursion into FK territory is “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” which has plenty of anguished guitar from Green, the vocals again suffering from the original recording issues. One imagines that this is where Clapton first fell in love with this tune which he has played so often since.
The rocking “Looking Back” is the shortest cut here but it’s a good one as Mayall’s vocal and Green’s guitar take on Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson really impressively; Green’s solo here looks forward to some of the wilder flights of rock players like Jimmy Page. Mayall’s organ leads on “Hi Heel Sneakers” but again the lo-fi quality is a distraction as the drums here sound very distant. “Stormy Monday Blues” has always been a popular choice for British blues bands and there are other versions of the song being performed by The Bluesbreakers. This long version closes the album with more fine playing by Green and Mayall who is again on organ. As on several of the slower and quieter tunes one hears the audience background noise, unfortunately.
The two Mayall originals are “Brand New Start” which has some undistinguished harp playing from the leader and “Streamline”, a solid shuffle with possibly the best recorded organ work on the CD, a song that would reappear on “Crusade” later in 1967 with Mick Taylor on guitar.
This is far from a perfect record but it is interesting and demonstrates the quality that Peter Green already had at this early point in his career. All credit to John Mayall for releasing this as some of his own performances suffer from the primitive recording but it does give us an opportunity to hear a short-lived but important incarnation of the legendary Bluesbreakers.
EDITORS NOTE: This album is nominated for both Live Blues Recording and Historical/Vintage Blues Recording in the 2015 Blues Blast Music Awards