Featuring Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood
This is the Blues – elemental, unapologetic and unsullied by wannabe rock stars. John Mayall has been writing, recording and playing blues for more than 60 years. Over that time, his bands, almost always called the Bluesbreakers, have been home to a to a veritable who’s who of blues and rock superstars and legends: Peter Green, Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Jack Bruce, Coco Montoya, Walter Trout … and more. John Mayall wasn’t merely one of the British Blues artists who broke out in the 60s, he was the father, godfather and undisputed champion of the British Blues scene. The latter day bands were born from his ribs. Eric Clapton, Spencer Davis Group, Savoy Brown and the very musicians who play on this CD.
The line-up here consists of Mayall on vocals, harp, organ and piano with John McVie on bass, Mick Fleetwood on drums and the absolutely incredible Peter Green on guitar. These last three, of course, went on to form another of the seminal British Blues groups of the 60s, Fleetwood Mac.
A note on production values: the tracks on this CD were recorded live in various clubs around London in 1967 on a single channel reel-to-reel tape recorder. The sound is uneven, to say the least. In fact, a couple of tracks sound like they were recorded in the bottom of a 45-gallon drum. This is not a CD for audiophiles, it is a CD for blues lovers. And what a musical feast it is for that happy band of brothers and sisters.
It kicks off with “Tears In My Eyes”, a delicious slow blues where we can hear Peter Green’s guitar mastery right off the bat. It also showcases an often overlooked aspect of Mayall’s talent, his voice. He is as good a blues singer as you’ll find, with hints of the soaring notes BB King was known to hit is his younger days. Mayall’s vocals are a study in control, and it is truly great to hear voice as a blues instrument rather than as a necessary evil to separate two 24-bar solos.
But it is the next slow blues tune, “So Many Roads”, that showcases the depth of talents of the band. Peter Green gives a master class on blues guitar where you can hear the skills that prompted BB King to say, “He has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats.” There is no better example for today’s high-octane shredders to learn that speed and volume are no substitute for talent.
His playing is nuanced and evocative. It caresses, cajoles, strokes and holds the listener in its embrace. This is why he was known as the Green God.
He maintains this excellence track after track. On “Sweet Little Angel”, his inspired musicality intertwines with Mayall’s fine organ playing, weaving a sweet little arrangement of the BB King. Green’s indescribable arias on “Stormy Monday” may be the most sublime tone ever recorded.
McVie’s bass playing is solid, and in places, goes above and beyond while Mick Fleetwood’s forceful drumming drives hard (including in a couple of places it might have been better to coast). Here are the glimpses of the solid rhythm section they would develop into in Fleetwood Mac.
What really brings this CD together is the cohesiveness of the band. Even while displaying their individual talents, ultimately they shine in serving the music first, egos second.
John Mayall turns 83 this year and still tours, although on a much reduced schedule. Mick Fleetwood has formed the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band and still tours with Fleetwood Mac along with John McVie. Peter Green who has struggled with schizophrenia is still active as a solo artist and collaborator. But it is in these golden moments that we can appreciate what they have meant to the world of the Blues.
This collection of original and cover tunes is a visit with those who revered its authentic American roots and its African American originators. It’s clear with every note that John Mayall and his band of impeccable artists truly love the genre. That’s why you should listen to this album.