IF BLUES artists get better with age, John Mayall must be starting to reach his peak.
The leader of The Bluesbreakers who is known as the ‘Godfather of British blues’ has just released his 65th (yes that’s 65!) studio album called Talk About That. What’s more, having worked with everyone from Eric Clapton and Peter Green to Mick Taylor and Chris Rea, this time he collaborates with Eagles’ guitar legend Joe Walsh.
“The music’s always fresh to me,” says Mayall, reflecting on his long career which started in his college days in 1956. “We play 100 shows every year on the road. It’s a matter of documenting what we’re doing. There’s never problem, it’s the blues.”
Unbelievably, he says the only thing holding back recording is his inability to read musical notes.
“Because I can’t read or write music I don’t finish songs until we’ve got some studio time,” he explains. “I put material together about a week before we go into the studio.
“Keyboards is the main way that I compose songs on, it depends on the physical nature of the song whether it requires me to play guitar or keyboards.”
There have been around 50 members of The Bluesbreakers since the early ‘60s, including Walter Trout, Mick Fleetwood and Jack Bruce as well as Clapton and Green.
A lot of the people who have worked with me have been in constant rotation,” says Mayall. “Most of the changes go back to the early days rather than recently. In the past 10 years there’s only been one change and in the 10 years before that only a couple of changes. So, it was mainly early on.”
He’s also known for loving collaborations and in 2001 recorded Along For The Ride featuring assorted ex-Bluesbreakers along with Gary Moore, Johnny Lang, Jeff Healey, Steve Miller, Otis Rush and Chris Rea among others.
“Sometimes I hear a musician and it clicks as somebody I want to work with,” he says. “Being a band leader you get the privilege of working with all you want.
“Along For The Ride, that was a big roundup of people I had worked with before, plus people like Jeff Healy and Gary Moore. I phoned them up and they were all very happy to do it and wanted to work with me.”
The latest hook-up, with Walsh, he says “came out of the woodwork”.
“I didn’t know anything about his interest in me, but I think the album is pretty special.
“He just showed up at the studio on the second day. He was in the studio for maybe three hours and they’re all one-takes. It was very pleasurable.
“It seems that the people who accept my offer of coming to play with me, it seems it’s in their interests too.”
Macclesfield-born Mayall has lived in America since the late 1960s but has been looking forward to his current British tour.
“I’ve been in the States more than half my life, this is home to me now – but it’s very nice being a musician and getting to travel the world,” he says. “I often do a big British tour and it’s great to visit all the places I’m familiar with and have an English audience appreciate what I do.
“Britain is always there and part of my upbringing and part of my life.”
True to form, he’s already thinking about the next album, saying: “I don’t have a release date but it’s a live album we recorded in Europe. It’s finished and I’m doing the artwork now. It will be called Three For The Road.”
The blues, it seems, just continue to endure and Mayall says: “People can relate to it because it’s about real things, but it’s also an exciting form of music that’s stood the test of time. It’s simple but people are always coming up with new interpretations. It’s a story that’s never-ending.”
John Mayall will play at G Live, Guildford, on Friday 10 November