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John Mayall, OBE (born 29 November 1933) is a pioneering English blues singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. His musical career spans over fifty years but the most notable episode in it occurred during the late '60s. He was the founder of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and has been influential in the careers of many instrumentalists, including Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Taylor, Don "Sugarcane" Harris, Harvey Mandel, Larry Taylor, Aynsley Dunbar, Jon Hiseman, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Andy Fraser, Johnny Almond, Jon Mark, Walter Trout, Coco Montoya, and Buddy Whittington.
Mayall was offered a recording contract and on 7 December 1964 a live performance of the band was recorded at the Klook's Kleek. A single, "Crocodile Walk", was recorded later in studio and released along with the album but both failed to achieve any success and the contract was terminated.
In April 1965 former Yardbirds guitarist Eric Clapton replaced Roger
Dean and John Mayall's career entered its decisive phase.
In April 1966, the Bluesbreakers returned to (Decca) Studios to record a second LP with producer Mike Vernon. The sessions with horn arrangements for some tracks (John Almond on baritone sax, Alan Skidmore on tenor sax and Dennis Healey on trumpet) lasted just three days. Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton was released in the UK on 22 July 1966. Today the album has gained the status of a classic, but it was also Mayall's commercial breakthrough, rising to #6 on the chart. In the mean time Clapton announced the formation of Cream with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.
Mayall had to replace him and persuaded Peter Green to come back. During the following year with Peter Green on guitar and various other sidemen some 40 tracks were recorded. The album A Hard Road was released in February 1967. Today its expanded versions include most of this material and the album itself also stands as a classic. Peter Green gave notice and soon started his own project Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac which was to include the three former Bluesbreakers.
Mayall's first choice to replace Green was 16-year-old David O'List, guitarist from The Attack. However O'List declined and went to form The Nice with organist Keith Emerson. Mayall found two other guitarists for the Bluesbreakers, Terry Edmonds and 19-year-old Mick Taylor.
In a single day of May 1967 Mayall alone had put together in a studio an album which was released in November with the apt title The Blues Alone. Only former Artwoods drummer Keef Hartley appears on half of the tracks which showcase Mayall's ability as multi-instrumentalist.
A six-piece lineup (consisting of Mick Taylor on lead guitar, John McVie on bass, Hughie Flint or Keef Hartley on drums, Rip Kant and Chris Mercer on saxes), recorded the album Crusade on 11 and 12 July 1967. These Bluesbreakers spent most of the year touring and Mayall taped the shows on a portable recorder. At the end of the tour he had over sixty hours of tapes which he edited into an album in two volumes: Diary of a Band, Vols. 1 & 2, released in February 1968. Meanwhile a few lineup changes had occurred: McVie had departed and was replaced by Paul Williams who quit to join Alan Price and was replaced by Keith Tillman; Dick Heckstall-Smith had taken the sax.
Following a U.S. tour, more lineup changes occurred as Mayall replaced Tillman by 15-year-old Andy Fraser, who left within six weeks to join Free and Tony Reeves, previously a member of the New Jazz Orchestra, replaced him. Hartley also left to form his own band, the Keef Hartley Band, and was replaced by New Jazz Orchestra drummer Jon Hiseman, who had also played with the Graham Bond Organization. Henry Lowther who played violin and cornet joined in February 1968. Two months after the Bluesbreakers recorded Bare Wires, co-produced by Mayall and Mike Vernon. Hiseman, Reeves and Heckstall-Smith moved on to form Colosseum; the new lineup retained Mick Taylor and added drummer Colin Allen, formerly of Zoot Money's Big Roll Band, Dantalian's Chariot and Georgie Fame, and a young bassist Stephen Thompson. In August 1968, the new quartet recorded Blues from Laurel Canyon.
After nearly two years with Mayall, Taylor left and joined officially the Rolling Stones on 13 June 1969. Chas Crane filled in briefly. Allen then left for Stone the Crows, leaving as the only holdover bassist Thompson (who would also eventually join Stone the Crows). Mayall recruited acoustic finger-style guitarist Jon Mark and flautist/saxophonist John Almond. Mark was best known as Marianne Faithfull's accompanist for three years and for having been a member of the band Sweet Thursday (which included Nicky Hopkins); Almond had played with Zoot Money and Alan Price. The new band was markedly different from previous Mayall projects. A performance at the Fillmore East provided the tracks for the live album The Turning Point. A studio album, Empty Rooms, was recorded with the same personnel and Mayall continued the experiment of formations without drummers on two more albums. On USA Union a violin replaced the wind instruments and on Memories the band was stripped down to a trio.
In November 1970 Mayall launched a recording project involving most
of the notable musicians with whom he had played during the last few
years. The double album, Back to the Roots, features Clapton, M. Taylor,
Harvey Mandel and Jerry McGee on guitar, Thompson and L. Taylor on bass, Keef Hartley and Paul Lagos on drums. Back to the Roots did not promote
new names and USA Union and Memories were recorded with American
musicians: Mayall had exhausted his catalytic role on the British
blues-rock scene. The list of musicians who had benefited from
association with him remains impressive.