Saturday, July 30
Broad Ripple Blues Festival
Broad Ripple Park
John Mayall has been called the Godfather of British Blues. One could argue that the word British isn't needed. Mayall's been a solid contributor to the blues for over 40 years, and has an impressive list of proteges and still records solid music at age 71. Regardless of the title, Mayall will be bringing us his blues power and history on July 30 as the headliner of the second annual Broad Ripple Blues Festival at Broad Ripple Park. The festival will feature Mayall, Koko Taylor, Gene Deer, Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band and Gordon Bonham.
Mayall said that any title given to him is not a bother so long as he continues to play music. "I've been called that [Godfather] for so many years. It's just water off a duck's back. It comes with the territory. You never find me lacking or taking the audiences for granted," Mayall said.
Mayall even grew up listening to Indianapolis blues history. "I grew up listening to Yank Rachell, Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell. Especially Leroy. He was one of my favorite piano players. I always leaned towards piano players," he said.
Mayall grew up in Macclesfield, England (near Manchester), and his first musical influence was his father's record collection. That's right, old school 78s.
"Guys like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. That's all I heard. It couldn't be helped. I wasn't listening to any of the rubbish on the radio (laughs). There were guys like Lonnie Johnson and Django Reinhardt who were jazz players but helped steer me in the right direction. Once I got into my 20s and 30s, I got addicted to boogie-woogie. Anything by Big Maceo, anything by Jimmy Yancey," he said.
He taught himself how to play guitar at age 13. The self-taught piano and harmonica came later.
"We didn't have a piano, so I had to learn on other peoples'. It was probably painful for them," he said.
By the 1950s and '60s, American blues artists were treated like royalty in Europe. Artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Big Bill Broonzy, T-Bone Walker and others would tour the continent at least once a year.
"Everyone was heavily encouraged by American music," he said.
Mayall's music career was sidetracked by art school, a stint in the British Army and a graphic design job. He would play with the Powerhouse Four and the Blues Syndicate before forming his own band, the Bluesbreakers. One of his first proteges was a young hotshot guitarist named Eric Clapton.
"I saw him playing with The Yardbirds. All of our bands crossed paths one time or another. He sounded OK then. When he departed from The Yardbirds, he joined me. I provided the right situation for him and the whole bunch," he said.
Clapton drowned himself in Mayall's record collection. In an interview for MTV (back when MTV played Clapton's videos), Clapton said the Bluesbreakers "lived like monks." They cut one brilliant blues album in 1966 (Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton) and then Clapton left the band to form Cream.
"He improved so quickly in six months. The band was very professional, very serious. We took care of business and were very, very dedicated. Maybe we were a bit snobbish (laughs), a bit of a purist," he said.
Previous Bluesbreakers included Mick Taylor (pre-Rolling Stones), Andy Frasier (pre-Free) and Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood (pre-Fleetwood Mac). Walter Trout, Coco Montoya and Debbie Davies are also previous alumni.
Getting "The Call" from Mayall meant one was a good player and more than likely would lead to a musical career.
Another perk of being a British bluesman was being able to back up the American artists who toured Europe. While Mayall was teaching his players about the blues, Mayall learned from Sonny Boy Williamson and T-Bone Walker.
"They were very tolerant and appreciative. You could tell from looking at them if something was not quite right. We then knew we were trying too hard or too loud. It was a real wake-up call," he said.
Mayall has also been blessed with the ability to spend his entire career recording whatever he felt like. A blues-jazz album, a blues-rock album, an acoustic blues album, it didn't matter. It was Mayall's choice.
"The band's music has evolved over the years. I'm still excited to play. It's an infectious way to earn a living. I'll admit it, I'm indulging my own tastes and fantasies," he said.
His latest musical fantasy is Road Dogs (Eagle), a solid piece of modern blues that also was a first for the band. Road Dogs is the first self-produced Bluesbreakers album. His latest group of Bluesbreakers have been together for a quite a while. Drummer Joe Yuele has been there for 20 years, guitarist Buddy Whittington and keyboardist Tom Canning for 12 and bassist Hank Van Sickle for five.
"This has been the most stable outfit I've had. I, myself, have produced my records, but this is our first group effort. It was a real comfort situation. I wrote 13 songs while the guys wrote two. It was an in-house production," he said.
Mark your calendar
Canadian-now-turned-Chicago-harmonica/guitar guy Nigel Mack & The Blues Attack will be at the Slippery Noodle Inn July 29-30. Bill Perry will be there July 28. C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band will be at Radio Radio Aug. 7. Be there.
Matthew Socey is host of The Blues House Party, Saturdays from 9-11 p.m. on WFYI 90.1 FM