Living legend still breaking all the blues

John Mayall, with James Cotton, House of Blues, March 25, 1998

At age 64, singer/multi-instrumentalist John Mayall, currently on tour with James Cotton for a series of shows dubbed the "Harmonica Blowout" concerts, has outlasted most of his contemporaries in the world of British blues. While many of the architects of London's blues scene of the early '60s -- Alexis Korner, Cyril Davies and Graham Bond -- have passed away, Mayall gained near-mythological status among baby boomers, many of whom first heard the blues through his band, the Bluesbreakers.

Mayall's place in music history is doubly assured as the various lineups of his bands have served as talent incubators for some of today's finest rock/blues guitarists. His disciples include Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Harvey Mandel, Mick Taylor and, most recently, Coco Montoya (winner of the 1996 Handy Award for Best New Blues Artist of the Year). Some of these players came to Mayall with well-formed reputations. Others joined without major league resumes and left to make serious impacts on music history with other groups. Green went on to found Fleetwood Mac, and Taylor's gig with the Rolling Stones found him contributing to classic albums like "Sticky Fingers" and "Exile On Main Street."

Buddy Whittington, Mayall's current guitarist, developed quite a following in the Dallas-Fort Worth area through his playing with local legends The Sidemen. Whittington attracted Mayall's attention when his group opened for Mayall, who took note of Whittington's talent. When Montoya left him a couple years later to take up a solo career, Mayall contacted Whittington about taking over lead-guitar chores in his band.

For almost four decades, Mayall's fierce harmonica stylings and solid guitar and keyboard playing have driven his various bands through raveups of blues classics and original compositions. His albums from the late '60s and early '70s have been canonized in the blues world, and Mayall's last effort (1997's "Blues For the Lost Days") was one of the best recordings he had made in years.

Mayall's last three albums for Silvertone Records received glowing reviews and sold well, but the company declined to renew his contract. Still he is confident that another deal will come along. Until then, Mayall's fans might have to wait awhile to hear new blues they can use. "I usually write songs when it comes time to do an album so that they're still fresh when we go out on the road and play them -- and go into the studio and play them," he says. "I've never found any shortage of material when I'm writing."

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