As T-Bone’s timeless classic goes… it was a stormy Monday in Madrid, except it wasn’t stormy. It was definitely Monday though. Monday the 13th of February was marked by the arrival of the Godfather of British Blues, the legend himself, John Mayall. This was his second stop on his latest European Tour – Livin’ & Lovin’ The Blues. The 83 year old blues icon was as vibrant as ever, and reminded his audience why he loves the blues.
Mr. Mayall is the sort of musician who goes the extra mile to make his audience feel appreciated. As usual, he hung around the entrance hall before and after the concert, signing autographs and taking pictures with people. Of course, he didn’t miss the chance to sell copies of his latest album, “Talk About That”.
Accompanied on stage by Greg Rzab (base guitar) and Jay Davenport (drums), both Chicago born musicians, John Mayall graced his audience with nearly two hours of non stop blues. Mr. Mayall’s versatility on the instruments never goes unnoticed, as he switched and combined his skills on the keyboards, the harmonica and the guitar. Every time his lips came in touch with the harmonica, it was simply electric. Few musicians have mastered this instrument to the same extent as this man (keeping in mind Bob Dylan and Sonny Boy Williams).
The repertoire included many original songs, and a few very authentic covers of old classics. “Going Up” was probably the highlight from his latest album, and his curtain-closer performance of “Room to Move” was a big hit as usual. Only a tiny handful of details suggested it was an early show in the long tour ahead.
Mr. Rzab and Mr. Davenport were pure class, proving they’re the right men for the job. Not that they need anybody’s approval of course, their track records speak for themselves. Greg has played in stride with the Buddy Guy Band, Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, the Allman Brothers Band and Stevie Ray Vaughan among others. Jay has performed with some of the biggest phenomenons of the Chicago blues stage, such as Sugar Blue, Jimmy Johnson or Melvin Taylor.
Among the several covers he performed, my personal favourite must have been Sonny Boy Williams song “Help me”. It evoked an overwhelming feeling of authenticity, the sort of blues that comes from the roots. As I mentioned before, Sonny Boy was an ace on the harmonica, so it only makes sense this song had a huge role for this instrument. John Mayall referred to Sonny Boy as a dear friend of his from the 60’s… gosh, I think sometimes we forget how long Mr. Mayall has been playing the blues for. Did his friend Sonny Boy Williamson teach him any of his current harmonica skills? Quite possibly.
I can’t help mentioning some of the members of John Mayall’s original band The Bluesbreakers, who later on etched their own paths to success, making John Mayall their mentor. Peter Green, who went on to form Fleetwood Mac. Mick Taylor, who among other feats, played for the Rolling Stones for five years (1969 to 1974). Eric Clapton, who needs no further introduction really. These prodigies make John Mayall the living legend he is today. Moreover, because he is bravely carrying the blues into perpetuity with around a hundred concerts each year in his early eighties.
Everything grandieuse, must also have a downside. The only small hiccup I would point out, was the absence of a lead guitarist after the departure of Rocky Athas. He stayed until they finished recording their latest album, but now he has left, no suitable replacement seems to have been found. If I’m honest, I can understand Mr. Mayall not wanting to hire a replacement who might be short in talent or quality for the sake of it. Admittedly though, the lack of a lead guitarist meant there was not always the right tempo or pace a well versed guitarist can provide.
If you want to know how the later generations feel about John Mayall, go no further, and listen to Joe Bonamassa: “If it wasn’t for guys like him making the music and blazing the trails then we would have no place to walk… Unfortunately he’s criminally underrated in this country (USA)”.
Needless to say, we hope he keeps growing strong, and the rest of his European Tour is a huge success. ♠
PS. John Mayall performing “Room to Move” in Budapest, back in 2015.