Photo by Jeff Fasano
As the Godfather of British Blues, John Mayall has provided guidance to countless musicians over the years, including Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce.
The 82-year-old continues to tour and on Sept. 30 will perform at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St., Chicago. The show, which starts at 8 p.m., is sold out.
I had the chance to talk to Mayall about his esteemed career.
Q - In May, you were inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Did you ever think that would happen to you when you were starting out in the music business?
I don't think people think that far ahead. You just put one foot in front of the other, and then pursue your career.
Q - How does it feel to be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame? Are there a lot of people in the Blues Hall of Fame you admire?
It's very nice, very nice. Yes, of course. I think it all helps.
Q - For the longest time, you have been called the "Godfather of British Blues." How do you feel about that title?
I have no control over that whatsover. It's just part of my history. I've been around so long, you don't pay attention to it.
Q - Last year, you released the album "Find a Way to Care." Your producer, Eric Corne, really wanted to feature your keyboard playing on the album. How do you think the album turned out?
I'm very proud of it. Working with Eric is a very good collaboration, because he knows all the technical stuff.
He's a good friend, and just very easy to get along with. He doesn't interfere with what we're doing. He just captures what we play.
Q - What were your goals for the album? Do you think it documented where you were at musically?
When you put out an album, you want to put out something that's your latest work. That's the goal, to capture it. That's what albums do, show what you up to musically at any given time.
Q - Which do you prefer, being in the studio or on stage? Or do you need both in your life?
Well, they are both very different from each other. If you are in the studio, you get to shape something that is going to stand the test of time and be a complete piece.
When you are playing live, you are communicating with the audience. There's a lot of give and take with the audience.
They are two different things, but the main thing is to get what you're playing across to the audience.
Q - In 2008, you announced that you were going to disband the Bluesbreakers. Have you ever regretted that decision?
No, no. It's just a name. That particular lineup of the Bluesbreakers was together for 15 years or so and it had run its course.
It was back to starting up with a new band. The Bluesbreakers name got retired. It's been a very happy relationship with [drummer] Jay Davenport, [bassist] Greg Rzab, and [guitarist] Rocky Athas.
Q - I know that Greg and Jay are from Chicago. How did you connect with them?
I've worked with Greg before, and I asked him to choose a drummer he works comfortably with. He picked Jay, so I took him on his word.
And it's proved to be a very happy relationship.
Q - What are you working on now?
We're on the road now, but the new album will be released I think in January.
The name of the next album is called "Talk About That."
Q - What should people expect from the album?
It's more fireworks from my current band. I've written most of the songs on it, which is kind of different from the last one.
Q - Do you prefer writing your own songs versus covering other people's songs?
It doesn't matter. If I have an idea for a song, I'm obviously going to put it down on a record.
If a feel a song by a certain musician is appropriate to my playing, then I include those too.
It's whatever works best.
Q - And you put your own stamp on those?
Yes, absolutely. There is no question. I don't believe in copying them. My personality always has to come through.
Q - I know you were drawn to the blues by listening to musicians like Leadbelly and Pinetop Smith. What did you want to do after hearing them?
I never thought of it in terms of a career. I loved the music, and I started to play it.
I put together local bands, but I never thought it would be a career.
Q - What drew you to the blues in the first place?
You can't explain it. You go with your instincts.
Q - The Bluesbreakers had various musicians in them, and some of them went on to even bigger fame, such as Eric Clapton. Did you ever think that he would get to be as big as he has?
No, you have no idea really. You hire musicians because of what they play and that you think that they are really great.
Where it goes from there, no one can tell. It is gratifying to know that most of the musicians I've chosen have gone on to really successful careers.
Q - Do you kind of feel like you've been a mentor to some of these musicians?
I guess so. You supply the groundwork from which they grow.
Q - Of course, the music business has drastically changed since you started in the business. Do you think the music business is better or worse than when you first started?
Well, I can't judge things like that. All I know is that the blues is very much alive and well.
As long as that goes on and continues, then I'm very happy with it.