John Mayall believes the Bluesbreakers are better than ever on Chicago Line


By Steve Newton

The biggest aim for most rock musicians when they’re starting out is getting on a major label. A major-label signing means that your music is available to the masses. It’s the first step on the road to international stardom.

But it’s not just newcomers and unknowns who have trouble convincing big labels of their ability to move vinyl. Take legendary bluesman John Mayall, who just recently signed a three-album deal with the heavyweight Island Records. He’d been looking for major label backing for the last eight years.

“It’s been very tough to get a deal,” sys Mayall, who plays the Town Pump on Saturday (January 14). “I mean we’ve waited so long for something like this. But in a way I’m glad it has taken so long, ’cause in the meantime I’ve had four-and-a-half years of this particular band, and we’ve matured tremendously. When we did get the opportunity to get  in the studio, we were ready.”

The resultant LP, Chicago Line, is the 34th album of Mayall’s career, which began in the ’60s when he found the famed Bluesbreakers. That group became a proving ground for some of rock’s greatest guitarists, including Eric Clapton, Harvey Mandel, former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, and Fleetwood Mac co-founder Peter Green. Other players who honed their chops with Mayall’s Bluesbreakers were bassists Jack Bruce, Andy Fraser, and John McVie, and drummers Aynsley Dunbar, Keef Hartley, and Mike Fleetwood.

“I never hired anyone who wasn’t outstanding,” recalls Mayall. “You can’t compare them, though. Each had his way to play; each had his own distinctive sound.”

Although several of his proteges have gone on to become much wealthier and better-known than Mayall (who has but one gold album), he has no regrets.

“When I compare the happiness and fulfillment I get out of my music, and the freedom I have, I can’t imagine anyone enjoying what they do more than I do. I can’t feel envious of people who get caught up in these huge combines and sometimes lose sight of the joy of playing the music. And as for the money part, if it’s supposed to happen, it will.”

The possibility of Mayall making a big comeback in 1989 is a very good one–as the superior blues-rock on his new album attests. And Mayall feels that the mid-’80s successes of young bluesmen like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray haven’t hurt his chances either.

“They’ve certainly done a lot to broaden the scope of the blues, and I think it’s terrific. There are signs that we are in the middle of a blues revival, and people that break into the charts are gonna turn more people onto the music itself.”

Mayall and his Bluesbreakers recorded Chicago Line in just five days last April at a studio in Tutzing, West Germany. The album was produced, surprisingly enough, by Tony Carey, who had a solo hit in 1984 with “A Fine, Fine Day” and was a member of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow in the seventies.

“It is a surprise really, but I wasn’t familiar with any of that history before I met him. We recorded in a studio owned by Peter Maffei, who’s a superstar in Germany–he’s the German equivalent of Bruce Springsteen. Tony is Peter’s resident producer and keyboard player and musical director, so he came with the studio., and it was just a marvellous combination. He really has the right feel. He’s got great ears, and he just captured everything.”

Mayall wrote five of the new album’s 10 tunes himself, as well as supplying all the vocals and harmonica. He also played some guitar, and shared the keyboard duties with Carey. On a couple of songs he borrowed lyrics from ’30s bluesmen Blind Boy Fuller (“Cold Blooded mama”) and Walter Davis (“Tears Come Rolling Down”), and worked his own musical compositions around them. He also recorded a song by Jimmy Rogers, “The Last Time”, which is actually the first single from the album.

“He writes some really good tunes,” says Mayall of Rogers. “I first came across him when he was playing with Muddy Waters on the early records. So I’ve always liked his material. And ‘The Last Time’ was one that hadn’t been done by other people too much.”

Five days might seem like an incredibly short amount of time to record an album, considering some bands spend months in the studio. But most of the tracks were done on the first take. Mayall says that all of the time the Bluesbreakers have spent together–continuously playing clubs while waiting out that elusive record deal–has made the band very tight.

“I don’t think it could be tighter!” he says. “And it’s also loose–that’s the mark of a great band. It’s different every night you play, and that’s what keeps the band alive.”

Anyone who saw Mayall’s Bluesbreakers at the Commodore last year would be hard-pressed to argue that point. It was a tremendous show, and Mayall’s own electricity was matched by that of his band–guitarists Walter Trout and Coco Montoya, bassist Bobby Haynes, and drummer Joe Yuele. Guitar fans were especially rewarded for their attendance by the searing performances of Trout and Montoya, who are also in top form–and very prevalent–throughout Chicago Line.

“Well that’s the way the Bluesbreakers are these days,” says Mayall. “You’ve got two giants of the guitar there, following in the traditions of you-know-who.”

Mayall says that his new album more than holds its own against those old classics he made with Clapton, records that became enormously influential to such current guitar heroes as Eddie Van Halen.

“All those albums have a place in history, and the musicianship on those early albums is impeccable, but from my point of view I’m singing way better–and certainly playing a lot better–on the new one. And this band is also better, on the whole, than any of the others were.”

To hear the full audio of my 1988 interview with John Mayall subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 200 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Bill Payne of Little Feat, 2002
Robbin Crosby of Ratt, 1989
Tommy Shannon of Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, 1998
Alejandro Escovedo, 1997
Billy Duffy of the Cult, 1989
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
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Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Rob Hirst of Midnight Oil, 2001
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1985
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
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Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
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Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001

….with hundreds more to come





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