Where: Moe's Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz, California
Tickets: $30; visit www.moesalley.com
When: 7 p.m. Monday, July 13, 2015
Where: Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall Street, Bend, Oregon
Tickets: $23.50-$51.75; visit www.towertheatre.org
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Where: Shedd Institute for the Arts, E. Broadway & High Street, Eugene, Oregon
Tickets: $14.50-$36; visit www.theshedd.org
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Where: Aladdin Theatre, 3017 SE Milwaukie Avenue, Portland, Oregon
Tickets: $30; visit www.aladdin-theater.com
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, July 16-19, 2015; 9 :30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, July 17, 18, 2015
Where: Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, 2033 6th Avenue, Seattle Washington
Tickets: $32.50; visit www.jazzalley.com/www-home
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still shining bright in the blues
In space (where no one can hear you play the blues) there are these things called interstellar dust clouds. They don’t sound very exciting, but through the wonders of astrophysics, dust clouds are the birthplaces of stars.
And so it is with John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers. Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Peter Green and Mick Taylor were all born in the dust cloud of the Bluesbreakers and went on to shine brightly in the firmament of rockdom. Not forgetting bassman Andy Fraser who went on to form Free with Paul Rodgers, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, who formed Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green, and guitarists Walter Trout, Harvey Mandel and Larry Taylor. And more. Phew. Quite a list. No wonder Mayall is known as the godfather of British blues.
I had the pleasure of seeing John Mayall Thursday night at a little neighborhood club in Santa Cruz called Moe’s Alley. How they managed to get him I don’t know, because he has already sold out one of his two shows at Yoshi’s. But there he was, in his 82nd year, looking as sprightly as when he formed the Bluesbreakers at the age of 30, banging away on the keys, pulling out the guitar for a few solos, and showing some of those other 30-year olds how to blow harmonica. Although to be fair there weren’t that many 30-year olds in this audience.
He kicked off the show with an up-beat Freddie King shuffle, "You Know That You Love Me But You Never Tell Me So." You’d expect a guy in his early 80s to sit down, or maybe rest occasionally when he’s up on stage. But not Mayall. He moves between instruments, and on the stage, constantly looking at all his bandmates and egging them on with facial expressions and nods.
Bass player Greg Rzab, who has played with most of the aforementioned guitar greats, as well as The Allman Brothers and Gov't Mule, laid down a precise yet creative bass line on this and other tunes during the evening. Greg is a master of the blues bass, perfectly complementing and forming a bridge between the rhythm of the drums and the melodies of the guitar and piano.
Mayall has a rather quaint stage presence. He likes to introduce every song with its title and composer. Although he told me that he has a pool of about 35-40 songs from which he chooses a fairly random mixture of old, middling and new material, the set seemed to be well-planned and from start to finish seemed to climb in intensity.
The Frankie Miller song "Nothing To Do With Love" recorded by Kenny Wayne Shepherd (and originally the terminally-laryngitic Bonnie Tyler) gave Rocky Athas on guitar a chance to show what he could do with a Les Paul in his hands.
I enjoyed the Jimmy Reed song "Big Town Playboy." Mayall had a microphone in his left hand where he alternated between blues harp and voice, and used his right hand for the piano. He may have been pushing pedals with his feet as well, I couldn’t tell. All seemed pretty seamless to me.
On "Special Life," a ballad blues from the 2014 album of the same name, it was clear how much Mayall enjoyed listening to the lead guitar of Rocky Athas.
Drummer Jay Davenport laid down some great rhythms using tympani sticks, and I loved the way all the musicians on the stage hardly ever looked at the own instruments. They were more interested in the interaction with each other. This is what creates interesting, absorbing blues music. It was a real treat.
But Mayall and his crew were saving the best for last. "Blues For The Lost Days" tells the story of the boy who comes to London from the country, forms a band called the Bluesbreakers and has some of the great blues and rock names sitting in with them till the break of dawn. To finish the set, the fast 6/8 time, jazz-influenced "California" from 1969’s "The Turning Point" album (the whole album, recorded live, was without drums or electric guitars) provided a vehicle for everyone to bring out their solo chops. Greg Rzab in particular pulled out all the stops, using just about every technique in his massive bass repertoire. Very entertaining. And for an encore, from the famous "Beano" album, the band climaxed with the Otis Rush song "All Your Love (I Miss Loving)."
Who knows if John Mayall’s intergalactic dust cloud will produce any more shining stars, but he certainly has a great band with him today. And I doubt he has any plans to retire. He just seems to have too much fun playing the blues.
Email Tony Lacy-Thompson at email@example.com