John Mayall

Blues legend John Mayall was born at Macclesfield in 1933. At the tender age of 13 he began to learn piano, guitar and harmonica emulating his Blues hero's Leadbelly, Eddie Lang, Albert Ammons and alike...

In 1956 he was fronting "The Powerhouse Four" and later "The Blues Syndicate" on a semi pro basis playing around the North of England Etc, then in the late 1960s "Father of British Blues" Alexis Corner invited John down to London where "John Mayalls Bluesbreakers" were born.

John met Eric Clapton who joined the band and the rest is history. Later after Clapton and bass player Jack Bruce left to form "Cream" other subsequently big names joined The Bluesbreakers. Peter Green, Andy Fraser, Mick Taylor, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie all passed through the bands ranks.

In 2004 John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers are still cutting albums and playing concerts around the World.

Check out:


The Magic Village (John Mayalls Bluesbreakers - featuring Mick Taylor)


In 1957 or thereabouts I was working in an advertising agency on Grosvenor Street in Ardwick and playing in a skiffle group.  One of my mates from the group, Ray Cummings, was a student at the Regional College of Art, a little further down Grosvenor Street, got me to go to the college in my lunch hour to see this guy who was doing lunchtime sessions in the lecture theatre.

It was, of course, John Mayall, playing piano, guitar and harmonica and singing the blues.  He had a little band, The Powerhouse Four which usually consisted of Pete Ward on drums, sometimes Roger Woodburn on acoustic (gut string) guitar and sometimes Ray on electric guitar (a Framus archtop through a Selmer Truvoice amp) and Ricky Blears on double bass.  Ricky later became famous (or infamous) on the music scene through his association with Brinsley Schwarz. 

I remember that John use to wear a small knife in a jewelled sheaf on his belt and he obviously bought his footwear from the same shoeshop that Jesus patronised.  He had a Japanese single pickup archtop guitar (possibly the first, but by no means the last, Japanese guitar to be seen in this country) that he'd bought in Japan whilst serving in Korea with the army. 

He played this through a battered tape recorder that emitted an ominous smell of burning insulation.  This same tape recorder was also his PA system and he had a microphone on a sort of stick that he sang and played his harp through. 

A couple of years later, Ray and I did a gig with John at the Domestic and Trades College ('The Toast Rack') and John turned up on his bike with the self same tape recorder strapped to his back.  He was wearing a ripped boiler suit and an old trilby hat.  I think that he mostly played guitar that night but the machine heads were so rusted up that it was all he could do to get the guitar in tune with itself let alone bring it up to concert pitch.

It was a case of -

John: "We'll do 'Too Close Together'"
Me:  "What key?"
John: "I don't know. (he plays a chord) That key."

We played in some unusual keys that night.

So, he'll be 76 in November, he's just fired his band (including the fabulous Buddy Whittington) and he's put yet another version of the 'Blues Breakers' together and he's off on yet another marathon tour including some gigs supporting B.B. King. 

I don't know what he's on but I wonder if you can get it on the NHS...  

Pete Crooks

Here's a story about the legendary Mr. Mayall.  It was sent in an email by Ray Cummings to Maggie Mayall, John's wife, whilst JM was away on one of his 200 nights, 200 gigs tours - and only 500 miles between each gig!  Ray copied me in on the email and has given me his OK for you to reproduce on the Manchesterbeat website.

'I know you will be missing John, so here's a little story from Roman times that may raise a smile.

Picture the scene...1959...Christmas time in old poverty stricken England.  The Student's Union, Manchester Art School Division, had organised the famous "Arts Ball".  For reasons best known only to them, this was to take place at The Rialto, a bit of a seedy dance hall cum cabaret club about four or five miles north east of the city centre. 

John Mayall's Powerhouse Four were the interval/guest band.  Two main reasons for this; it was the Art School Band and also was incredibly cheap to hire.  I don't remember money ever being mentioned until The Blues Syndicate period about four years later.*  But there were as many sandwiches as you could eat or stuff in your guitar case and that was good enough in those days.  I believe it still is for some people!

And now the story really begins.  The Arts Ball was always themed fancy dress and this year some bright spark had come up with "FRIENDS, ROMANS AND COUNTRYMEN".  There's a novel challenge for a penniless blues band.  We went to most gigs by push bike - that poor.** But guess which scheming sod turned the whole situation to his advantage.  Yes you're right!

John came as a barbarian!  All he did was to dye himself all over a kind of copper/bronze colour, stick some fake fur on to some ex-army shorts and tie a rag round his head.  But the footwear was pretty authentic - a pair of 2000 year old sandals.  I may have been the only one who knew that these were his regular everyday shoes, so no big deal

There was a prize for the best costume and as you might guess, lots of the Lord's and Ladies' children and the Cheshire set posers had hired real togas, armour etc.  Imagine their surprise when the result was announced, the hall was full of seething toffs.

I was very pleased for John, especially as the prize was a bottle of whisky and John of course was totally teetotal then.  Whoopee thought I, at least the band are in for a few scoops.  Wrong!  By the time we got off stage and sorted our gear out, John had sold it to a member of the Johnny Roadhouse Dance Band for ten shillings and buggered off on his bike. was a bleak winter back in '59."

*     I don't think that it was mentioned very often even then.

**   John, Ray and Ricky Blears the bass player certainly travelled by
bike.  John had to cope with his guitar and his amp/tape recorder/PA system and Ray had his guitar and his Selmer amp. John would have played the Rialto's piano.  Ricky towed the bass behind his bike on a sort of pram wheel trailer.  The drummer was probably Pete Ward and I don't know how he travelled but in those days, Bruce Mitchell used to take his drum kit on the bus, so perhaps Pete did the same.

*** It's possible that John is wearing the same sandals even today.  You don't get to having a luxury home in Southern California by discarding a perfectly good pair of sandals!

Pete Crooks

Here's a footnote to the gig that I did with Mr. Mayall at the Domestic and Trades College.  The drummer on that occasion was John Hamer, a friend and colleague of mine. John has recently been in touch with me via the Manchesterbeat website after a great many years.  He described himself as the world's worst drummer in his Email, but after a lifetime of playing with drummers of all shapes, sizes and levels of competence, I think that he's got some stiff competition for that title.  He later became a photographer and one of his commissions was covering a Dave Brubeck concert where he ended up actually playing the drums with Mr. Brubeck.  Granted it was during a sound check but that's a detail that you wouldn't include on your CV.

With regard to my own feelings about drummers, I must say that some of my best friends have been drummers and I even have a son-in-law who's a pro drummer. More than that, I used to have a son-in-law who was a pro banjo player so you can't say that I'm not broad minded. 

All the same, I don't have a drummer in my present band, after all, as Chet Baker said, 'There's only one thing better than having the best drummer in the world and that's not having a drummer at all'.

Pete Crooks


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