John Mayall: My Life as a Bluesman

by admin  4th Sep 2019 Comments [0]

By Harvey Kubernik

 

John Mayall OBE has been indefatigable in his commitment to the blues: virtually every musician who went through his Bluesbreakers academy went beyond their wildest imaging. Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor all began their careers under Mayall’s rigorous training. For over 50 years, John Mayall has served as a pioneer of blues music, rightly earning him the title, “The Godfather of British Blues.” In 2015 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

“The importance of the role of John Mayall in British music is beyond belief,” hailed Mick Fleetwood.

On November 14, 2019, Mayall’s autobiography, Blues From Laurel Canyon: John Mayall: My Life as a Bluesman, co-written with Joel McIver, will be published by Omnibus Press. Mayall’s autobiography takes us into his blues-driven trek that combines the marshes of the deltas as well as the blooming hillsides of Laurel Canyon. John’s tome, culled from years and years of journal diaries, describes the azure-blue California from the native gunmetal-gray England in 1968.

In a September 2019 interview, the 85 year-old Mayall told me about his book and especially the influence of Laurel Canyon on his musical expedition.

“I had been writing all my memoirs privately for years and years. I did put it informally in a book form and fortunately one of the publishers picked up on it and the guy put it into some reasonable form. We finally got it into a position where people could read it. I think people will find a lot of truth about what happened in the British music scene and my whole life story before I got into music.

“The impact and influence of Laurel Canyon… It was one of those rare locales which was in the heart of Hollywood, yet if you just went up the hill into the Canyon you could get all the peace and quiet of country. So from your house you could look down on the whole of Los Angeles and it’s a unique locale. And that really appealed to a lot of musicians who moved there. It got all of the charm of the country but you are only down the hill from the heart of Hollywood.”

In my 2009 book, Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon, Mayall reminisced about his first visit to Hollywood and Laurel Canyon, and what we native Angelinos call “Gypsy Canyon.”

“As soon as I got there the temperature was 70 degrees, which was pretty rare for England in the summertime. ‘This is heaven.’ It was one of the main factors. I decided to move there in the summer of 1968. It was set in my mind to move there because I felt I belonged there more than in England. I mean, England was family and everything. Which can’t be repeated, but the main thing was the climate, and my whole life I’d been brought up on American culture through novels and particularly music. So it just felt right. That’s how it all began,” he volunteered.

“All the best of the peaceful country life. All you heard were birds and back to nature. It was only five minutes down the hill to the heart of Hollywood. It was quite a unique situation. If you are up in the Hollywood Hills and look down and see the whole metropolis laid out there before you. More than anything, it was the stark contrast of peace and quiet and the bustle of a major city.”

In our September phone conversation, I asked Mayall about blues and reflecting on Jimi Hendrix, who died nearly a half a century ago in September of 1970.

“Blues is something that people can relate to because the stories it tells and things that are common to all people. And that’s the reason why the blues was so popular in Europe. And people recognized that. Whereas in America it was colored by restrictions that kept black music separate from white music so I think when it’s all been combined in the early sixties. That was when people started to recognize what was on their own doorstep,” stressed John.

“Jimi and I loved the music of Freddy King. We both included his catalogue in our sets.” “The Stumble” was done on Mayall and the Bluesbreakers’s Hard Road and the King and Sonny Thompson composition “Driving Sideways” was covered on their Crusade album.

“Freddy King was a revelation to a lot of people who played guitar and the singing was quite incredible. When Jimi mentioned Freddy King we were all very well familiar with him in England. King’s Getting Ready is one of my favorite albums. When Freddy King came over to play in England in 1969 he was already in touch with a brand new audience for him. So I think that Jimi did a lot of ground work in mentioning him around and it all came together.”

On January 2, 1968 Mayall jammed with Jimi Hendrix and Al Sykes in the Railway Hotel in West Hampstead, London around John’s gig at Klook’s Kleek. Mayall performed nearly three dozen shows at the club and did much to nurture and develop national interest in the blues. John Lee Hooker, backed up by John Mayall, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker, and Chuck Berry all toured England in the sixties.

“Jimi came to England and a blues world which had been all my life, going back to Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner who started the British Blues boom. This attracted a lot of musicians who now had something new to inspire them. Blues had an audience in Britain. And Chas Chandler of the Animals who sort of discovered Jimi not doing very well in the America and brought him over to England and that really positioned Jimi in an international scale. Jimi was very thrilled of course that people in Europe were blown away by his playing. He was really recognized for what he was. It was something he hadn’t experienced in America. English and European audiences really put him on the map,” Mayall reinforced.

“When Chas Chandler brought Jimi over to England everybody was totally impressed by his personality and his singing and his playing. I think it was a shot in the arm for all the British guitar players to have someone that they had never heard before. And it all started from there, really. It was important for Jimi to have had Chas Chandler who himself had reached great international regard with playing with the Animals.

“When I saw Jimi Hendrix play with his group you knew what he was doing was that music was the main thing and the way that he played and the theatrics were all part of the way he played. People didn’t really separate that from his body of work.

“I did a show in America with Jimi and Albert King in 1968 for Bill Graham at Winterland,” remembered Mayall. “Graham supported blues music and booked shows to have them with headliners. Bill was somebody who could really see the future of blues and rock and the first person in America to recognize that and put on these big shows at the Fillmores on the East and West Coast and Winterland venues where Jimi and I were on the calendar. So Graham was very important in really giving a professional take on how to present artists. I did The Turning Point, a live album in July 1969 at the Fillmore East.

“FM radio in America 1967-1972 programmed blues on the rock stations. There was an audience who had an understanding of the blues when you played for them. I was very excited that this music or the music influenced by the blues was becoming new to people.

“It was an exciting time and of course it did lead to me coming to America for the first time in January 1968. And we played the Whisky A Go-Go, Filmore in New York, Detroit, and San Francisco. That particular time in 1968 it was very apparent that America had a big taste for British groups and American groups were all part of the same picture. An exciting time.”

Mayall once did a recording session with the members of the Liverpool-based poetry group Scaffold, Mike McGear and Roger McGough for their 1968 McGough & McGear self-titled LP filled with poetry, humor and late sixties psychedelic rock.

Paul McCartney, McGear’s older brother, assisted in the production of the album, which featured well-known musicians guesting in the studio: Graham Nash, Dave Mason, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall, Spencer Davis, Paul Samwell Smith of the Yardbirds, Viv Prince from the Pretty Things, and Paul’s girlfriend, Jane Asher.

“Paul McCartney was in charge of it all. I knew Paul and he just had me come into the studio to do my bit. Jimi was there.”

Hendrix lends guitar to the tracks “So Much” and “Ex-Art Student.”

Mayall further ruminated about Laurel Canyon.

“The connection was getting there in the first place. It began with Frank Zappa. I met him in 1967 in Scandinavia, when he and the Mothers of Invention were playing there and we were in Copenhagen at the same time. So that’s where I met that crowd. ‘If you come to America, look me up.’ So I did.

“I stayed at Zappa’s cabin for the first part if my three week vacation. I never really left Hollywood and Laurel Canyon. It became the confirmation for me. That’s where I wanted to move eventually.”

On his epic Blues From Laurel Canyon album, Mayall penned a song about Zappa. “The feeling when you listen to the song ‘2401’ is the vibe you hear. For me it was a very eccentric household, really. Frank and Gail Zappa, at the center, were the grounding factor there. The sanest people on the planet. I think Frank really encouraged that, and he kind of collected oddballs and information about America and its culture.”

“And the other connection was with Canned Heat and Bob ‘The Bear’ Hite, who I also met when they toured Europe. There was a blues heritage in town. I saw Canned Heat at The Ash Grove. That’s where I first got to know Larry ‘The Mole’ Taylor and ‘The Bear.’ And I later recorded with Larry.”

Mayall also wrote “The Bear,” a tribute tune for Bob “The Bear” Hite, Canned Heat’s lead singer. “The Bear’s house was totally amazing. I stayed up there a couple of nights. Canned Heat had just hit the big time and Bob shared a house with their managers, Skip Taylor and John Hartman. It was a huge house and was divided into their own sections. Bob had the large living room, and the whole wall was lined with 78’s. He was the big deejay. ‘Listen to this one!’ He was the one person I didn’t have to educate about JB Lenoir. He had everybody covered.”

John Mayall’s ’67 Crusade LP houses an homage track to the American blues guitarist titled “The Death of J.B. Lenoir.” Mayall also re-did the song on his epic 1969 album The Turning Point.

While bunking in Laurel Canyon, Mayall lodged for a short time in the basement of John Judnich’s house, who was comedian/satirist Lenny Bruce’s right-hand man. Judnich owned the well-regarded Tyco Brae sound company, which serviced the monumental 13 Shrine Exposition Hall Pinnacle dance concerts in downtown Los Angeles. Mayall also catalogued and notated rare Lenny Bruce tapes for Judnich. Bruce died in August 1966 in his Hollywood Boulevard home. On Mayall’s The Turning Point album, a radio and turntable favorite was “Room to Move,” which referenced Bruce in his lyric.

“As for the Blues From Laurel Canyon album, It was an action-packed vacation,” he summarized. “No problem going back home and putting it all together to record. ‘This happened. That’s a song.’ The stories lead right into each other and that’s the way I chose to actually construct the LP, by having it all in different keys. There were links that would change the key so it smoothly flowed one into each other.”

Mayall effectively chronicled the now crowded Sunset Boulevard in his civic anthem, “Walkin’ on Sunset.” “There was a lot of walking traffic rather than cars,” he told me in Canyon of Dreams. “Cars were somebody else, but the heart of Hollywood was the people on the streets.” The song also acknowledges the Whisky A Go-Go, and the loyal audiences who supported Mayall’s singular blues vision.

I recall John Mayall’s long-anticipated 1968 opening night at the famed club, with Buffalo Springfield members Neil Young and Stephen Stills pressed right up close to the stage to check out Mayall’s debut. I went to every set. During 1969 I attended Mayall’s return to the Whisky when he promoted The Turning Point.

“The Whisky was a venue we played when we first came to America in 1968. Elmer Valentine, who owned the Whisky, in fact, lived up in Laurel Canyon on Grandview Drive where I eventually lived. He did some house-hunting for me; found two houses that were up for sale before they kind of went on the market. So he was the connection for me. When we got the first booking at the Whisky, we were set for three days, but because of the demand for tickets for the show, he extended it an extra week,” marveled John.

During 1964, Valentine and partners opened the Whisky a Go-Go on the Sunset Strip. Elmer later opened the Rainbow Bar & Grill with partners Lou Adler and Mario Maglieri, as well as the Roxy Theater with Adler. In late January 2009, family members, friends and former employees of Elmer Valentine, who passed away at age 85 in December 2008, gathered on the landmark premises. It was Valentine’s longtime friend and business partner Lou Adler along with his son Nic who organized a tribute to Valentine. Lou asked me to secure some of the talent for the event. John Mayall was the first person to respond after I emailed him the request. Johnny Rivers, Stephen Stills, Byrds co-founder Chris Hillman, and South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela paid their respects to Valentine on the legendary doing a slew of regional-birthed music.

John Mayall offered “Walkin’ on Sunset” to the very appreciative crowd.

 

© 2019 Harvey Kubernik

 

Harvey Kubernik is the author of 15 books, including titles on Leonard Cohen and Neil Young. His 2017 volume, the acclaimed 1967 A Complete Rock History of the Summer of Love was published by Sterling/Barnes and Noble. His Inside Cave Hollywood: The Harvey Kubernik Music InnerViews and InterViews Collection, Vol. 1 was published in December 2017, by Cave Hollywood. Kubernik’s The Doors Summer’s Gone was published by Other Cottage Industries in March 2018 and has been nominated for the 2019 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research.

In November 2018, Sterling/Barnes and Noble published Harvey’s book, The Story of The Band From Pig Pink to The Last Waltz, written with his brother Kenneth Kubernik. Harvey Kubernik’s 1995 interview, Berry Gordy: A Conversation With Mr. Motown is included in The Pop, Rock & Soul Reader edited by David Brackett to be published in 2019 by Oxford University Press.

This century Harvey penned the liner note booklets to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special and The Ramones’ End of the Century.

In November 2006, Harvey was a featured speaker discussing audiotape preservation and archiving at special hearings called by The Library of Congress and held in Hollywood, California.

 

 

 


Brownsville – Air Special

by admin  12th Mar 2019 Comments [0]

By Doug Sheppard

 

BROWNSVILLE – Air Special (Rock Candy) CD

Brownsville Station hit the big leagues with the success of “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room” (#3) and “Kings of the Party” (#31) in 1974, but by 1976, they were in a lull. With their recent Motor City Connection album failing to chart and a parting of ways with their label, Big Tree, the trio format (adopted after their second album) had seemingly run its course. They needed a lift and got in the form of a new label (Private Stock) and especially the addition of second guitarist Bruce Nazarian, a monster player who’d been on countless Detroit soul records.

Nazarian proved to be the perfect complement for fellow axe men Cub Koda and Michael Lutz (with whom Nazarian alternated on bass), invigorating the resulting Brownsville Station album with tons of slide guitar wizardry, blues boogie riffs befitting Koda’s formidable record collection and the loose vibe inherent on all Brownsville recordings. Famed producer Eddie Kramer knew how to get it all on tape, and the track lineup was their best yet, featuring a killer remake of “Lady (Put the Light on Me)” (a glam rock obscurity by Big John’s Rock ’n’ Roll Circus) and especially “Martian Boogie.”

Recorded live in one take, “Martian Boogie” was B-movie sci-fi, urban blues and riff rock fused into one rocket that the band was sure would take them back to the moon—if not the home planet of the song’s protagonist. Indeed, it spent seven weeks on the national chart and grabbed the top spot in a number of markets. But just as that rocket entered the top 60 at #59, it smashed headlong into an asteroid, exploded into 1,000 pieces, fell off the charts and left its creators stunned. Not long after, Private Stock folded. As Koda recalled in the liners to Rhino’s 1993 Brownsville compilation, “it took all the fight out of the band, just like air escaping from a punctured tire.”

Morale may have been down, but the chemistry was intact when they recorded their next album for Epic Records, 1978’s Air Special. Another hotshot producer, Tom Werman (of Cheap Trick and Ted Nugent fame, among others) was at the helm—giving the resulting album a big arena rock feel, with the drums of Henry “H-Bomb” Weck in particular booming in the mix (thankfully not ’80s-style). Much to their chagrin, the band were also forced to record Hello’s recent hit, “Love Stealer” (ironically, penned by Phil Wainman, also the coauthor of “Lady” from the previous album) as a gambit to get on AOR radio.

It failed, as did Air Special, but it wasn’t for lack of quality. “Taste of Your Love,” “Tears of a Fool” and “Never Say Die” are biting hard rockers—the latter taking on an ironic, almost eerie quality thanks to the state of the band, not to mention subtle synths. And befitting a band with so much contempt for the disco and AOR dominating the charts, Brownsville covers “Who Do You Love” Diddley-style, “Down the Road Apiece” and even a Benny Goodman instrumental, “Airmail Special”—rocked up like a ’70s Johnny & the Hurricanes. The swamp blues of “Cooda Crawlin’” follows the same thread, and if Air Special doesn’t quite have another “Martian Boogie” like its predecessor, it’s a solid, commendable effort. Predictably, however, it wasn’t what the record-buying public wanted to hear, and a 1979 breakup was inevitable. (Doug Sheppard)

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Snakes Unwrapped

by admin  18th Apr 2018 Comments [0]

By Hunter Bennett

 

The article below is an online-only sidebar to “SNAKE WRAP: The Definitive (and, Thus Far, Only) Account of Washington, DC’s Funniest HarDCore Band,” which appears in Ugly Things #47. The introduction to “SNAKE WRAP” reads:

Like John Cheever’s idea of a punk band, the Snakes were a pair of whip-smart, clean cut, well-heeled teenagers who amused themselves by writing snarky songs about summering in the Greek Isles, lusting after Russian royalty, and, most of all, the quirks and foibles of those around them. But they were also the quintessential Washington, D.C. punk insiders. Championed by Henry Rollins, produced by Ian MacKaye, and closely affiliated with Rites of Spring, the Snakes released a charmingly ragged Lp of silly, melodic punk tunes on the venerable Dischord Records — smack dab in the midst of that label’s remarkable 1980s run of harDCore punk classics, including Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, and Fugazi. The Snakes’ story spans nearly 50 years and is inextricably entwined with the histories of both harDCore and Dischord. It also offers a glimpse into the world of Washington WASPs.

If you think the sidebar is entertaining, you should buy the magazine and read the article.

http://webstore.ugly-things.com/ugly-things-47-p399.php

 

We asked the Snakes (i.e., Michael Hampton and Simon Jacobsen) to tell us what their songs were about. They did the best they could:

I WON’T LOVE YOU ‘TIL YOU’RE MORE LIKE ME LP

 

She’s Got It Now – An uncharacteristically earnest rocker with an infectious four-note riff.

MICHAEL: Not sure. It’s a pretty early song. Definitely a Simon riff. I think that’s a Simon song.

SIMON: I wrote that when I was a sophomore in high school. I had a very bad prom date that stood me up. The thing that makes that song is that little riff. Ian [MacKaye] picked up on it, too. He said “This song is nothing without that thing.” And so he just kept having me play it [throughout the song].

https://snakes.bandcamp.com/track/shes-got-it-now

 

I Won’t Love You ‘Til You’re More Like Me – A narcissist’s kiss-off to his significant other featuring the immortal line “You say, ‘I love you.’ I say, ‘I do, too.’”

MICHAEL: That’s self-explanatory. [Laughs].

SIMON: That [line] cracked us up. We didn’t drink. We didn’t smoke. We didn’t do anything cool. We just sat on the edge of the bed and in a chair and played these very loud, amplified instruments and we would just laugh and laugh and laugh.

https://snakes.bandcamp.com/track/i-wont-love-you-til-youre-more-like-me

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