Even at 80, British Blues Legend John Mayall Is "Always on Tour"

Photo by Jeff Fasano/Mark Pucci Media
John Mayall today
At 80 years old, the "Godfather of British Blues" has certainly earned the opportunity to relax. Or slow down. Or stop performing all over the world at all. But when asked as to what his plans are after his current tour, John Mayall seems perplexed, as if it signals the end of one thing and the conscious start of something different.

"Which tour? I tour year-round. I am always on tour," the singer/guitarist/harmonica player says matter-of-factly. "Always on tour. You've got to communicate and make the audience part of what you're doing. Then you know you've succeeded."

And Mayall is making no concessions to age in terms of how he approaches each show, be it a huge festival, small theater or intimate barn. His current jaunt finds him promoting his latest record, A Special Life (Sony/RED), 11 tracks of Mayall originals, a catalogue re-recording, a tune from his band, and covers of songs by Jimmy Rogers, Albert King, Sonny Landreth and Eddie Taylor.

Joining Mayall on both Special Life and the tour are Rocky Athas (guitar), Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums). Give or take a few, it is nearly his 70th record since 1965. That is not including the live discs he offers on his website. And he wasn't looking to mess with the formula.

"It's a straight-ahead blues album, and I tried to get in as many different shades of the music as possible," he says. "Like 'Speak of the Devil' by Sonny Landreth. That was just a great shuffle. A rocking tune."

One new track, "World Gone Crazy," is especially pointed in mentioning a current hot-button topic.

"On each record, I try to put in at least one song with some commentary," Mayall offers. "Things are in such turmoil now with all the religious wars going on overseas, it's just madness. And it's a [prime subject] for a piece of music."

Mayall calls his current band his "most creative" ever, and Athas is his second Texas-bred guitarist in a row. He won't go so far as to generalize about the talents of axe-slingers from the Lone Star State, though.

"The best guitar players, wherever they come from, have their own distinctive style," Mayall says. "It's just coincidental that so many come from Texas; I'm thinking of Freddie King and several others. And the best of the best players don't sound like anybody else. So I won't compare one against the other. They are all important in the blues world."

Story continues on the next page.

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