A massive new John Mayall box set serves as an essential acquisition for anyone interested in the pathway between blues’ American origins and its full exposition within the creative confines of the U.K.
When the blues wave swept over Great Britain in the early 1960s, it was initially inspired by a fascination with such American musical masters as Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson and Lightnin’ Hopkinsl.
While there were several individuals that helped spur that interest, none was more successful and more prominent than John Mayall, who not only nurtured the introduction of blues into the British mainstream, but also spawned the careers of many young English musicians whose impact on British blues would blossom over the succeeding years and into the modern era. Indeed, the list of players that served in the ranks of Mayall’s seminal backing The Bluesbreakers provides a veritable who’s who of the most influential artists within the entire lexicon of British music — a roll call that inextricably led to the formation of such critical combos as Cream, Fleetwood Mac, the Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, Stone the Crows, the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation, and any number of other outfits that helped spearhead that essential musical transition.
Still, given that this historic shift in sensibilities can mostly be credited to Mayall himself, at least as an instigator and enthusiast, it’s apt that The First Generation 1965-1974, a sprawling box set consisting of no less than 35 CDs might find its way into the marketplace. It’s a sumptuous package to be sure, one that includes every album Mayall and his various bands released between 1965 and 1974, the essential years of Mayall’s initial trajectory. In addition, it boasts no less than nine discs exclusive to this package, each recorded live at various venues as well as for the BBC, along with three CDs boasting two early, heretofore hard to find early singles and a four song EP recorded with American blues champion Paul Butterfield. And while enthusiasts may already own the original albums, those included here offer the added benefit of bonus tracks that expand those seminal offerings.
If cost is a concern, one might want to buy the original albums separately given that many have been individually re-released in recent years as well. However, given the wealth of extras — including such prerequisite additives as photos, memorabilia, setlist, and all the other paraphernalia that typically adds value to these often unwieldy packages — aficionados may want to consider going through their couch cushions in search of spare change. Or better yet, cash in that savings bond that’s been gathering dust since it was bequeathed for one’s bar mitzvah all those decades ago. Indeed, those that have the monetary means will find this an essential additive to any music collection regardless of genre, simply because Mayall’s musical journey was so impactful in terms of the British beat sound in general. While the rest of England found fascination with the Beatles and the establishment of the original English Invasion, Mayall and company were paving new paths forward, a practice Mayall continues to pursue even now at the age of 86.
Naturally, the original albums in this set lay out a series of milestones established by Mayall himself. There’s the Bluesbreakers’ eponymous studio debut, which gave an auspicious credit to a budding guitar god named Eric Clapton. The Blues Alone found Mayall playing practically all the instruments, a precursor to the single chef formula copied by Paul McCartney and Todd Rundgren so many years later. Blues from Laurel Canyon emanated from the budding environs of Los Angeles, marking a new turn in Mayall’s melodic motif and instrumental exploration. Looking Back and Thru the Years, as the two titles imply, took an opportunity to revisit Mayall’s earlier endeavors through distinctive album tracks, rarities and singles offerings.
Nevertheless, it was the albums that came later, when the ‘60s gave way to the ‘70s, that provided the most definitive evidence of Mayall’s willingness to diversify and diverge. Bare Wires expanded on his blues base with its electrifying self-titled suite, while The Turning Point and Empty Rooms deviated even further from the template courtesy of the softer, more subdued tones provided by new recruits Jon Mark on acoustic guitar and Johnny Almond on flutes and saxophone. Their own Mark Almond Band took that sensual expression to further realms immediately after. USA Union, Ten Years Are Gone and the live Jazz Blues Fusion took the concept several steps further, uniting Mayall with a number of remarkable American jazz players while realizing the aforementioned musical fusion.
Ultimately, The First Generation 1965-1974 is an essential acquisition for anyone interested in the pathway between blues’ American origins and its full exposition within the creative confines of the U.K. Mayall’s mastery of the form and various subsequent subsidiaries has never been better shared.
VIDEO: John Mayall The First Generation trailer