John Mayall's Blues for the Ages

House of Blues - Chicago

June 26, 1999

First Appeared in The Music Box, August 1999, Volume 6, #8

Written by John Metzger


On June 26, John Mayall settled into Chicago's House of Blues, and frankly, there wasn't a more appropriate club in town to play host to the veteran bluesman. After all, it's quite likely the chain of venues wouldn't even exist if Mayall hadn't first brought the blues to a white audience 35 years ago.

It certainly hasn't always been an easy road for Mayall. He had to sit back and watch as young musicians like Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor passed through his band, moving on to greater success in other ventures. By his own admission, though, he has little about which to complain.

Mayall has affectionately and suitably been dubbed the father of the British blues and over the course of his career, he has released an impressive catalogue of more than 40 albums. All the while, he has maintained his creative and artistic freedom while consistently discovering an amazing array of young talent to perform in his band. Naturally, his current group is no exception.

Mayall's long-time drummer Joe Yuele and bassist John Paulus the Bluesbreakers' newest constituent form the foundation for the group, and throughout the evening, they laid down rugged rhythms with unyielding precision. It was the perfect palette upon which Mayall and guitarist Buddy Whittington could paint a colorful mosaic of electrified blues.

Drawing predominantly from his forthcoming album Padlock on the Blues, Mayall more than proved that even though he is in his fourth decade as an artist, he is still making vibrant and relevant music. His golden voice soared as he passionately sang the deeply personal lyrics of Always a Brand New Road, which was actually written by Whittington and Yuele, and Ain't No Surrender allowed Mayall to display his talent in a solo setting as his graceful keyboard riffs danced around the melody with fluid ease. On Dancing Shoes, his performance seamlessly fused honky-tonk and jazz styles around the searing lead of Whittington. He added plenty of harp as well, and at times he held his harmonica in one hand while playing keyboards with the other.

In addition, Mayall's boundless energy flowed freely as he leapt about the stage like a man half his age. He spurred the band, particularly Whittington, onward with his animated verve and deft musical maneuvers, and the Bluesbreakers seemed to pick up momentum with each song that they performed. On Jacksboro Highway, the guitarist ignited the tune with his incendiary slide even as Mayall's harp dodged effortlessly around the percolating rhythm section.

The set culminated with a rousing Room to Move as Mayall's harmonica frenetically gyrated around Yuele's driving drum beat. As the legendary bluesman moved to his keyboard, the band joined the fray. Whittington's lead sliced through the pulsing heartbeat of the song, pushing it towards its explosive earth-shattering conclusion.

Chicago's The Buzz opened the show with a set of hard-driving blues that included a funky rendition of Buddy Miles' Changes. Though they couldn't hold a candle to the magic conjured up by Mayall, they did a nice job of setting the table for his varied musical buffet.

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Copyright 1999 The Music Box