John Mayall Releases Ambitious Box Set With Unearthed Clapton, Fleetwood Tracks

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

For nearly six decades, John Mayall’s name has been synonymous with the blues, especially in his native England. The man responsible for spotlighting young blues guitarists like Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor, as well as future superstars John McVie and Mick Fleetwood in his Blues Breakers line-ups, Mayall is the Eveready Bunny of the blues, still going and going at the age of 87. His cumulative discography, including studio and live LPs and compilations, totals somewhere around 100 albums, and he’s also released dozens of singles.

Now, through what must have been years of painstaking mining of archives and headphone time, the Madfish label of Snapper Music Ltd. has released the deluxe 35 disc box set John MayallThe First Generation 1965–1974. With a pressing limited to 5,000 copies, this massive collection demonstrates how prolific Mayall was in his early years, though he certainly hasn’t slowed down since. The collection includes newly remastered versions of 19 of Mayall’s albums, from 1965’s John Mayall Plays John Mayall through 1974’s The Latest Edition, with the exception of 1969’s Primal Solos, an archival album whose songs are included as bonus tracks in other discs on this box set.

The incredibly productive Mayall himself is a multi-instrumentalist, playing keyboards, harp and guitar, in fact playing all of them on the 12 tracks of his 1967 album The Blues Alone (included in this box set), recorded when multi-tracking and overdubbing were still in their infancy. He got started relatively late in life, recording his first album at the age of 31 after he’d been playing professionally for nearly a decade. A onetime art student, Mayall is also known for having designed many of his own album covers and carving his guitar bodies into works of art.

Many Clapton aficionados from his “Clapton is God” years will want the collection simply for the fact that a mono Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton CD, as well as a stereo version of the CD with bonus tracks, is part of the package. This was the album with Clapton playing his legendary 1959 (some say 1960) sunburst Les Paul with PAF humbuckers, in the days before he moved on to other Gibsons with Cream and finally changed his sound by playing Fender Stratocasters.

Besides recruiting the best young talent in England during the late ‘60s, Mayall later started enlisting musicians from American bands who appear in this collection, like blues harp master Paul Butterfield, Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention violinist Sugarcane Harris, and Canned Heat guitarist Harvey Mandel. Mandel is getting internet attention these days as the player who used the two-handed tapping technique before Eddie Van Halen, but he didn’t do it on these recordings.

The package also includes two discs of BBC recordings with Mayall’s band members from 1964 to 1968, including future Cream bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce, and Free bassist Andy Fraser long before he wrote Robert Palmer’s classic “Every Kinda People.” These tracks include live versions of varying length of the instrumental “Curly” with Green on guitar, taking solos that only hint at the more accurate and inspired work he would later deliver. Two other live discs feature the line-up of Green, McVie, and Mick Fleetwood, who was the band’s drummer for a short period before the three of them left Mayall for good and formed Fleetwood Mac.

Besides several remixed tracks from Mayall’s classic 1970 Back to the Roots album, the package also includes a massive hardback book with rare photos and memorabilia, a full gig listing for the period, and replica posters for the album Ten Years Are Gone and a 1968 tour. For those devotees of guitar gods when they were still developing their chops, and the man called the “Godfather of British Blues,” this collection is a must have for those who have the bread. The suggested retail of $439.99 seems a little high, but sites like Collectors’ Choice Music or popmarket.com are selling it for significantly less.

Mayall has a slate of tour dates on the books for 2021, some with his old friend Dave Mason of Traffic. While it may be hard to imagine someone actively touring and recording at his age, you can hear Mayall celebrating his 87th birthday two months ago with guitarist Buddy Miller on a cover of the Bobby Rush classic “I’m As Good As Gone” here.

Photos by David Gomez

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

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