Review: Looking Back—The Seminal Sound of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers on Display

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers/Live in 1967 – Volume Three/Forty Below Records
Three Out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

At age 89, John Mayall has clearly earned the right to boast about the fabled career that earned him his reputation as the father of British blues. The artists he nurtured under the tutelage of his band, The Bluesbreakers, are legendary, given that its alumni include Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, Mick Taylor, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, Jon Mark, and Mark Almond among the many its many graduates. Consequently, one can hardly begrudge the man for sharing any number of archival releases of late, especially since his legacy continues to linger more than six decades on. In fact, he still continues to release new music and nurture his love of the blues through the ongoing incarnations of his Bluesbreakers band.

This latest in a series of vintage live recordings captures Mayall and the band that would eventually evolve as Fleetwood Mac—Peter Green, John McVie, and Mick Fleetwood—at various London venues circa the late ‘60s. The concerts were originally captured on a one-channel reel-to-reel tape recorder and remained out of earshot for nearly fifty years. Recently restored by Mayall and Eric Corne of Forty Below Records, the recordings are still rather rough, with some songs ending abruptly even as the next track begins. Nevertheless, for a collection of such a rare vintage, it’s an excellent insight into Mayall and the company’s early endeavors and a fine showcase for the instrumental acumen that the group had at its command. Mayall’s assertive vocals and expressive harp playing, combined with Green’s searing fretwork, take these tunes into another dimension, whether it’s through the shuffled rhythm of “Brand New Start” or the extended instrumental excursion spawned out of “Greeny.” The audiences react appreciatively, affirming the fact that these were fiery performances indeed. 

Looking back over the span of more than 55 years, it’s hard not to be impressed with what Mayall was attempting so early on. His devotion to the seminal sound of American blues music is unmistakable, and yet the fact that he was so dutifully driven in such an honest and pervasive way affirms his reputation as a decidedly iconic artist. This album represents one of many reasons why.

Photo Courtesy John Mayall

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