By Pati deVries.
On his latest album, The Sun Is Shining Down, out January 28th via Forty Below Records, Blues legend John Mayall teams up with a stellar cast to deliver a funky, soulful affair punctuated by brass, violins, harmonica, and electric ukulele. Special guests include The Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell, fast-rising roots rocker Marcus King, Americana icon Buddy Miller, Scarlet Rivera of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review, Chicago blues guitar mainstay Melvin Taylor and Hawaiian ukulele star Jake Shimabukuro. Also on hand is Mayall’s longtime dynamic Chicago rhythm section of Greg Rzab on bass guitar and Jay Davenport on drums with Austin’s multi-talented and charismatic Carolyn Wonderland on guitar. Mayall's current single, "Chills And Thrills," features guitarist Mike Campbell. "I'm as Good as Gone" had also been released as a single, written by Grammy winner Bobby Rush. the track features the extraordinary fretwork of Buddy Miller and Mayall on Hammond B3 organ. The album was recorded at Strawhorse Studios and also at Robby Krieger’s (The Doors) Horse Latitudes studio with Grammy-nominated Producer Eric Corne, The Sun is Shining Down is Mayall’s 5th studio album for Forty Below Records, a fruitful partnership that began with 2014’s A Special Life. “I couldn’t be happier with the new record,” exclaims Mayall. “I can’t wait to share it with my fans. Each of these special guests brings something unique to the album, and our team works so well together. I think you can hear that chemistry in the music,” raves Mayall.
The album explores a range of styles and eclectic instruments. Scarlet Rivera’s violin beautifully compliments two Mayall originals, the timely “Got to Find a Better Way” and a spirited reboot of the Mayall classic “Deep Blue Sea.” Mike Campbell sounds like a natural-born Bluesbreaker on the funky Bernard Allison cut “Chills and Thrills,” and Marcus King sizzles throughout the soulful “Can’t Take No More,” another Mayall original.
Buddy Miller’s baritone tremolo guitar adds a unique and memorable flair to the Bobby Rush composition “I’m as Good as Gone.” At the same time, Jake Shimabukuro’s electric ukulele is nothing short of astonishing on “One Special Lady.” Melvin Taylor proves why he’s been wowing Chicago blues audiences on “Hungry and Ready” and “Driving Wheel” for decades. Finally, Carolyn Wonderland brilliantly concludes the record with a sensitive moving performance on the title track.
As significant as each of these guest turns is, however, they can’t overshadow Mayall’s own spirited vocals, iconic harmonica, and lyrical keyboard work on The Sun is Shining Down. “John shines throughout this album, exuding joy and gratitude that are infectious. We all want to give that back to him,” adds producer Eric Corne.
For over 50 years, John Mayall has served as a pioneer of blues music, rightly earning him the title, "The Godfather of British Blues." In 2013, John signed with producer Eric Corne's label, Forty Below Records, and has been experiencing a true artistic and career renaissance, including a Blues Hall of Fame induction in 2015.
John Mayall was born on the 29th of November 1933 and grew up in a village not too far from Manchester, England. At 14, Mayall went to Manchester's Junior School of Art and began to learn the basics of the blues, inspired by the 78s in his father's record collection initially inspired by guitarists Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie McGhee, Josh White, and Leadbelly. However, once he heard the sounds of boogie-woogie piano giants Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis, his desire to play in that style was a new priority. And a couple of years later, he was drawn towards the harmonica, inspired by Sonny Terry, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Little Walter.
In 1962, British musicians Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies had opened a club in Ealing devoted to blues music. After Britain's ten-year traditional jazz boom had about run its course, a new generation brought out the amplifiers, guitars, and harmonicas, and out came young enthusiasts from all over the country eager to form their groups. Thirty-year-old Mayall moved from Manchester to London and began putting musicians together under the banner of the Bluesbreakers. After a couple of years and many personnel changes, Eric Clapton quit the Yardbirds, and John quickly offered him the job as his new guitarist.
Although John had previously released a couple of singles and a live LP for Decca, the now classic collaboration between Eric and John resulted in the all-time best-selling classic album, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers featuring Eric Clapton. However, by the time it was entering the charts, Clapton and bassist Jack Bruce had left to form Cream. So began a succession of future stars who would define their roots under John's leadership before departing to start their own groups. Peter Green, John McVie, and Mick Fleetwood became Fleetwood Mac. Andy Fraser formed Free, and Mick Taylor joined the Rolling Stones.
In 1969, with his popularity blossoming in the USA, John made a permanent move from England to Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles and began forming bands with American musicians. Throughout the '70s, John became further revered for his many jazz/rock/blues innovations featuring such notable performers as Blue Mitchell, Red Holloway, Larry Taylor, and Harvey Mandel.
In 1982, John decided to re-form the original Bluesbreakers. Colin John McVie and Mick Taylor, and Colin Allen signed on for a couple of tours and a video concert film entitled Blues Alive. Featured greats were Albert King, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and Etta James. In 1984, John launched a new incarnation of the Bluesbreakers featuring future stars in their own right, guitarists Coco Montoya and Walter Trout.
Throughout the '80s and '90s, John's popularity went from strength to strength with a succession of dynamic albums such as Behind The Iron Curtain, Chicago Line, A Sense of Place, and the Grammy-nominated Wake Up Call that featured guest artists Buddy Guy, Mavis Staples, Albert Collins, and Mick Taylor.
In 1993, guitarist Buddy Whittington joined the Bluesbreakers and energized the band with his unique and fiery ideas for the next ten years. Making his recording debut on John's Spinning Coin album. Other modern classics followed; Blues For the Lost Days and Padlock On The Blues, featuring a rare collaboration with his close friend, John Lee Hooker. On Along For The Ride, John re-teamed with a number of his former mates, including Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Mick Fleetwood, and John McVie, as well as ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Steve Miller, Billy Preston, Steve Cropper, Otis Rush, Gary Moore, and Jeff Healey. In addition, the younger generation was well represented by teenage guitar sensations Shannon Curfman and Jonny Lang. In 2002, Stories debuted on the Billboard blues charts
At a 70th Birthday celebration in aid of UNICEF in Liverpool, a concert was filmed, recorded, and released as a DVD and double CD in December 2003. Along with the Bluesbreakers, it featured old friends Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, and Chris Barber. The BBC also aired an hour-long documentary entitled The Godfather of British Blues to coincide with the release of Road Dogs. In 2005, John was awarded an OBE on The Queen's Honours list. In the Spring of 2007, John Mayall's 56th album release, In The Palace Of The King, was an album that paid tribute to Freddie King.
Over the last ten years, John released live recordings on his own label, Private Stash Records. They included Time Capsule (containing historic 1957-62 live tapes), UK Tour 2K (from a 2000 British tour), Boogie Woogie Man (a selection of solo performances), Cookin' Down Under (a live DVD from Australia), and No Days Off, (another British live show) and a 3 volume CD set of live performances covering the years 1970 to 1998 entitled Historic Live Shows.
In October 2008, John Mayall decided to retire the name "Bluesbreakers permanently." Early in 2009, Eagle Records called upon John to develop a new album, and John put together a new band featuring guitarist Rocky Athas, bassist Greg Rzab and drummerJay Davenport. Along with keyboardist Tom Canning, they recorded the album Tough. For the next seven years, John and the band continued to tour extensively worldwide, playing well over a hundred shows per year. In 2010 a concert in London was filmed, and Live in London was released as a double CD and DVD through Private Stash.
After being invited to do a guest spot on Walter Trout's The Blues Came Calling album, John re-connected with engineer/producer Eric Corne and the two recorded A Special Life. The album was released on Corne's Forty Below Records in 2014 to rave reviews, followed by an extensive tour of North America, Europe, and The UK to celebrate John's 80th birthday. In April 2015, John and Forty Below thrilled the blues world with the release of the historical Bluesbreakers album, Live In 1967, featuring the three original members of Fleetwood Mac: Peter Green, John McVie, and Mick Fleetwood. Live in 1967 - Volume Two followed in 2016 and was hailed as a "welcome second helping" by Rolling Stone. Following Mayall's internationally-acclaimed, Find A Way To Care (2015.) was the release of Talk About That (2016,) which featured Joe Walsh on two tracks. People Magazine called the album "A master class in Blues," and American Songwriter praised it as "A brand new masterpiece from a man who has made masterpieces for decades." Three for the Road (2018) featured cuts drawn from two concerts recorded live in Germany in 2017. "The title is a nod to the trio format featured on Mayall's 2017 world tour, which includes longtime bassist Greg Rzab and drummer Jay Davenport. Mayall's last release, Nobody Told Me (2019,) boasted an impressive list of guest guitarists, including Todd Rundgren, Little Steven Van Zandt of The E Street Band, Alex Lifeson from Rush, Joe Bonamassa, Larry McCray, and Carolyn Wonderland. The album was recorded at The Foo Fighters' Studio 606 on the same legendary Sound City Neve console his one-time protégés from Fleetwood Mac used to record parts of the best-selling Rumours album.