If they ever need an actor for a movie where a cranky old white dude steps onto a porch, shaking his fist, to berate kids in the street for their expletive-laced music, John Mayall would be a prime casting choice. On the 76-year-old’s latest CD, Tough—his 57th studio album to date—he bemoans the current state of popular music. “Some people might call me prejudiced and super-mean/I hate rap music with a passion like you’ve never seen,” he sings on “That Good Old Rockin’ Blues”.
On the line from his home in L.A. the British blues legend confirms that he is no fan of 50 Cent, Eminem, or that Dogg fellow. But when it comes to what he doesn’t despise in today’s music world, the field is wide open.
“I listen to pretty much anything,” he says, “that’s got real instruments played by real people instead of something that’s just an electronic loop. You know, I like the personality of music and the people who play it, so it could be jazz, it could be blues, it could be rock ’n’ roll. It could be all sorts of different flavours, as long as the reality is there.”
Whether you agree with Mayall’s take on music or not, you’ve got to admit that he’s earned the right to an opinion. As one of the main motivators of the British blues scene in the ’60s, he helped nurture the careers of scads of players, including guitar heroes Mick Taylor, Peter Green, and Eric Clapton. The Blues Breakers album he made with Clapton in 1966 has long been considered a watermark release for rock guitar, with Slowhand going wild on blues classics by Otis Rush, Freddie King, and Robert Johnson. Clapton and Mayall don’t hang out much anymore, although they did hook up in the summer of 2003 for the latter’s 70th birthday concert.
“That was a real thrill,” recalls Mayall, “a real treat to get playing with him again. But he’s got a pretty private life, I suppose, and the world is a big place, so he’s one place and I’m another.”
Last year, Mayall split up with his guitarist of 15 years, Buddy Whittington, and recruited another Texan, Rocky Athas, who played on Tough and also handles most of the guitar in Mayall’s new touring band. As they have for over four decades, playing keyboards and harmonica and singing lead keeps Mayall busy enough on-stage. How much longer he’ll keep at it is anyone’s guess.
“This is a new chapter with this new band,” he says, “and everybody’s pretty excited about it, so we’ll just see where it goes.”
John Mayall plays the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Wednesday (November 11).