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One Degree of Mayall

Like many serious music fans, my early favorites came from the albums and artists that my father introduced me to — the rock ‘n’ roll heroes of his era that raised a middle finger to conformists in the 1950s. The moping mops of ‘90s rock had nothing on the bad boys of my old man’s record collection. But all things must pass, and the Woodstock set morphed from the bad boys into the good ol’ boys — Peter and Gordon became Gordon and Gekko.

One doesn’t typically relate long-haired icons of 1960s counterculture with kings of high finance. But in a world where aging rock stars behave more like investment bankers than they do Mick Jagger, the comparison seems apt. And while the moneygrubbers continue to tour and gouge the populace like a sub-prime mortgage, another titan of the era continues to quietly fortify his legacy.

 I’m referring to John Mayall, the renowned godfather of British blues. A bandleader whose Bluesbreakers band featured a rotating cast of characters rivaled only by the star-studded groups of Billy Eckstine or Art Blakey (or the incestuous Seattle grunge scene of the early ‘90s, for a more recent example). Mayall achieved his success all on his own — you certainly won’t find him on many lists of all-time great guitarists or songwriters. But Mayall’s place in the pantheon of rock is untouched. Consider the following: Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Peter Green, Jack Bruce and Mick Fleetwood are just a few of the giants who passed through the proving grounds of Mayall’s Bluesbreakers before finding fame on their own. For those big timers, meeting Mayall was the rock ‘n’ roll equivalent to throwing your life savings into a little start-up like Apple, Microsoft, Google and well … you get the point. 

When it comes to the wilds of the 1960’s music scene, Mayall is Kevin Bacon, and he only needs one degree.

John Mayall plays 7:30 pm Thursday, July 19, at The Shedd; Prices vary.