“This is from one of my more obscure albums – and believe me, there are plenty of them out there,” British blues legend John Mayall admitted by way of introducing “Dream About the Blues.”
Indeed. Mayall led his new band into The Egg on Wednesday to launch a short east coast tour in support of “Tough,” his 57th album – not counting various compilations and re-packagings.
57 albums? That’s a whole lotta blues.
The 76-year-old singer-keyboardist-harmonicat bounded onstage like a young pup, grabbed a microphone and launched into a solo rendition of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Another Man Done Gone,” blowing bent-note blues fills on his harmonica inbetween each line of lyrics. Toward the end of the song, he drifted over to his keyboard and began dueting with himself, doubling his blues harp lines with one-handed piano playing.
Yes, John Mayall has still got it.
And he’s still got an ear for great musical talent, too. Throughout his career, his own musicianship has been unjustly overshadowed by the star-in-the-making talents who have passed through the ranks of his bands – including guitar giants Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor and Peter Green.
His new band – which he was quick to point out is not named the Bluesbreakers – is no exception. Cranked out a career-spanning retrospective of Mayall’s blues, they sounded a bit tentative on their opening, tempo-shifting rendition of Otis Rush’s “All Your Love,” but quickly settled into the choodling train blues of “Chicago Line,” culled from Mayall’s 1965 debut album.
By the time they threw themselves into the gritty, hard-edged “Nothing to Do With Love” and Walter Trout’s “Playing With a Losing Hand” – both from the new album – they were cooking up a mighty tasty blues brew.
Texas guitarslinger Rocky Athas reeled off biting, but fluid Stevie Ray Vaughan-like solos with surety and plenty of firepower. Keyboardist Tom Canning provided a bed of Hammond B3-like snarl and growl on his synth. And the Chicago rhythm section of monster bassist Greg Rzab (formerly with Buddy Guy) and drummer Jay Davenport locked it all down tight.
Most fans in the crowd were waiting for selections from Mayall’s late ’60s zenith, and he didn’t disappoint, easing them through the jazz-inflected “California” and then turning on the gas for an epic 20 minute-plus rave-up of his classic “Room to Move,” complete with Mayall’s requisite harmonica howling and mouth percussion.
Savoy Brown’s Kim Simmonds opened the show with a short, sit-down, solo acoustic set, focusing on his latest album, “Out of the Blue.” But he also dropped in the chugging “House Lady Blues” from his solo debut, and a bold cover of AC/DC’s “What’s Next to the Moon.” And of course, he couldn’t get away without a couple of crowd-pleasing Savoy Brown nuggets – “Louisiana Blues” and “Tell Mama” – both played with more passion than precision on steel-body slide guitar.
An excerpt from Michael Hochandel’s review in The Daily Gazette: “To the vintage tunes that he loves and that inspired him, Mayall brought a fan’s joyful devotion, a veteran’s hard-earned insight, the energy of a much younger man and the loyal support of a killer band. He played keyboard and harmonica (he played guitar in his younger days) and sang with impressive strength and range.”
JOHN MAYALL SET LIST
Another Man Done Gone (solo)
All Your Love
Blues for the Lost Days
Nothing to Do With Love
Playing With a Losing Hand
The Sum of Something
Dream About the Blues
Room to Move
KIM SIMMONDS SET LIST
Ain’t Going Down
North Country Town
Out of the Blue
House Lady Blues
What’s Next to the Moon (AC/DC)