John Mayall – Blues from Laurel Canyon
It seems I’m in a Laurel Canyon state of mind. By 1968, an artistically idyllic diaspora had developed in L.A. which would shape much of the popular music world for the next decade or so. One name I wouldn’t normally associate with that scene is John Mayall, but he had visited L.A. earlier in the year and subsequently moved from his native England to Laurel Canyon the following year. Mayall lived there for ten years (a brush fire destroyed his home and much archival material in 1979). Fifty years ago this month he released his acclaimed Blues from Laurel Canyon, featuring 19-year-old guitarist Mick Taylor. It was his first album after the breakup of the Bluesbreakers earlier in the year.
Mayall handles the vocals throughout. He also plays guitar, harmonica, and keyboards. Mick Taylor, who would soon join the Rolling Stones, plays some blistering lead guitar as well as pedal steel on the album. Steve Thompson, all of 18, plays bass, and Colin Allen is on drums. Peter Green, late of Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and at the time the leader of Fleetwood Mac, added guitar to the track First Time Alone.
The album is considered innovative in the blues genre, as songs segue into the next or otherwise stop on a chord just before the next song begins. We also hear a tabla – not an oft-employed instrument in blues music but one which fit well pretty much anywhere in the late ’60s. The tracks tell the story of Mayall’s visit to L.A. prior to his move there, which actually makes it a bit of a concept album. But there’s nothing to do with flower power or the burgeoning singer/songwriter genre on this record. It’s all blues, and it only took three days in August of ’68 to record. At the age of 35, Mayall was a senior citizen in the music world by that time and wasn’t going to be swayed much by what the younger musicians were doing.
There are some really good moments on this record. The opening track, Vacation, begins with the sound of a jet landing (like another opening track to a major album release that same month), i.e., Mayall’s arrival in L.A., and features a more-accomplished-than-his-years solo by Mick Taylor. Taylor also plays some tasty slide on 2401, which was inspired by Mayall’s visit with Frank (and daughter Moon Unit) Zappa and also features nice keyboard work by Mayall. Someone’s Acting like a child is a classic blues track with great guitar and harmonica. The Bear, with Mayall’s great boogie piano track, is based upon his meeting with Canned Heat (it opens with a riff from On the Road Again), and Taylor plays some outstanding improvisations on the song about Mayall mentally preparing to go home to England (before permanently moving to Laurel Canyon for the next decade) on the aptly titled Fly Tomorrow.
At a time when white blues guitar players like Clapton and Page were stretching their playing into heavier forms, Mayall stayed truer to traditional blues than most. It’s interesting to me that L.A. appealed to him at that point in his career. But then again, what wasn’t to like from a perch in Laurel Canyon, looking down over the Sunset Strip and its happening venues? Warm, sunny days, an exploding music scene in the late 1960s, etc. Good times.
- Walking On Sunset
- Laurel Canyon Home
- Ready to Ride
- Medicine Man
- Somebody’s Acting Like a Child
- The Bear
- Miss James
- First Time Alone
- Long Gone Midnight
- Fly Tomorrow