John Mayall is a British blues guitarist, organist, songwriter and singer. His career has lasted over fifty years, and he was the originator of the band John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Although Mayall may not be a recognisable, household name, he was very influential in the early British blues scene in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Many of the musicians who played with Mayall in the Bluesbreakers would go on to become very famous, such as Eric Clapton of Cream, and Mick Taylor of The Rolling Stones among many others.
Though not technically considered a pioneer of psychedelic music himself, he was present in the time when the psychedelic movement was prevalent. He lived in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, California, that was a hotbed of the psychedelic movement in the late sixties and early seventies. Famous musicians, most notably Jim Morrison of the Doors, and many others lived in Laurel Canyon in the psychedelic era.
Blues From Laurel Canyon was released in November 1968. The album is about the experiences that Mayell encountered, and people that he met, when he visited Laurel Canyon around a year before making the United Sates his more permanent home. The songs on the record is sort of a diary of his time during the visit. He must have had some good experiences while on the visit, as he ended up living there from 1969 to 1979.
The album was quite influential for a blues record. It opens up with Vacation, which starts off with the sound of an airplane flying, supposedly into Los Angeles on the beginning of Mayall’s vacation. After the plane intro, the song goes into some hard driving drumming along with organ and guitar. It is a blues record, but starts off with a psychedelic feel. Mick Taylor, later from The Rolling Stones, had an impact on the record.
The next song on the album, Walking On Sunset, is a straightforward blues number, with great harmonica, which Mayall features on many of his songs.
Laurel Canyon Home is a slow blues tune with great piano throughout. Lyrically, it is easy to understand what Mayall is conveying, he is impressed and awed by the beauty of the canyon, and is genuinely happy to be there.
2401 is a hard driving blues guitar masterpiece, in my opinion, joined in by some nice harmonica. This song is more blues rock, with a great slide guitar middle performed by by Mick Taylor. The song is about Frank Zappa’s home in Laurel Canyon.
Ready To Ride is another great blues song with more harmonica, and that distinct voice of Mayall, which to be honest, is not one of my favorite vocalists. His great guitarwork and songwriting ability more than make up for his voice. Not to mention the star power that Mayall helped develop in the Bluesbreakers.
Medicine Man is a slow blues tune with basically Mayall’s vocals and harmonica. A good tune, but may bore someone who is not inclined to like blues. It shows the ability to slow the blues down, as opposed to rocking out the blues in other parts of the record. The harmonica work is a plus also.
Somebody’s Acting Like a Child starts with a smooth jazzy drum intro , followed up by nice organ work, and a great Mick Taylor guitar solo. Great tune, that is both bluesy and jazzy.
The Bear is a song about Bob “The Bear” Hite from the group Canned Heat. It is a good tune, with great blues guitar, and piano. It is one of my favorite songs on the album.
Miss James is a song about a woman who Mayall heard about, then finally met, then realised she was a hooker that people were talking about. The song has wonderful organ throughout, and is very entertaining.
For true blues aficionados, First Time Alone is a great song. For others not so inclined to be into the blues, they are likely to skip to the next song. There is some good guitar work in the song, with mostly Mayall vocals. It is enjoyable, but slow, an acquired taste.
Long Gone Midnight is a song filled with organ, a nice guitar solo and a slow drum beat. Not a bad song, but not one of the better one’s on the record.
Fly Tomorrow is the last, and longest song on the record, and is about Mayall’s flight back to Britain after his vacation at Laurel Canyon. It is a great, guitar driven song, and ends the record on a high note. Mayall would be back to Laurel Canyon soon enough.
This is a really good offering from one of the premier British blues artists during the psychedelic era. To me it is basically a concept album about a time and place that is truly indicative of what the psychedelic era was all about, except that it is a blues record. Good stuff!