John Mayall's Bluesbreakers

Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton (Decca í66) Rating: A-
Like Paul Butterfield, John Mayall is something of an unfairly forgotten figure, as he was a truly seminal influence on '60s British blues rock. At various times the likes of Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Aynsley Dunbar, Mick Fleetwood, and John McVie passed through this terrific bandleader's ranks (albeit usually briefly), though none of his subsequent incarnations delivered anything nearly as influential as this game changing album, which he cut with Eric Clapton immediately after Clapton left The Yardbirds (McVie and drummer Hughie Flint rounded out the lineup). After all, this is the album that inspired "Eric Clapton Is God" graffiti all over the walls of London, and indeed the album's biggest asset is the wonderfully thick and muscular guitar tone that Clapton achieves throughout. His pioneering use of distortion and atypical phrasings raised the bar for all who followed (such as that Hendrix fella), and his inspired playing easily makes up for the album's somewhat patchy songwriting. Featuring a mix of Mayall originals along with covers from the likes of Otis Rush, Freddie King, and Robert Johnson, some of these songs are overly repetitive and simplistic, and songs such as "Another Man," "Parchman Farm," and "It Ain't Right" feature far too little of Clapton's guitar. The focus is also elsewhere on their cover of Robert Johnsonís "Ramblin' On My Mind," on which Clapton's guitar is relatively restrained as Eric was likely more concerned with his first lead vocal on record. Their cover of Ray Charlesí "What'd I Say" even features a regrettable drum solo, but its unexpected "Day Tripper" riff also showed the 21 year old upstart being loose and irreverent, qualities that would unfortunately disappear in due time. The rest of the album features Eric at his fiery best, with Mayall chiming in with moody Hammond organ and solid harp playing and singing (several songs feature punchy horns as well). Whether covering Otis Rush ("All Your Love") or Freddie King ("Hideaway"), the best songs here (such as those two) were henceforth Eric Clapton songs, and slow, heavy blues originals such as "Double Crossin' Time" (Clapton's first co-write, with Mayall) and "Have You Heard" (by far the album's longest song at almost 6 minutes long) feature some of his most spectacularly intense and emotional guitar solos, as does the more up-tempo r&b-based "Key To Love" (another Mayall original). Another highlight is their cover of Memphis Slimís "Steppin' Out," another concise instrumental a la "Hideaway" which also has the beefy guitar tone that many saw as being God-like; it later became a live favorite with Cream. This album, in particular Eric Clapton's incendiary guitar playing, was way ahead of its time, and by and large the majority of Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton (also known as "the Beano album" due to the album cover photo) is still extremely enjoyable today. Alas, the ever-restless Clapton soon wanted out, so he left Mayall to team with former Mayall bassist Jack Bruce ("Double Crossin' Time" is about Bruce leaving Mayall's band to join Manfred Mann) and drummer Ginger Baker (formerly of the Graham Bond Organization) in Cream (rockís first major power trio).

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