At 80, blues legend John Mayall sings about a world gone crazy

LONDON Wed May 7, 2014 10:36pm IST

Blues legend John Mayall performs during a concert in Bucharest, November 11, 2012. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti/Files

Blues legend John Mayall performs during a concert in Bucharest, November 11, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Radu Sigheti/Files

Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers ride their camels as they rehearse for the "Beating the Retreat" ceremony in New Delhi January 27, 2015. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

"Beating The Retreat" Rehearsals

Rehearsals are on for "Beating the Retreat" ceremony which symbolises retreat after a day on the battlefield, and marks the official end of the Republic Day celebrations.  Slideshow 

LONDON (Reuters) - Blues songs are traditionally about women who have done you wrong, working on a chain gang, or being brought low by booze - but what about Christians and Muslims killing each other?

John Mayall, often dubbed the "godfather" of British electric blues, touches on just this in "World Gone Crazy", a track on a retrospective album of newly recorded songs he is putting out this month to celebrate turning 80 last year.

To a driving beat, wailing harmonica and blues-chord progression, he sings about the guilt of living in conflicted times, the depletion of natural resources, chaotic governments and a global plague of killing.

It will all end in a reckoning, he sings, and nothing more so than the clash of religions.

"Religion. I said, religion. Always at the root of a war/The Christians and the Muslims never get along no more/They're killing everybody/Bodies lying on the floor."

In an interview from his California home, Mayall said politics was a natural subject for a bluesman because the genre, which emerged from the harsh life of African Americans in the U.S. Deep South, is all about a grim reality and the feelings it inspires.

"When I write songs that touch on social relevance, all you have to do is pick up a newspaper," he told Reuters. "It was an obvious one because everyone is blowing themselves up. It's just crazy."

That is not to say that all blues has to be grim - or that the album is.

"You can't spend your life in misery," Mayall said. "If you have something in your life worth celebrating, you can put it in a blues song."

BLUES-BREAKING

What Mayall is celebrating in his new album, "A Special Life", are the 70 years he has spent playing around with the blues, which he first heard aged around 10, listening to his father's jazz records in northern England.

He helped bring blues into the international mainstream in the 1960s, an era when many British musicians took up the genre, unheralded in its home country, gave it new life before and exported it back across the Atlantic.

Mayall's Bluesbreakers band was a crucible for some of blues-rock's greatest legends.

Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce moved on from the band to form Cream, while Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie ended up forming Fleetwood Mac, initially a blues band.

Mick Taylor went from the Bluesbreakers to The Rolling Stones, while bassist Andy Fraser formed rock band Free.

Looking around him today, Mayall reckons blues is alive and well. His concerts, for example, bring in the old and the new, and there are plenty to pick up the mantle.

"All you have to do is check out some of the new players," he said. "It is going on from generation to generation."

Among newish performers that have caught his attention, he cited 30-year old Texan Gary Clarke Jr, 27-year old Briton Joanne Shaw Taylor and - 65 years his junior - 15-year old Quinn Sullivan from Massachusetts.

As for his own future, Mayall said his new album was about "looking back on my life and making a call on what it feels like".

But there was no hint of stopping as he embarks on a tour of some 59 towns and cities over seven months in the United States, Canada and Britain.

"I have good health and I am happy to be on the road all the time," he said.

(Editing by Michael Roddy and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Photo

After wave of QE, onus shifts to leaders to boost economy

DAVOS, Switzerland - Central banks have done their best to rescue the world economy by printing money and politicians must now act fast to enact structural reforms and pro-investment policies to boost growth, central bankers said on Saturday.

Reuters Showcase

ONGC Share Sale

ONGC Share Sale

ONGC share sale scheduled for this fiscal - oil minister  Full Article 

The Apple logo is pictured inside the newly opened Omotesando Apple store at a shopping district in Tokyo June 26, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino/Files

Record Earnings

Apple iPhone sales trample expectations as profit sets global record  Full Article 

'Umrika' At Sundance

'Umrika' At Sundance

From Oscars to Sundance, Sharma and Revolori discuss India's 'Umrika'  Full Article 

Australian Open

Australian Open

Smooth Wawrinka, ill Serena through to Melbourne semis   Full Article 

India's Male Tenor

India's Male Tenor

India's lone male tenor aims to sing opera in local key  Full Article 

Japan Hostages

Japan Hostages

Mother of Japanese captive begs PM to save son held by Islamic State  Full Article 

Tripoli Attack

Tripoli Attack

Frenchman, American among those killed in Tripoli hotel attack - Libyan official.  Full Article 

U.S. Blizzard

U.S. Blizzard

Blizzard hits Boston and New England, spares New York despite forecasts.  Full Article 

Spying Row

Spying Row

Spying program leaked by Snowden is tied to campaign in many countries.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage