Listen to this song, a scorching slice of electrified blues straight from the arguable peak of the 60’s London R&B boom. It’s “All Your Love” from the very brief 1965 line-up of John Mayall Bluesbreakers, a combo which created Mayall’s, and argubly the band’s guitarist Eric Clapton’s, greatest achievement of the period on the 1966 ground-breaking disc Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton.
Eric Clapton had been the fulcrum of The Yardbirds since 1963, starting from the tender age of 18 as an idealistic, serious-minded, and supremely gifted blues guitarist informed by electric players like Otis Rush and Buddy Guy, as well as older, spookier blues traditions as exemplified by Skip James and Robert Johnson. When called upon to record the more Merseybeat-aligned (and more commercially-motivated) song “For Your Love”, Clapton’s blues muse wouldn’t allow him to continue with the Yardbirds. That honour went next to Jeff Beck. And the song was a big hit. But, Clapton’s path lay elsewhere.
Seeking an outlet for a purer blues sound, Clapton fell in with Mayall, something of a blues purist himself, although with a love of soul music that would certainly inform his outfit, the Bluesbreakers. The resulting collaboration between the two, plus bassist John McVie (later of Fleetwood Mac) and drummer Hughie Flint, sent a shockwave through the scene. And it resulted in some interesting graffiti through out London: “Clapton Is God”.
Sometimes known as the “Beano” album, because of Clapton’s rapt attention to the funny papers on the cover of the record, this track and the rest of the tracks on the album reflect a harder-edged approach to the blues. Before this, British blues bands were reverent when it came to the source material which fed the scene. Numbers were performed exactly as they had been on the original sides on labels like Cobra, Chess, and Checker by bands who considered the originals as sacred texts. Not so with this record, which lays a foundation that is tougher, louder, and more sonically pliable. And the songs mix the traditional with the new, penned by Mayall.
And with these new innovations, this record is more than just an evolution for British musicians playing, and mastering, an American musical form. It is also the birth of a new subgenre; blues-rock.
Clapton’s stay with Mayall wouldn’t last even until the record was released. But, it fed his ambition to help to evolve the blues even further when he went on to form Cream with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. Mayall wouldn’t be stopped in his tracks by Clapton’s departure either, and provided his own contribution to the furtherance of the blues, working first with Peter Green (also like McVie, later of Fleetwood Mac), and also with soon-to-be Rolling Stone Mick Taylor.
Both Green and Taylor can be comfortably described as guitar gods themselves, of course. But, for a while, there was only one God, at least where London spraycan enthusiasts were concerned. And it’s his performance on this album that created a new theology when it came to rock guitar playing.
John Mayall is an active musician, with decades of service to the mantle of electric blues and blues-rock. Check out his site at Johnmayall.com