Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 35 No 5. March 29, 1972
Interview with John Mayall
Interview with John Mayall
Gordon Campbell and Midge Marsden spoke to John Mayall at the Clyde Quay Tavern last Friday afternoon.
How does it feel just being you? You're playing what was originally black music. You are in the position of so many white peoples in the past who are making a lot of money out of playing this kind of music associated with black people who aren't making as much money out of it. Do you find it difficult to make a difference to the relationships you have with the black musicians you play with?
First of all I must say; there isn't much money in it, I mean there's enough, so that I can afford to approach guys white or black who I think are great musicians. And if you work with 'black' musicians I mean with people. People are people they are not black anything or white anything, they are musicians and they have a certain individual quality. So I can have enough of a market now to make a loose, purely musical "thing with anyone I want, and we can create something together, under my leadership. Music in it's purest form; without anyone telling anyone how to play or what to play.
Have you had any resentment?
No you can forget about the racial differences which are purely nothing. It's all down to the fact that in music there are certain people who will only reach a certain number of people. They perhaps have reached their level of communication with a mass diverse audience. If the musician is great, I don't think it's possible that he can, be surpassed. If I dug something, I want them on the stage, I want to play with that guy whether there is an audience or not.
Did you ever see that Dylan movie Don't Look Back? How do you cope with the position that he was trying to handle?
At the time I never knew about it, because I just happened to be around when he was visiting England and just happened to be in the same car 'cos the guy Pennebaker was filming everything of the whole tour. At that time he was doing the thing of private enterprise, and I guess that later when they finished the movie, he was the guy responsible for the whole thing. He just tried to take his camera down and just photograph and record everything. No body who was involved in it had any preparation for it, they was just following Dylan and anyone who happened to come along was in it. The whole movie seemed to ideally trying to say: I'm a person, I'm not someone who's got the answers. I can't do it for you.
It seems that you are in that position to a lot of Blues fanatics. Do they look to you?
This is the thing, if people put you up on a pedestal or think of you as some kind of a leader, that's the only way they can think of you. They forget that you are a human being. I won't say like everybody else, because there's no equality in the world in that direction. Some people are going to get out in front and some are going to follow. So anyone who is going to lead is going to get this treatment. So I don't think Dylan was trying to say anything, because he wasn't really asked. He was watched by the camera for the daily things of what it's like to be on the road, following a guy in his profession a'nd his thoughts: that's what the film was trying to do.
I was wondering if you feel any responsibility to be something to the people who read so much into you, and your lyrics?
There's no way you can get away from this, because you can't talk to people, meet them. You don't know who the people are individually. I only feel a responsibility that they are there so they must like something that I do, so the the safest thing I can do is to just be me, and present myself as I feel, rather than somekind of an image I must live up to.
What about your music now - I was told it was very much off your head, it just happens.
Well it's just that over the years one gets sick of playing the same things) not that I subscribe the same way, or numbers that were on albums it may have been that the different periods I had with different bands we did use the repertoire of stuff from current albums or one about to be released. But usually, by the time the album was released we'd done all we could with those playing live and we'd be playing stuff from the next album. Everything gets stale if you play it so many times, so I just try and abolish that completely nowadays and make it an improvised thing. You just name a key and a tempo and just behave like a bunch of musicians exchanging ideas in your own front room or something, without any audience demands or responsibilities. I guess it offends people -coming, expecting something else, who expect to hear tracks off records, and to sound like any other group they ever heard. But, if they can accept the spirit of what the music is about and the looseness of it and the gaps between numbers, and the chat with the audience and all this stuff it's all part of it. Today it takes a conscious effort to get the audience involved with what's happening onstage, and you relate all the way.
Have you seen a big social change as well as a musical change in the states? At the time you were playing with Eric Burden.
Eric didn't represent a mass exodus. He is one of the few Englismen who lives in Los Angeles. It's just that the papers print it up like everybody is leaving England for America. They magnify the situation up. There are very few English musicians that I know. Every band will go where it is appreciated.
The Turning Point album especially seems to be using your music much more lyrically as an expression of political experience.
Might I shoot that down in flames because that album had only one song that dealt with something outside of personal private life type things. But people do pick that one out as the first. But then you have to define what is political. There were things before that people didn't regard as subjects to be called politics, or laws. It's only when laws come into it that people say 'O that's political.' Then everything is a message or an idea about something, or a way ot looking at something. So they picked that one out, and the following album was '...revolution', so they go for that one. The next one was U.S.A. Union, where there was the pollution thing. That was one song. I think people pick these things out and say: He is on a political platform, let him say more about it or something. They crucified Dylan for the same reasons. They kind of missed the point really, because through the certain things that he did which criticise the system, they now say he perhaps [unclear: does] on a [unclear: particular] classified as [unclear: po] now is how [unclear: to] how to cope [unclear: w] tem that [unclear: aren't]
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and they'd be dishonest to cash in on the black thing and say 'I'm down here on the farm' when they've never been on this farm. They live in cities and ghettos. When they sing about the ghettos, they sing about their lives. You can get in this room people who are sensitive to life and their situations and they can be realty emotional. That's the essence of things. If you are ultra sensitive to things it's just like someone who is beaten up and tied to a lamp post. It's the emotion that we are talking about.
Since the so called Blues Revival started, the record companies in New Zealand have been good in that they have released a lot of albums. In fact they over-saturated the market, and as a music form it has actually died.
It is a small thing. It never has or will have a mass following. It's a minority audience, really and I guess when the label 'blues' started to be put on every kind of music, and a lot of people talked of the 'blues revival', it died. Perhaps because it didn't have as many blues artists as it thought it had, being advertised as such.
We've never seen any blues artists in New Zealand whatsoever and we've been trying for the last three years to get something from someone.
The J.B. Lenoir album was very welcome in New Zealand we're very pleased to see that. We have a tramping campaign. We travelled to Auckland, walked some of the way back and came back down the other side of the North Island promoting the album, and I think it created a tot of interest.
You do these things independently, off your own back, these are the things you believe in, see. If you felt good doing that, then I feel as good about putting the album out in the first place. You just do it and hope others can be turned on to it.
I want to talk about the Crusade label you have out, particularly the album you did with J.B. Lenoir.
It had better be particular, 'cause that was the only one in that label. I have done one since, but it's not released yet. The one yet to come out, the second on the Crusade label, is Shaky Jake the Harmonica Player and there's some good music on that one. Shaky Jake is a guy from Chicago who is in L.A. now. He's quite a primitive type player, you know. Doesn't know how to keep to the chord sequence, like John Lee Hooker, very erratic. His records, previously have never quite done it for me. I've always felt there was some missing ingredient in the recording of it. He's done this one for me, and I've put Freddie Robinson among that, and a drummer called Ron Jellicoe, Larry Taylor on base, and one or two other people. So that'll be the next one and I think it's come out quite nicely.
What do you think about C.B.S. album? J.B.'s with the white dove on the cover?
Oh, that's a beautiful one, fantastic, I guess that's not been released here.
It hasn't been released in America either. I guess that was one of the reasons I got the Crusade stuff, because the way of recording, the acoustic thing is the same kind of thing as that Alabama Blues. It would be hard to say which is the better of the two, but they both show a side of him which hasn't been heard before, on record, so Alabama Blues and Crusade, are both essential records to get, at any price really, if you like what he does. It was German in origin because he recorded it during the tour. But, in America it wasn't out and even in England it was hard to get. In German it's been re-issued, with a different cover. Germany's where it comes from, and if anyone's got friends there it's probably the best way to get hold of it.
Do you think that a hell of a lot of people's releases are just vanity, that people are really presumptuous to believe that their music is worthwhile.
No, everybody must hear a musician who to everybody else's ears is terrible, and say "That's music? You got to be kidding." But really everybody who picks up an instrument does it because they want to make music, yet they may sound amateur or directly offensive to your ears. The most popular things today are offensive to my ears. Meanwhile that thing that is offensive to me is doing four times the business I could ever hope to do. Therefore its not a con. People actually do enjoy it. But these same people will remove their support once they get bored with it.
What do you think of the attitudes of some of the so called 'Blues Purists'?
Absolute arseholes. They're good if you read those things, and ignore their point of view. You can actually get a lot of information about records and history and things like that, but if you go into their philosophy it's" pure bullshit strictly to be avoided. But any person can get what he likes out of it and reject the point of view. They are archaic creatures who can't see that blues has got nothing to do with race - blues is feeling, blues is an outlet for someone, and it's only the format which runs through them all. But it's not the format that counts, it's what's put into it of that particular person's life.
Do you think that you are a hard person to work with?
Don't ask me that, ask the others. There are a lot of horror stories, yes. The biggest publicised story was the Keef Hartley sacking. Keef and I made it into an exaggerated joke. It's just the way people wanted to see it. I mean why have we been working together again, why are we still friends?page 10