John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers’ “Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton”

Blues Breakers Album Cover

This week, I’ve been listening to the debut album by John Mayall and the BluesbreakersBlues Breakers with Eric Clapton” from 1966. John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers released a live album “John Mayall Plays John Mayall” the year and were making a name for themselves. Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds, because he didn’t like the direction the band was going in with songs like “For Your Love.” Bluesbreakers bandleader keyboardist-singer John Mayall heard the news and asked Clapton to join his band. Clapton agreed, but left after one album to form Cream with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. The Bluesbreakers also featured bassist John McView and drummer Hughie Flint on drums. Alan Skidmore, Johnny Almond, and Derek Healey supply horns on a few of the tracks. Gus Dudgeon, who later worked with Elton John, was engineer. Mike Vernon, who worked with many British Blues bands, produced the album.

When I was a teenager, I had a tape of Eric Clapton’s soundtrack for the movie “Rush.” I don’t know where I got it from, I never saw the move. My favorite thing about the album was the strand of Jennifer Jason Lee’s hair on the cover. I traced that for part of the artwork on one of my own tape recordings. I hated the song “Tears in Heaven.” It was too “old man music” for me and I couldn’t see to escape it playing on the radio and the rest of the album was too “Austin City Limits” for me. In other words, my teenage tastes ran contrary to the sounds of Eric Clapton. It made me write him off completely, somehow forgetting that I loved his 70s classic “Cocaine.

The open kicks off with a good cover of Otis Rush’s “All Your Love.” As with some of the covers on this album, though, the originals are better and the tremendous sound of Clapton’s guitar makes it. Their cover of Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say” lacks the energy and groove of the original, mainly because Mayall’s voice isn’t suited for a song so dependent on the power of Charles’s delivery. The band shines when playing Bluesbreakers originals.

Hideaway

The second track, “Hideaway,” provides an opportunity to trace the history of a song. Here, the Bluesbreaker’s are covering Freddie King’s blues instrumental “Hideaway” as recorded in 1960. Freddie King likely took inspiration from a song by Samuel “Magic Sam” Maghett, recorded as “Do the Camel Walk” in 1960. Freddie King and Magic Sam both picked up the song from Hound Dog Taylor who would play it as “Taylor’s Boogie” to open shows in the late 1950s. He eventually recorded a variation of it as “Taylor’s Rock” for his debut album in 1971. I truly enjoy the Freddie King recording, but the Bluesbreaker’s play it louder and harder.

With “Hideaway,” the band plays a standard 12-Bar Blues chord progression with sevenths: I-I-I-I-IV-IV-I-I-V-IV-I-I. The bass-guitar plays a walking bassline providing the foundation for this progression. An organ, panned far-right, plays the chord rhythmically with stylistic flourishes like slides. The drums sit in the background emphasizing the rhythm. The drummer is playing hard, but has been pushed low in the mix. Clapton’s guitar sits front and center, providing the majority of the melody. For fun,they even throw in a little reference to Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Walk” that had just come out earlier that year.

Double Crossin’ Time

The Blues Breakers original “Double Crossin’ Time” tells of being double-crossed. The lyrics are ambiguous, beyond being about a male friend who works behind the singer’s back to make them lose. As this is early British blues, the song follows a standard 12-bar blues chord progression: I-I-I-I-IV-IV-I-I-V-IV-I-I, with all 7th chords the majority of the time.

The track opens with a honky-tonk sounding piano trilling into a melodic blues solo, with left hand providing chords. The bass walks through the progression, joining the piano in the center channel. One gently overdriven guitar plays in the left channel, a simple monophonic melody that emphasized the chord progression. Another more overdriven guitar in the right channel plays lead solos.

Again, Clapton’s guitar playing is what makes the song. Not only is his ability to provide soulful leads incredible, he also has a tremendous tone. There are countless articles written about how to get this sound. To summarize: A ’59 Les Paul Standard through a 1960s 45 watt Marshall 2×12 combo amp that was turned up too loud to get that overdriven sound. Clapton would’ve also utilized a Rangemaster treble booster to further drive the leads. The draw of Clapton’s sound is so strong, that Marshall continues to make reissues of these 60s combo amps called “Bluesbreakers.”

Mayall wrote the lyrics in the 12 bar blues format. In a verse, two lines will set the scene by introducing the problem. Then repeat those two lines, sung a little higher to follow the rise in the chord progression. Then two more lines that provide either a twist, answer, conclusion, or response to the first two lines. The second line of each pair rhyme throughout the verses, further tying the final line to the first two.

It’s a mean old scene
When it comes to double crossing time
It’s a mean old scene
When it comes to double crossing time
When you think you got good buddies
They will spin around and cheat you blind

Leave a Reply