The British musician, at the keyboard on stage in the Cervantes theatre, accompanied by bass player Greg Rzab. :: YHASMINA GARCÍA
Fans and music lovers who went to the Cervantes theatre on Wednesday expecting to see John Mayall on stage were surprised to find him right there in the entrance hall flogging copies of his latest album, ‘Special Life’. Twenty euros, he told his fans-cum-customers from behind his table, his white hair tied back as usual in a pony tail. These CDs, of course, came with the added advantage of the autograph of this remarkable musician who still gives his all on stage even having just celebrated his 80th birthday.
He kept his distance, nonetheless; there were no photos at his side or affectionate hugs, just a formal handshake and a ‘thank you’. At nine o’clock, Mayall packed up his stall - yes, all by himself - put everything in a rucksack and made his way to the stage.
This is the father of European or ‘white’ Blues, a living legend in his genre, but above all a hard-worker, giving his all from start to finish.
His harmonica started the concert as he launched into ‘Checking on my Baby’, from his 1967 album ‘Crusade’. From then on he took his fans through his career, from his ‘So Many Roads’ of the early years to songs from the album that he had been selling moments earlier at the door, such as ‘That’s All Right’.
He went from harmonica to keyboards to both at the same time, before grabbing his electric guitar. This musician born in Manchester in 1933 is certainly still in good shape.
“I’ll think about retirement if and when I can no longer deliver the music with the strength and energy it requires. So who knows when that’ll be,” he told SUR inEnglish earlier this week.
For Mayall the only motivation required to keep up his pace is that he is doing his job as a professional musician.
“It’s part of what we do to keep the music alive so as long as I have a loyal audience, count on me to keep the blues flowing,” he said.
Ten years ago Mayall celebrated his 70th birthday on this same stage in Malaga, and three years ago he came back with new material and a fresh band, who were with him again this week.
“I’m at that lucky point in my career that I have the best band ever in terms of personal connection and it is a joy to hit the stage with these guys,” he said, referring to Rocky Athas from Texas and Greg Rzab and Jay Davenport from Chicago. This “connection” comes after sharing the stage with an endless stream of names, including Eric Clapton, Peter Green (of Fleetwood Mac) and Mike Taylor who went on to join the Rolling Stones.
They all formed part of The Bluesbreakers, the pioneer British Blues band led by Mayall, and they all moved on to stardom.
“It certainly shows I’ve got an eye for talent,” he said.
Now he has his perfect band, and will be on stage with them every day in March (except four) as part of his “massive world tour” that is taking him to France, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland and Germany, as well as Spain, just this month.
“With a band like mine this is part of what we enjoy doing,” he said, “The blues is a creative force.”
Rather than an escape route - as others have described this genre of music - he sees the blues as a “reflection of my passion”.
It was with Mayall at the start of the sixties that the blues conquered Europe.
“I think the harder part of the equation was to find my own path whereby I felt connected and more adept at communicating my feelings,” he said referring to those early years.
Now he has become known as the father, king or even god of “white” blues. “Blues, definitely, has no colour,” he stressed.
“As the world has come to appreciate the black musical culture it has since spread worldwide and in a great sense was helped along by the British Blues scene of the early 1960s,” he explained.
Mayall’s harmonica solos, accompanied by Rocky Athas’s brilliance on the electric guitar, showed in the Cervantes on Wednesday that he is still doing his bit to spread the word.