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A Mayall On A Roll In Her Own Rockin' Right

April 23, 1986|STEVE HOCHMAN

As might befit a rock-blues couple, singer Maggie Mayall met her husband, English blues pioneer John Mayall, when she smacked him with a tambourine--in front of 18,000 people.

"In Stone Lake, Wis., eight years ago," Maggie recalled. "It was a three-day (music) festival. I was performing with (guitarist) Harvey Mandel--it was a jazz-fusion kind of thing. John was sitting in with all the bands and everyone was in awe."

Everyone, that is, except Maggie. In fact, she wasn't even aware he was beside her when she flailed out with her tambourine arm.

Though the percussive crowning left John seeing stars, it wasn't a case of love at first sight.

"It was love at three-months-later sight," Maggie said of the relationship, which really began after Mandel's band had been hired to back John on a tour.

The Mayalls now live with their nearly 3-year-old son Zak in the Laurel Canyon house they rebuilt after it was destroyed in a 1979 brush fire. John, still one of the most respected figures in blues, jazz and rock circles, continues to tour as much as eight months each year.

And now Maggie has begun to make a name for herself on the Los Angeles club scene, leading the all-women "rockin' rhythm and blues" band Maggie Mayall & the Cadillacs (playing tonight at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach).

"I've been looking for a focus for a long time and feel I've found it," said Maggie, who began singing professionally around her native Chicago 15 years ago. Particularly dissatisfying for her was a stab at a pop career that included the release of a single in Australia in 1981. "I've tried that and it wasn't me," she said of pop stardom.

The upbeat R&B of the Cadillacs represents a full return to her first musical love. "My first albums when I was 15 were a Big Mama Thornton compilation, a Paul Butterfield album, an album of Texas chain-gang songs and, of course, a Beatles record," she said.

Though Maggie refers to the current band as her "girlfriends" and jokes that a primary benefit of the situation is that "we help each other with our hair and makeup and clothes," she dismisses the novelty aspect of the all-women lineup.

"It started because I was meeting more and more women who could really play the blues and had the affinity," she said. The band--Debbie Davies on guitar, Dana Robbins on saxophone and keyboards, Peggy Foster on bass and Maya Ziglar on drums--churns out spirited versions of R&B chestnuts and R&B-style originals.

Still, despite Maggie's longstanding passion for the music and the strength of her band, her relationship with John still implies some pupil-and-teacher elements. That aspect is reinforced by the difference in their ages (John is 52, Maggie 30) and by his reputation for developing talent (Eric Clapton, one-time Rolling Stone Mick Taylor and the original members of Fleetwood Mac are among the rock notables who have played in Mayall's bands).

Maggie makes no bones about the educational aspect of living with John. "He's my lover, he's my husband, he's my best friend and he's my mentor," she said. "He's definitely a professor of the blues and jazz. He's got a great wealth of knowledge."

The lessons are not all one way, though, since the teacher is learning a few things from his pupil.

"We (the Cadillacs) do one song that was on his original Bluesbreakers record, 'All Your Love' by Otis Rush," Maggie said. "When I was researching the song, I got out the original and it was different from John's. When he heard our version it was more true to the original. He'd dropped it from his set, but he said he liked our groove and wants to do it again."

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