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Mayall: The Be-All of Bandleaders : The British Blues Legend, Who's at Coach House Tonight, Has Played With the Best

February 17, 1996|BUDDY SEIGAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

That's John Mayall. Thirty years into his career, his reputation is secure as the father of British blues and as a talent scout without peer, but his own skills as a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist have been overshadowed by those of the incredible stable of talent with which he has managed to surround himself.

Among the giants he has worked with--and in some cases introduced--are Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, Aynsley Dunbar, Coco Montoya, Sugarcane Harris, Harvey Mandel, Larry Taylor, Blue Mitchell, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Jon Marc, Johnny Almond and Keef Hartley.

Many of them have gone on to fame and fortunes that far eclipse those of their old bandleader, but Mayall--now 62--keeps plugging away without complaint, like a proud father watching his brood thrive. His latest lineup, which features highly touted guitarist Buddy Whittington, plays tonight at the Coach House and Sunday at Spaghettini.

He thinks that being a bandleader is "comparatively easy. It's something you're born with, I guess," he said during a recent phone conversation from his home in Los Angeles. "You know what sort of things you're listening for and personalities you're dealing with. It comes very easily to me, although some people seem to think it's sort of amazing."

Of all his legendary sidemen, one stands out in his mind.

"Eric [Clapton] stands out to me as being one of the greatest musicians of our time, regardless of whether he worked with me or not. Every note he plays . . . he's a genius as far as I'm concerned. He did some amazing blues work with me back when he was a very raw player."

Mayall has released more than 40 albums (starting with "John Mayall Plays John Mayall" in 1965), not to mention a seemingly endless catalog of compilations that seem to proliferate like audio algae.

*

"When I go on the road, particularly in Europe, people ask me to sign albums I've never even seen before," he noted. "It would be nice if I had a full collection myself, but it'll never happen. There's too many out there."

Later this year, Polydor will re-release four long-deleted Mayall classics from the late '60s/early '70s--"USA Union," "Empty Rooms," "Jazz/Blues Fusion" and " 'Moving On." Each is among his most distinctive works.

Currently signed to Silvertone Records (which released his most recent CD, "Spinning Coin," last year), Mayall has returned to his roots in traditional blues, as opposed to his free-form experimentation and his use of unusual instrumental lineups within the genre.

Meanwhile, his airy, idiosyncratic voice has been whittled by age to a huskier rasp--nearly unrecognizable as the voice that sang the early '70s FM radio staple, "Room to Move."

Has his famous ear for talent heard any up-and-coming blues players lately that the world needs to know about?

"I don't really listen to much blues," he answered. "I have a very wide range of listening tastes. Alanis Morrisette is the best new artist I've come across in some time. I think she's pretty amazing. Her songwriting, her voice--everything about her. I also think Foo Fighters and Green Day have this great energy. Foo Fighters have some great chord structures; there's all sorts of things going on there. Their excitement and delivery is very blues-based."

Easing out of middle age and into bona-fide status as a senior citizen, Mayall still plays hundreds of dates every year with no signs of slowing down. "I'm just happy to have the opportunity to be a creative artist and have an audience out there who appreciates it," he said. "It's a continuing thing for me, always full of surprises."

* John Mayall plays tonight at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano (Blue Highway opens at 8 p.m. $17.50. [714] 496-8930) and Sunday at Spaghettini, 3005 Old Ranch Parkway, Seal Beach (9 p.m. $25. Admission will be limited to the first 100 people. [310] 596-2199.

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