- Peel wrote the sleevenotes to the John Mayall solo album The Blues Alone (Decca, 1967):
In the summer of 1966 I was working for a radio station in Southern California and, in my capacity as resident Englishman and therefore intimate friend of all groups, I had to contribute a column of light hearted chatter about the British music scene to the station paper. Part of this column was a listing of the current British top ten. As far as the inhabitants of San Bernadino and Riverside counties knew, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers had a string of enormous hits during that summer – a number of them being, in some curious fashion, LP tracks. Chart-rigging was a hideous reality in unsuspecting California.
Shortly after returning to London I met John Mayall and found him to be a very warm-hearted person despite his somewhat forbidding stage presence. He has a huge laugh that springs from some deep recess within him and tumbles into all corners of the room. I was featuring his LP ‘A Hard Road’ (Decca LK 4853) on the air and was amazed that, in addition to writing 8 of the 12 numbers on the record, playing 5 and 9 string guitar, organ, piano, harmonica and singing, he had written the sleeve notes and painted the portrait of the group on the front cover.
With this new LP he has carried all of this to its logical conclusion and has produced a record featuring no other musician than himself except for the occasional aid of his drummer Keef Hartley. This then is John Mayall – one of the greatest bluesmen in the world.
BRAND NEW START
John plays harmonica, guitar, piano, drums and also sings. A hymn of earthy praise to his current woman with some of his best recorded harmonica. Strangely remote ‘popping’ guitar adds a touch of deep melancholy.
PLEASE DON’T TELL (vocal, harmonica, guitar, bass)
John has apparently uncovered something new in the popular field of male/female relationships – after exhaustive research – and wants to keep it a secret. In his writing he always adds something fresh and interesting to traditional concepts – whatever that means.
DOWN THE LINE (Vocal, piano, 9-string guitar)
In the clubs the appearance of the Mayallian nine-string is greeted with shouts of approval. On this number the distinctive sliding sounds keep up an almost unbearable tension behind the sparse piano. A searing, incredibly lonely sound.
SONNY BOY BLOW (Vocal, harmonica, jangle piano)
A tribute to the late Sonny Boy Williamson – not a sad, gloomy tribute but a rollicking, cantering thing filled with unrestrained outbursts on the harmonica and some rolling boogie woogie from John’s famous ‘jangle’ piano.
MARSHA’S MOOD (Piano, drums)
A portrait of an attractive and independent girl. I think I know the Marsha of the title and if I’m right then this superb piano solo fits her well.
NO MORE TEARS (Vocal, 9 & 6 string guitars, bass)
A great track featuring John’s obviously underrated guitar. Although his efforts are unlikely to start a mass movement of blues guitarists to the bridges of the Thames this should be a revelation for those who’ve tended to concentrate more on John’s celebrated lead guitarists than on the man himself. I’m glad he recorded this one.
CATCH THAT TRAIN (Harmonica with train)
Blues harmonica players favour trains to a degree where they might be suspected of a locomotive fetish – a rare condition. This must surely be the first time that an actual train has been used as an accompanying instrument. All of this poses an interesting demarcation question – did the N.U.R. receive recording wages? Incidentally I am the train’s agent so don’t get any ideas.
CANCELLING OUT (Vocal, piano, organ)
We all know the ‘Put-together’ girl – probably one of the main causes of international confusion. John sings of his intention to cancel out that kind of chick. He underlines this laudable decision with grumbling bass figures on the piano and fiery organ playing. Is this a protest song?
HARP MAN (Harmonica, celeste, bass)
Music-box type celeste sounds – a very emotional music-box let me hastily add – and wandering harmonica phrases. There is no truth to the rumour that the Bluesbreakers will be using dulcimer, sackbut and psaltery. Let’s face it, guttural cries of ‘Let’s hear your sackbut, son” can only lead to violence.
BROWN SUGAR (Vocal, piano, guitar, organ)
You don’t need me to tell you what this is all about. Just listen to the lyrics. Moore slide guitar playing accentuates a blues that has nothing to do with Tate and Lyle.
BROKEN WINGS (Vocal, organ)
This is the sort of thing that should be heard on the car radio late at night driving alone in the rain. A very gently, caressing and beautiful song. You needed to know this side of Mayall.
DON’T KICK ME (Vocal, organ, piano, guitar, bass)
For the final track on this astounding LP, which shows every facet and talent of the limitless John Mayall, a rumbling plea not to kick him when he’s down. I get the impression you’d be in a rather dramatic situation if you tried it. Thank you John for letting me write these notes for what is an essential record for anyone with any interest in any kind of good music.