Thursday, October 01, 2009

John Mayall - The Turning Point (1969)

I've been hoping to discuss some current releases but not much new stuff has come my way lately, so let's take another ride on the Wayback Machine to talk about British blues powerhouse, John Mayall.

Mayall's most important gift to rock' n roll lies not with his own playing, singing, and songwriting but with his tremendous ability to discover outstanding talent. Among the all-stars and Hall of Famers whose careers he helped launch are Peter Green, John McVie, and Mick Fleetwood who all eventually left to organize Fleetwood Mac. Mick Taylor left Mayall to replace Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones, and Andy Fraser started Free. His most illustrious 60s graduate, Eric Clapton, wrote on Mayall's website, "John Mayall has actually run an incredibly great school for musicians." Clapton eventually left Mayall too and formed Cream with Jack Bruce, another of the bandleader's prodigies.

We can debate forever what Mayall's best records are, and many blues lovers would easily choose the album he did with Clapton, Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton. However, his most famous work, even if it wasn't his best, came several years after Clapton left to become a major guitar hero. It was in 1969, not long after Taylor left, that The Turning Point was recorded live at the Fillmore East.

The Turning Point is unique because the concert and the subsequent album release featured an all acoustic quartet and no drummer, something unheard of in hard rocking 1969. Mayall played harmonica and acoustic guitar, Johnny Almond played sax and flute, Jon Mark played, according to Mayall, "acoustic finger-style guitar," and Steve Thompson was the bassist. Mark and Almond left not long after the album was released to form their own band.

Among the songs are the album's best known track, the exuberant classic "Room to Move," a piece that became famous for Mayall's mouth percussion gimmick, and there is the topical rant that opened the album, "The Laws Must Change," a song expressing his views on legalizing marijuana. However, the best tracks have bassist Thompson and woodwind player Almond stealing the show. Because this concert was "unplugged" (a term that was not yet used in 1969) the former's bass is front and center while the latter proved he can play with any bluesman or jazz band anywhere. Both shine on "Thoughts About Roxanne" and "California."

Mayall's vocals can be a distraction but once you get beyond them The Turning Point is definitely a very rewarding experience.

2 comments:

  1. What a great album! I have been listening to it since the early 70's. I saw Mayall at Summerfest in Milwaukee a couple years ago at 70 years old and he rocked the house down. Thanks for reviewing this one.

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  2. Love John Mayall's music. Good review.

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