Thursday, February 09, 2012

John Mayall - Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton (1966)

It's often been said that Eric Clapton's greatest album is Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. It's supposed to be one of the few double LPs that can justify its length but, while it's a nice set, to these ears it shouldn't be considered one of rock's most revered classics. Instead, Clapton's best work goes all the way back to 1966, between his gigs with The Yardbirds and Cream, to a time when he was a member of John Mayall's Blues Breakers.

A hallmark of British blues, this is the album that began all of the "Clapton is God" pronouncements that were everywhere at the time. However, he isn't the only one to give an outstanding performance during these sessions. Mayall, who always owned a phenomenal reputation as a bandleader who discovered a boatload of talent more so than as a musician, put together his best band ever with this short-lived lineup. The soon-to-be-famous axeman was accompanied by Mayall on keyboards, harmonica, and lead vocals. The group was rounded out by an outstanding rhythm section of John McVie (later of Fleetwood Mac fame) on bass and drummer Hughie Flint who went on to organize the forgotten folk-rock outfit McGuinness Flint that featured songwriters Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle.

The leader allowed Clapton to take his first ever recorded lead vocal and his guitar is showcased on every tune. His solos are blazing and nobody can stop him. He always played the right thing at the right time. It's absolutely amazing how "God" can just turn it on at will. Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton stands as the template for all of the American influenced English blues that followed. I know this statement is going way out on a limb but not only is this record closer to the real thing than any other LP recorded by superstar blues oriented bands such as The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin it's also a much richer listening experience because there is no pretense involved. It's just a true labor of love.

1 comment:

  1. This is on par with Five Live Yardbirds and sections of Wheels of Fire as Clapton's high points on record in the sixties. You are not going out on a limb with your closing sentence, either...it's just a fact.

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