5 minutes alone: John Mayall

(Image: © Cristina Arrigoni)

Blues veteran John Mayall talks guitars, playing by feel and the restless Eric Clapton.

Got my first real six-string

“I don’t remember the first guitar that I had. My father was a guitar player so I struggled around on his. The action was a little high for me so it wasn’t something that I could really get my teeth into. He had an old guitar that he wasn’t using so I took the bottom two strings off and used it as a four-string guitar. I was able to manage on that for a while.

“The first guitar that I got for myself was when I was in the army and on leave in Tokyo. It was called a Weldone.”

Dream on…

The guitar is just a tool to get across how I am feeling so I just do the best that I can with it

“I never had a dream guitar. I’ve never taken much interest in guitars for what make they are or what credentials they have. If it feels good then that is all that matters to me.

“That first guitar that I bought from Tokyo, the action on it was fine for me and it played in tune and all that. That guitar is actually featured on the cover of The Blues Alone album. I did all of the carvings on it. I don’t collect gear, I just stick to what I am using at the time.

“I think over the years I have only had about half-a-dozen guitars. The one I am using now is a semi-acoustic. It’s a 1957 Gibson hollowbody. That’s what I’ll bring to the UK with me on tour.”

Go your own way

“I don’t think anyone has ever given me a piece of advice about playing guitar. Not any specific advice, anyway. For me, an instrument is something that gives you the opportunity to reflect what you are feeling. That is all that playing guitar is about.

“I don’t know how to judge myself as a guitarist. I have never learned to read or write music. I can’t even play a scale. The guitar is just a tool to get across how I am feeling so I just do the best that I can with it. I don’t really have any technique that is anything to write home about.”

I’m the man

“Being a bandleader is natural to me. I can’t imagine working any other way. I love that position. Being a bandleader you have a freedom to call the shots. If something is not working very well then you find the reason for it and if it is down to the musicians that you are playing with or if there is dissatisfaction anywhere along the line then you go with your instincts.”

Me and my friends

Peter Green was very insistent that he was better than anyone else that I was using in the band after Eric had left

“Eric [Clapton] is fantastic, he and I got on so well and I think it showed in the music. But, he’s a restless person and he was fi nding his own roots back then. When he left the Bluesbreakers he wanted to explore his own potential, which he has done ever since. Peter Green was very insistent that he was better than anyone else that I was using in the band after Eric had left. 

“There was a different guitar player every night and Peter was one of those who was sure he was better than the others and I should give him a try. I did give him a try and we all know what happened after that. He was great. All of the guitar players that I have chosen to work with have something that sets them apart from each other. I think that the individuality of the performer is the most important thing.”

Ch-ch-changes

“There isn’t a single guitar part from my career that I would go back and change. I think they are all very important. It’s like a form of musical diary. As soon as I hear them it brings back memories from a particular time in my life. As long as it does that then they will all remain very precious to me.”

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