Just Got The Blues

After 35 years of playing, Simon Bradley finally discovers what all the fuss is about with Da Blooze, and there´s just one guitarist to blame.

I can honestly say that I´ve never really ‘got´ the blues. As more of a fan of rock and metal during my formative years, I´ve certainly partaken in a few 12-bar jams in my time - using far too much gain, no doubt - but the mystique, the history and the heritage of blues has passed me by. It´s boring and irrelevant, right?

Crossroads? I only watched that for Steve Vai at the climax, bemoaning Ralph Macchio´s terrible miming to Ry Cooder and Arlen Roth´s whopping soundtrack, and had no patience with the hokum surrounding Robert Johnson´s dodgy dealing with Old Nick at some dusty junction.

We have a number of died-in-the-wool blues fans on the Guitarist team, of course; Editor Mick, who is a phenomenal and knowledgeable blues guitarist; Dep Ed Owen, who´s as equally enamoured with all things SRV and his own black Fender Strat; and ‘Diamond´ Dave Durban, our 23 year old Editorial Assistant who can talk for an hour on Blues history thanks, in part, to a friendship with UK bluesman Matt Schofield.

To their enduring irritation, I am in the enviable position of having actually seen the great SRV and Double Trouble live (at the Reading Festival in 1983, in his Native American headdress phase).

I can dimly remember his performance, and although I´d love to be able to say now that I knew I was witnessing something amazing, my gaggle of school chums and I were in fact impatiently awaiting the headliners on that day, the Ian Gillan-fronted Black Sabbath. As an aside, it says something about a bill that was headlined, on that day at least by such an abomination that SRV was preceded by Suzi Quattro...

See some of the set here...

The reason for all this drivel? I´ve finally gotten a real insight into what the blues is all about: just how good it can be, how emotional the feelings it can engender are and, in effect, just what the fuss is all about, and I feel I need to cleanse what I laughingly call my soul via the medium that is a self-indulgent blog.

And the man to blame? One John Mayer.

The Guitarist Crew caught up with him at his recent Hyde Park appearance for an exclusive interview (coming to an issue of the mag very soon) and the poor guy, who comes across as quite a fragile character, has recently had his world ripped apart simply for the rather naive act of (allegedly) bumping uglies with Jennifer Aniston.

As with all artists we feature in the magazine we on the team do tend to find ourselves - for a limited time, but the way - immersed in their music and career. Mayer is a big name in his own right of course, and we were sent a couple of copies of his most recent release to help us with our research: a live CD and DVD set called ‘Where The Light Is´: Live In Los Angeles´.

Mick dropped a copy of the CD on my desk with a simple instruction; ‘Just listen to that...no, just listen to it´. So I put it on, expecting the usual ‘woke up this morning´ clichés that I can´t abide, littered with that ‘dirty but, oh hang on, no, it´s actually rather clean...´ neck Strat tone though an all-tube amp made by a guy atop a tree in the Mississippi Delta I find difficult to get on with.

The set, which begins with Mayer running through some acoustic numbers before the accomplished John Mayer Trio and, finally, a full Mayer-led band do their stuff, is mesmerising. From a personal musical standpoint, the old school blues he plays with his trio that would usually have me reaching for the ‘stop´ button, is ignited by Mayer´s beyond-awesome technique.

From a guitarist´s viewpoint (and it´s something of a curse that I am naturally drawn to checking out the backline as a matter of course), he has a wonderful sound. He uses Two-Rock amps, units that need to be set louder than the Devil blowing off in bed as a starting point, and knows exactly how to get the very best from them.

In short, bloody John Mayer has opened up a whole new avenue for me, one that´s been unlocked for a great many others for decades, and I am in no way ashamed to concede that he has to be my new guitar hero, my first since - oh - first hearing Steve Vai in 1985.

Give him a cuddle for me, Jen; he´s going to be huge...

Simon Bradley is a guitar and especially rock guitar expert who worked for Guitarist magazine and has in the past contributed to world-leading music and guitar titles like MusicRadar (obviously), Guitarist, Guitar World and Louder. What he doesn't know about Brian May's playing and, especially, the Red Special, isn't worth knowing.