John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers

Beano's Boys

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The Bluesbreakers' reputation as an academy of excellence for aspiring young blues guitarists overlooks one pertinent fact: that without John Mayall to stubbornly, and steadfastly, lead the group, it wouldn't have mattered who played guitar, whether it was John Williams, Segovia, or God. They'd have been just another blues band from the wrong side of the Surrey delta. Instead, they became the principle legend of the blue British '60s, and this collection of three of the band's countless BBC sessions, plus a 1968 German broadcast, offers up a few good reasons why. Most of the usual suspects star, but it's not the axeman histrionics which blind so much as the way those histrionics never eclipse the brilliance of the rest of the band. And that, of course, was Mayall's secret -- the ability to maintain equality when the whole world was screaming "superstar." And of course, it was also his downfall, as ego after ego quit the band in search of greater recognition. By the end of the '60s, the Bluesbreakers were basically nothing more than a testing ground for future virtuosos, and it would take Mayall himself another 20 or more years to get back onto his original, youthful track. This collection catches things when they were hot. The earliest session dates from April 1965, with three Eric Clapton-era tracks which don't vary too much from versions familiar from the LPs, although they have a lovely looseness which constantly threatens to explode. The revelations, then, come from the Mick Taylor years -- the storming, lengthy "Parchman Farm" caught live in Germany toward the end of his Bluesbreakers days, and two BBC sessions which simply cook the competition. The sleeve credits Peter Green with guitar on the first four tracks, Clapton with cuts seven through nine, and Taylor with the rest. In fact, Green is nowhere in sight, and all six opening tracks date from Taylor's stint with the band: "Worried Love," "Supermarket Day," "Snowy Wood," and "Suspicion" from a session on November 5, 1967; "Picture on the Wall" and the mistitled "Mayfair Blues" (actually "Knockers Step Forward") from March 31, 1968. Given Green's profile, that information might put off a few prospective purchasers. Don't let it. Taylor may not have been his predecessor's superior, but when he tried, he was certainly his equal. And on these showings, he's really trying hard.

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