Gary James' Interview With
He's been called the "Father Of The British Blues Movement" and it's easy to see why. Some of the biggest names in Rock have passed through his band, including Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, Aynslyley Dunbar and John McVie.
John Mayall is still on the road and we talked to him about the Blues, his beginnings and the players he's had in his band.
Q - You didn't start out to be a musician did you? You were geared more towards the art world weren't you? You actually worked as a window dresser?
A - I was trained in art. I went to art school when I was fourteen and I went to college before and after the Army. So, I was in graphic design, which is what I got my degree in. So, that's really what I was into. Of course I started playing music when I was twelve, thirteen years old. So that's always been a part of my life.
Q - According to the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia Of Rock 'n' Roll, you formed your first band when you were nearly thirty. Is that true?
A - I had bands in art college, but the first professional one was in 1963, The Bluesbreakers.
Q - You've been described as being one of the most famous talent scouts in Rock music. You probably should've had your own record label.
A - I don't see that those things are connected what-so-ever. (laughs)
Q - If you have such a keen ear and eye for spotting talent, what better way to capitalize on it than by having your own label.
A - I doubt that very much. First of all, I think people should put me on before I start doing anything like that. Let's face it, I've never had a hit record. I've never even been nominated for the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame. I only got one Grammy nomination. You gotta realize, I'm still pretty much of an underground figure except to Blues lovers who follow me and my career. In any event, these words can get twisted around. Talent scout is not really what I do. I'm a band leader and I know what I want to play in my band, who can be good friends of mine. It's definitely a family. It's a small kind of thing really.
Q - For a while, you recorded with Polydor. Then, you moved to Silvertone. Why the change?
A - I was with Polygram for several years. They got all the original Decca stuff. I think they belong to Polygram now. So, I have ties there. But, I haven't had a record contract with them since 1976...back in the late 70s anyway. Then after that it was briefly with a company called DJM when the Polydor contract expired. I did three albums with them and then they sold it and there was no label for quite a while 'til a German release followed by Island Records picking up the deal. Then they dropped me and Silvertone picked it up. Silvertone dropped me and now we're with Eagle.
Q - Where are they out of?
A - U.K. is the main base, but they have offices in New York.
Q - How important is the place where you're playing music to a musician's overall success? In other words, would you be where you are today had you started out anywhere else but London?
A - Well, you're dealing with a "what if" situation. I started out in England and that's where it all sort of happened for me.
Q - It was more or less, and probably a lot more of being in the right place at the right time with the right stuff.
A - Yeah. I certainly had to wait for that right time for a decade and a half before it reached the right time and the right place in the '60s.
Q - You moved to London in 1962 and in 1963 formed The Syndicate. What kind of place was London in 1963 for musicians?
A - Well, it was when the Blues movement started with Alexis Korner, The Rolling Stones, Georgie Fame and everybody. That was the place to be and that's when I moved down, in '63.
Q - Were there a lot of clubs? Were there a lot of people coming to see "live" music?
A - Of course. Otherwise it wouldn't have existed.
Q - What attracted you to the Blues?
A - Well, just having grown up with it from the earliest childhood I suppose.
Q - As opposed to Top 40.
A - Right. Yes.
Q - There was something that appealed to you in the Blues as opposed to Pop or Top 40 back then.
A - Well, they didn't have any such thing in World War II as Top 40 in England. It was just the popular music of the day, which was pretty bland stuff. My interest was in Jazz and Blues, which I got from records.
Q - With all the changes that have taken place in the music business since 1963, Blues music hasn't changed has it? It's pretty consistent.
A - It's still the ground root music of it all.
Q - And you cannot deviate from the way it's performed, can you ?
A - Well, it's a recognizable feeling. A recognizable form of music, sure.
Q - Mick Jagger once said it's hard to write a good Blues song even today. Would you agree?
A - Well, not for me. I'm a Blues singer and a Blues composer. It's always been easy for me because if you have an idea, you just express it through words and music.
Q - Do you get a lot of teenagers and young adults at your concerts?
A - Oh, yeah. It always has been that way, especially festivals, outdoor events where any age can come. You get kids five, six years old. A complete cross section being exposed to it.
Q - You must've met all of the famous musicians of the 60s. Is there one that really stands out in your mind?
A - I don't know how to answer that question. Obviously anybody with great talent has an individual style and can't really be compared with anybody else.
Q - That's what we call a politically correct answer in America.
A - It's the only thing I know seeing as how there's such a diversity in the kinds of music that's played.
© Gary James. All rights reserved.