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Live At the Marquee

John Mayall

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Album Review

This John Mayall set, Live at the Marquee 1969 is a reissue of the 1999 disc of the same music. Eagle Rock, in its genius, put this out with a companion double-disc volume The Masters as a way of celebrating the 1969 documentary film, The Turning Point. The film is named for the album of the same name and chronicles the change Mayall's Bluesbreakers underwent after making Blues from Laurel Canyon with future Rolling Stones' guitarist Mick Taylor. Mayall apparently heard the volume wars in bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Cream and figured another aesthetic was needed for the subtleties of the kind of blues he wanted to write and play. He fired everybody but bassist Steve Thompson. He then hired acoustic guitarist Jon Mark, and reed and woodwind master Johnny Almond. Mayall plays the electric guitars by himself and there is no drummer whatsoever. The band appears here in a ramp up to the album that would become The Turning Point a couple of months later. These even feel like live rehearsals. While it's not pristinely recorded by any means, it is nonetheless well worth hearing and fares far better than some of the dodgy crap that passes for "recordings of historical importance." There are seven cuts here that total just under an hour; all of the tunes are originals. Interestingly, "Room to Move," an obvious performance choice it would seem since it became the hit single from The Turning Point, isn't here. It doesn't matter. From "Can't Sleep This Night," "So Hard to Share," "I'm Gonna Fight for You JB," and the two elongated takes of "California." are all stunners. This acoustic and drummer-less quartet was quite an experiment at the time — though the brilliant Siegel-Schwall Band had previously tried it in Chicago to less acclaim — and it led eventually to Mayall's classic LP Jazz Blues Fusion with trumpeter Blue Mitchell. One theory that hasn't been put forth in either the critical literature surrounding this band or by Mayall himself was the influence of Laurel Canyon itself in the late '60s. It was so profound that Mayall wanted to make it his permanent home. With all of the post-hippie folk music and singer/songwriters living there — Joni Mitchell, Mama Cass Elliot, David Crosby, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons, Stephen Stills, Van Dyke Parks, et. al — it would seem that this shift to the quieter side of the blues was influenced at least in part by that initial journey to record Blues from Laurel Canyon the year before. That said, Live at the Marquee is a fascinating set of classic Mayall from a very transitional period in his sound, and it stands alone without the film. [A special edition of the CD was released in 2008.]


Born: November 29, 1933 in Macclesfield, Cheshire, England

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

As the elder statesman of British blues, it is John Mayall's lot to be more renowned as a bandleader and mentor than as a performer in his own right. Throughout the '60s, his band, the Bluesbreakers, acted as a finishing school for the leading British blues-rock musicians of the era. Guitarists Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor joined his band in a remarkable succession in the mid-'60s, honing their chops with Mayall before going on to join Cream, Fleetwood Mac, and the Rolling Stones, respectively....
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