Friday, 11 October 2019

John Mayall - I'm Your Witchdoctor (1966)

John Mayall is rightly considered to be the godfather of British blues, with his Bluesbreakers being the starting point for a myriad of artists who later went on to find fame with other bands. He was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire in 1933, and from an early age he was drawn to the sounds of American blues players such as Lead Belly, Albert Ammons, Pinetop Smith and Eddie Lang. Following a three year stint in Korea for national service, he came back to England and enrolled at Manchester College of Art, playing with semi-professional bands in his spare time. In 1962 Mayall became a member of the Blues Syndicate, which included rhythm guitarist Ray Cummings and drummer Hughie Flint, whom Mayall already knew, and while playing at the 'Twisted Wheel' cellar club in central Manchester, Alexis Korner persuaded him to opt for a full-time musical career and move to London. In 1963 the renamed Bluesbreakers started playing at the Marquee Club, and by the following Spring Mayall had obtained his first recording date with producer Ian Samwell. The band, with Martin Hart at the drums, recorded two tracks, 'Crawling Up a Hill' and 'Mr. James', which were issued as his first single under the Bluesbreakers name. Shortly afterwards, Hughie Flint replaced Hart and Roger Dean took over the guitar from Bernie Watson, and this line-up backed John Lee Hooker on his British tour in 1964. A recording contract with Decca soon followed, and a live performance of the band was recorded at the Klooks Kleek, as well as a studio-recorded single, 'Crocodile Walk', although neither met with any success when released, and the band were dropped from the label. In April 1965 former Yardbirds guitarist Eric Clapton replaced Roger Dean and Mayall's career entered a decisive phase. 
The addition of Clapton to the ranks began to attract considerable attention, and by the Summer the band had cut a couple tracks for a single, 'I'm Your Witchdoctor' and 'Telephone Blues'. In August, however, Clapton left for a jaunt to Greece with a bunch of relative musical amateurs, and after some unsuccessful attempts to find a new guitarist, Peter Green was announced as his replacement. At the same time John McVie was dismissed, and during the next few months Jack Bruce, from the Graham Bond Organisation, played bass. In November 1965 Clapton returned, and Green departed as Mayall had guaranteed Clapton his spot back in the Bluesbreakers whenever he decided to return. McVie was also allowed back, and Bruce left to join Manfred Mann, but not before a November live date by the Mayall-Clapton-Bruce-Flint line-up was recorded on Mayall's two-track tape recorder at London's Flamingo Club. Mayall and Clapton cut a couple of tracks without the others, and the 'Lonely Years'/'Bernard Jenkins' single was released under the name of John Mayall and Eric Clapton on Mike Vernon's Purdah Records label. In April 1966 the Bluesbreakers returned to Decca Studios to record a second LP with producer Vernon, and 'Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton' was released in the UK on 22 July 1966, announcing Mayall's commercial breakthrough, and subsequently gaining classic status. The first of three posts collects all of the songs mentioned here, as none of them ever made it to an album, including a scorching take of 'They Call It Stormy Monday' from the Flamingo Club tape, as well as a live BBC recording and a previously unreleased track. 

Track listing

01 Crawling Up A Hill (single 1964)
02 Mr James (b-side of 'Crawling Up A Hill')  
03 Crocodile Walk (single 1965) 
04 Blues City Shakedown (b-side of 'Crocodile Walk') 
05 I'm Your Witchdoctor (single 1965)   
06 Telephone Blues (b-side of 'I'm Your Witchdoctor')   
07 My Baby Is Sweeter (previously unreleased 1965)
08 Bye Bye Bird (live at the BBC 1965) 
09 Looking Back (single 1966) 
10 So Many Roads (b-side of 'Looking Back') 
11 Lonely Years (single 1966)   
12 Bernard Jenkins (b-side of 'Lonely Years) 
13 They Call It Stormy Monday (live at the Flamingo Club 1966)

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