Last year British blues legend John Mayall released "Tough," his 57th album in a celebrated career that began in the early 1960s.
"You look back on it and wonder where they all came from," says Mayall about his amazing recording legacy. "And that's only the original albums, because there are countless compilations. They multiply every year."
A couple of years ago it seemed we might not hear from Mayall again as he announced his retirement.
"I kind of got tired, having been with the same band for almost 20 years," he explains. "It seemed like we had been treading water a bit too much. I thought it was time to take a break. But then a couple of months later the record label came to me wanting a new album. That galvanized me to put a new band together, and as the result, we've been rocking ever since."
Praising the new album, The Washington Post noted: "Mayall eagerly champions the American roots music that helped put him on the map in the '60s. Not only is he in good form, singing and playing organ, guitar and squalling harmonica, he's in good company."
Mayall's current band features former Black Oak Arkansas guitarist Rocky Athas; bassist Greg Rzab, who backed blues legends such as Albert Collins, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker and Junior Wells; and Chicago-born drummer Jay Davenport, who worked with Junior Wells, Pinetop Perkins and Jimmie Johnson.
* The John Mayall Band performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater. Shemekia Copeland will open the show. Tickets are $45, $50 and $55 plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.
"It's marvelous," he says about his new group. "The energy level is so high compared to anything else I've ever worked with. It's really a treat."
Acclaimed as the godfather of the Britain's blues-rock movement, in his early days Mayall fronted an amazing array of talent including Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, who went on to form Cream, future Rolling Stone guitarist Mick Taylor, and Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.
"I was hooked from the age of 10 or 11 years old, listening to blues and boogie-woogie from my father's record collection" he recalls. "I grew up with it, but there wasn't a market for it until I was 30. Alexis Korner and Cyril Davis kicked off the blues movement, and that was my opportunity to go to London and join in."
Forming the legendary Bluesbreakers in 1963, Mayall eventually recruited a young Eric Clapton, who had left the Yardbirds, disenchanted with the group's pop leanings. In the spring of 1966, the Bluesbreakers released their self-titled debut album to wide acclaim. This landmark influential recording is recognized as the first classic British blues album, and it made Clapton and Mayall stars.
The album cover is famous for displaying Clapton's disdain for publicity - he's reading Beano, a popular children's comic, instead of looking at the camera.
"Eric bought it (the comic) at the train station before we got in a van with the photographer to go prowling around the streets of London looking for a background," Mayall explains. "He was totally against publicity and all that kind of thing. So that was his way of ignoring it."
Taylor was a 16-year-old budding guitarist when he first jammed with Mayall. When Clapton failed to attend a gig, the eager teenager offered his services.
"He emerged out of the audience on a night Eric didn't show and asked if he could sit in," Mayall recalls. "We'd done the first set without a guitar player, so I thought I had nothing to lose. Mick used Eric's guitar, and it was pretty amazing."
A number of great American blues artists like B.B. King have expressed gratitude for how a bunch of English musicians adopted their music, spawning a fervor that helped popularize blues in its own birthplace.
"It really put American blues on the map to Americans," he notes. "In a segregated society, blues was a kind of underground thing as far as white audiences were concerned. It opened up the door for what was on their own doorstep."
Living in the U.S. since the early 1970s, Mayall has explored the blues in various configurations, continually attracting some of the best players.
In 2001, he invited a few ex-band mates and peers to contribute to the album "Along for the Ride." This historic grouping of respected musicians included Mick Taylor, Peter Green, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Steve Miller, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons and guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Duck Dunn from the legendary Booker T and the MGs and the Blues Brothers Band.
Two years later, Mayall celebrated his 70th birthday with a special concert in Liverpool that featured some of his former Bluebreakers' compatriots including Eric Clapton and Taylor.
"It was fabulous," he says. "I was just surprised it all came together so well because we didn't meet up with Eric until the afternoon. I ran down a list of tunes and he said, 'We'll do that one and that one.' We didn't rehearse or anything, but after so many years we fell right into it. The same with Mick (Taylor). We chose numbers that he had played in the Bluesbreakers days, and it was like no time at all had passed."
At 76, he's still busy touring and recording, playing the music that entranced him as a boy. "Blues and jazz are art forms outside of all the glitz and what the latest thing is," he says. "Blues and jazz have an indeterminate life; it's just up to the health and the energy of the person playing it."
Reflecting on his historic career, this veteran musician feels kind of proud that he's helped preserve one of America's greatest art forms.
"Over the passage of time you come to appreciate the part that you played in it, and appreciate the part a lot of other people played in it."
John Mayall last played on Maui at the close of 2009, jamming with the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band at a Mala Wailea New Year's celebration. If the legendary drummer is home, he will likely play a bit at the MACC.
"Hopefully Mick will show up because he did last time," says Mayall. Fleetwood Mac bassist John McVie told Mayall he will join the Honolulu show. "That will be nice to see him," he adds.
Mick and his band will play a couple of holiday concerts including Dec. 30 at the Maui Theatre in Lahaina. And we can look forward to a new club, Fleetwoods, opening in Lahaina.
An opportunity to see Shemekia Copeland, daughter of the late Texas blues guitar legend Johnny Clyde Copeland, is an added bonus. She consistently earns rave reviews for her albums and shows.
A recent Seattle Times review noted: "Copeland was blessed at birth with the kind of river-deep, rooftop-raising voice that had fans likening her to blues divas Bessie Smith, Etta James and Koko Taylor."
"She roars with a sizzling hot intensity," praised The Boston Globe. And an Austin Chronicle review concluded: "The queen has arrived."
Fourteen years after the death of Sublime frontman Bradley Nowell, the legendary ska-punk trio's drummer Bud Gaugh and bassist Eric Wilson have teamed with a new lead singer/guitarist named Rome Ramirez to perform as Sublime with Rome.
With combined worldwide sales of more than 17 million albums the band's appeal hasn't dimmed. After performing before 30,000 at Cyprus Hill's Smokeout Festival last year, the reformed group changed their name to Sublime with Rome because of a legal judgment.
As to their repertoire Gaugh told the L.A. Times: "My feeling is, if it feels good, do it. If it doesn't, we won't."
* Sublime with Rome plays outside at the MACC at 6 p.m. Sunday. Gates open at 4:30. The Dirty Heads will open. Tickets are $39 general admission (plus applicable fees), available at Requests in Wailuku, the Green Banana Caf, the Old Lahaina Book Emporium and the MACC.
George Kahumoku Jr.'s monthly Slack Key Show at the MACC features Brother Noland tonight. A pioneer of Jawaiian music back in the early 1980s, Noland dominated the local airwaves for years with popular songs like "Coconut Girl," "Big Ship," "Are You Native?," "Pua Lane" and his powerful indictment of overdevelopment, "Look What They've Done."
Besides recording a host of albums he also published the inspirational book "The Lessons of Aloha: Stories of the Human Spirit."
In recent years this innovative, soulful artist has returned to his Hawaiian roots, playing slack key and ukulele. On his most recent CD, "Hawaiian Man," he revisits "Pua Lane" and includes a beautiful medley of "Hawaii Pono'i" and "Hawaii Aloha."
* The show is at 7:30 tonight in the McCoy Studio Theater. Tickets are $25 and $45 for VIP with artist meet-and-greet, plus applicable fees, available as above.
The Ebb & Flow Ensemble will present the world premiere of two specially commissioned works at 5 p.m. Sunday in the McCoy Studio Theater at the MACC.
Based on ancient Korean poetry, Michael-Thomas Foumai's "Songs of the Kisaeng" for soprano, clarinet, violin, cello and piano will be presented, along with "Ruah," by Korean composer Eunhye Park, for clarinet, violin and piano.
The program also features the Hawaii premiere of "Three Knots" by Robert Pollock, for soprano and piano (based on poems by psychologist R. D. Laing), "Sonata" for violin and cello by Maurice Ravel and "Three Vocalises" for soprano and piano by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
The E&F Ensemble comprises Rachel Schutz, soprano; Scott Anderson, clarinet; Ignace Jang, violin; Joanna Morrison, cello; and Pollock, piano.
* A pre-concert discussion will be held at 4 p.m. Tickets are $25 ($22.50 for MACC members) and $12.50 for children ages under 12, plus applicable fees, available as above.