News / Arts & Entertainment

At 80, Blues Legend John Mayall Sings About a 'World Gone Crazy'

FILE - Blues legend John Mayall performs during a concert in Bucharest, Romania, Nov. 11, 2012.
FILE - Blues legend John Mayall performs during a concert in Bucharest, Romania, Nov. 11, 2012.
Reuters
Blues songs are traditionally about women who have done you wrong, working on a chain gang, or being brought low by booze  - but what about Christians and Muslims killing each other?
 
John Mayall, often dubbed the “godfather” of British electric blues, touches on just this in “World Gone Crazy”, a track on a retrospective album of newly recorded songs he is putting out this month to celebrate turning 80 last year.
 
To a driving beat, wailing harmonica and blues-chord progression, he sings about the guilt of living in conflicted times, the depletion of natural resources, chaotic governments and a global plague of killing.
 
It will all end in a reckoning, he sings, and nothing more so than the clash of religions.
 
“Religion. I said, religion. Always at the root of a war/The Christians and the Muslims never get along no more/They're killing everybody/Bodies lying on the floor.”
 
In an interview from his California home, Mayall said politics was a natural subject for a bluesman because the genre, which emerged from the harsh life of African Americans in the U.S. deep South, is all about a grim reality and the feelings it inspires.
 
“When I write songs that touch on social relevance, all you have to do is pick up a newspaper,” he said. “It was an obvious one because everyone is blowing themselves up. It's just crazy.”
 
That is not to say that all blues has to be grim - or that the album is.
 
“You can't spend your life in misery,” Mayall said. “If you have something in your life worth celebrating, you can put it in a blues song.”
 
Blues-Breaking
 
What Mayall is celebrating in his new album, “A Special Life”, are the 70 years he has spent playing around with the blues, which he first heard aged around 10, listening to his father's jazz records in northern England.
 
He helped bring blues into the international mainstream in the 1960s, an era when many British musicians took up the genre, unheralded in its home country, gave it new life before and exported it back across the Atlantic.
 
Mayall's Bluesbreakers band was a crucible for some of blues-rock's greatest legends.
 
Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce moved on from the band to form Cream, while Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie ended up forming Fleetwood Mac, initially a blues band.
 
Mick Taylor went from the Bluesbreakers to The Rolling Stones, while bassist Andy Fraser formed rock band Free.
 
Looking around him today, Mayall reckons blues is alive and well. His concerts, for example, bring in the old and the new, and there are plenty to pick up the mantle.
 
“All you have to do is check out some of the new players,” he said. “It is going on from generation to generation.”
 
Among newish performers that have caught his attention, he cited 30-year-old Texan Gary Clarke Jr., 27-year-old Briton Joanne Shaw Taylor and - 65 years his junior - 15-year-old Quinn Sullivan from Massachusetts.
 
As for his own future, Mayall said his new album was about “looking back on my life and making a call on what it feels like”.
 
But there was no hint of stopping as he embarks on a tour of some 59 towns and cities over seven months in the United States, Canada and Britain.
 
“I have good health and I am happy to be on the road all the time,” he said.

You May Like

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Paquito D'Rivera, who has won 12 Grammys, is celebrated both for his artistry in Latin jazz and his achievements as a classical composer. D'Rivera's latest project, “Jazz Meets the Classics,” was released this month. He joins us on the latest edition of "The Hamilton Live."