Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

August 31, 2019

JOHN MAYALL, “LIVE IN EUROPE” (London Records LP, PS 589, issued in 1971)

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JOHN MAYALL, “LIVE IN EUROPE” —  London Records (USA) PS 589, released 1971

originally issued in the UK in 1968 as “Diary of a Band, Volume Two”

lineup: John Mayall, keyboards, vocals, harp, leader

Mick Taylor, guitar / Keith Tillman, bass / Keef Hartley, drums

Chris Mercer, tenor and sop. sax / Dick Heckstall-Smith, tenor and bari. sax

live recordings made in the UK, Holland, and Ireland, circa November/December 1967

mayall europe

Listening to this album while working this afternoon, in late August 2019, it dawned on me that I have owned JOHN MAYALL, LIVE IN EUROPE for 48 years (!), and I’ve played it regularly ever since. Why would anyone treasure such an album, a live album with bootleg-level sound quality, issued in the US three years after its original UK release by Mayall’s  former American label to capitalize on his success at a new label (Polydor) and of course to capitalize on Mick Taylor’s fame as one of the Rolling Stones.

One reason is that by any standard it’s a raw and exciting album of British Blues, with extended versions of the songs and with a “live” club sound so authentic you can taste the watered-down drinks and the cigarette smoke. As a 13-year-old, I was quite impressed with the album, having already been into Mayall since about 1968, when I first heard JOHN MAYALL’S BLUESBREAKERS CRUSADE as a 10-year-old….that’s why when Mick Taylor was chosen to join the Rolling Stones, I’d already heard of him. As a boy of 10-12, I could afford maybe three new LP’s a year, with allowance, lawn-mowing money, and birthday/Xmas presents. I made sure that each new Mayall (and Kinks) album was at the top of my want list. I also could pick up cut-outs here and there to fill the gaps, and as those were often 99 cents (or even 47 cents), I could afford those with pocket change, and thankfully, my parents would give me a few quarters if I were short, knowing how much I loved music.

I can remember the radio ad for LIVE IN EUROPE as if it’s yesterday, on radio station KFML in Denver, the “underground” station, which had both an AM and FM version. I’m not sure if it was a locally made ad or one provided by the label, but it had some FM disc-jockey sounding voice talking about Mayall’s devotion to blues music and how it has cost  him wider fame, over a bed of music from the album, which sounded intriguingly raw to my young ears. I remember some of the language in the ad being “Mayall has been laughed at, scorned….”, and if the intent was to sell Mayall as “the real thing” to the FM underground audience of 1971 (as opposed to, say, The Rolling Stones, Mick Taylor’s then-current employers), it worked on me. I believe the record was on sale for $3.99, and I took the bus to Independent Records on West Colfax, between Sheridan and Wadsworth, to get my copy (this store was where, a year or two later, I was first exposed to bootleg LP’s). I bought most of Mayall’s Polydor LP’s at that store too.

I’d already heard bootleg-quality live recordings from some of the cut-outs on the Charlie Parker Records label…see my piece on the CP 30-cd box set, elsewhere on this blog–         (  CP Box  )… by that time I had one of the Parker and one of the Lester Young sets, and I considered those magical as they took me to the venue and the gig itself in a way that studio recordings never could (and I heard those recordings of Bird and Prez before I’d ever heard their studio recordings). I’d also gotten blues albums by the likes of Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Lightnin Hopkins in those same cut-out racks and played them all the time. So to have a raw live album by one of my musical heroes, with extended workouts, probably recorded at 2 a.m. in some sweaty blues club in the Europe of my adolescent imagination was quite a delicious and satisfying experience for the 13-year-old me!

mayall europe 2

And did the actual album meet and exceed my expectations! Side one, running 24 minutes, had two extended slow-burners, with long, relaxed but tension-filled solos from Mick Taylor, the aching vocals of Mayall swirling around his organ lines, hot sax solos, and the powerhouse drumming of Keef Hartley. Side two, however, really jumped into the deep end of the pool. The first track isn’t even a “song,” but Mayall and the band’s introductions and interactions with well-lubricated club patrons, as well as sarcastic asides from Hartley, whose accent is so thick I could only make out half of what he was saying. That is followed by a solid 7-minute version of Sonny Boy II’s “Help Me,” and then a 5-minute slow smoldering blues featuring the sax players. The album closes with an excerpt from a long jam with banter between Hartley and Mercer, a ferocious drum solo from Hartley (always a crowd-pleaser…. there’s a Mayall live album with recordings from 72 or 73 floating around called SMOKIN’ BLUES that features Hartley on drums, and live he’s very much a British Blues version of the Buddy Rich/Gene Krupa-style drummer, someone who knows how to work an audience), and then a closing chorus from the whole band. It ends on a climax, and you’re ready to flip the album over and put the needle in the groove at the beginning of side one again….at least I am.

I don’t remember this album making much of a splash when it was released. Mayall’s albums for Polydor were coming out in regular succession–USA UNION, THE TURNING POINT, MEMORIES (a mind-blowing concept album with autobiographical lyrics that cut to the quick–), BACK TO THE ROOTS, JAZZ BLUES FUSION, MOVIN ON, TEN YEARS ARE GONE, etc. Those got regular airplay on  KFML and FM “album rock” stations nationally (though after TEN YEARS ARE GONE, Mayall’s popularity waned a bit, and then he moved to ABC Records, when I stopped picking up every Mayall album automatically…I began again with his early 80’s live album on GNP Cresecendo). “Room To Move” was even something of a hit on that level and could be heard daily on the radio. London continued to release older Mayall product in new compilations to compete with his product on other labels, and all of it was amazing–LOOKING BACK, THRU THE YEARS, PRIMAL SOLOS, etc. The version of “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” from LOOKING BACK is (to me) the best thing Eric Clapton ever recorded, and shows why he was so revered during his Mayall period. I’ve never been much of a Clapton fan otherwise, but anyone who could play the way he did there (and elsewhere) during the Mayall and Yardbirds years must surely still “have it” somewhere within him. Or maybe there is some Clapton live blues bootleg out there that will change my mind–I’m open-minded, so please put it on a CDR and mail it to me. Thanks in advance. A few years after LIVE IN EUROPE, I finally got the FIRST album in the series, DIARY OF A BAND, originally issued in the US and UK in 1968 (but in two volumes in the UK, only one here, the second one coming out three years later as LIVE IN EUROPE), which was quite similar and is equally recommended…though that never had the effect on me that LIVE IN EUROPE did because I had EUROPE so early in my development and probably played it daily for two years.

As of this writing, Mayall is still at it, well into his eighties, and he certainly does still have what it takes. Just a year or two ago he issued a wonderful live album with a no-guitar trio (Mayall on keys, a bassist and a drummer), and the tracks were long and one never missed the guitar. And speaking of guitar, Mayall now has Texas’s CAROLYN WONDERLAND playing with him, whom I know and admire from her collaborations with Guy Forsyth. Mayall continues to feature only the finest musicians and gives them a lot of space. God bless John Mayall!

By the way, an interesting, kind but not-entirely-superpositive perspective on John Mayall is provided by jazz/R&B saxophone great RED HOLLOWAY, who worked with Mayall in the early 70’s (Mayall had some amazing L.A.-based jazzmen in his band at that time), and is on the SMOKIN BLUES album mentioned above (in fact, the tours documented on that album are discussed specifically by Holloway). It’s in the second half of an hour-long interview, but you’ll want to listen to the entire thing anyway as Holloway’s background is rich in blues and R&B. He is the perfect example of the old axiom that the basis of jazz is in blues playing. Here’s the link:  Holloway interview

Holloway clearly doesn’t fully appreciate Mayall’s take on the blues (I wouldn’t necessarily expect him to…it would be like asking Gary Cooper or Buck Jones what they thought of Italian westerns, had they lived long enough to see some), but when he comments on the content of Mayall’s lyrics, he shows that he truly DOES get it–he’s just labelling the cup as half empty rather than half full. His comments on Mayall’s audiences not knowing good work from mediocre work (by Holloway’s standards) is also interesting. Coming from a man who spent years playing to Chicago club audiences who knew the real thing because they lived it, one can understand where he’s coming from.

You can still get a copy of LIVE IN EUROPE for under five dollars on Discogs. And there is a British CD that combines both volumes of DIARY OF A BAND into a 2-cd set, which is well-worth tracking down…make sure what you’re ordering is a 2-cd set.

JOHN MAYALL LIVE IN EUROPE came along at the right time for me, and it’s still working its blues-drenched magic nearly 50 years after I bought it. It must be the best $3.99 I ever spent.

mayall europe

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