Saturday, March 3, 2018

Blues From Laurel Canyon - John Mayall

Sgt Pepper established the concept album as a construct in rock music; the first concepts coming out of the 50s with loosely strewn ideas that established an LP’s mood: Sinatra's In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning and Come Fly With Me come to mind. By 1967 and Sgt. P, the construct had been tested with LPs like Days of Future Passed and would meld into albums like Tommy, Ziggy Stardust and Zappa's Joe's Garage. In that artsy context, British bluesman John Mayall seemed an unlikely candidate, and yet in late '67 after disbanding The Bluesbreakers (a revolving-door of upcoming artists that included Eric Clapton, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Jack Bruce), Mayall took a three week vacation in L.A., you know, swimmin’ pools, movie stars; the land of the Byrds and Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Canned Heat, perfect weather, young women (young was very much Mayall's thing) and marijuana – a vacation that would inevitably last ten years. Those first three weeks, though, staying with friend Bob "The Bear" Hite of Canned Heat, would translate into Blues From Laurel Canyon.

The LP recounts Mayall's trip from London ("Ten hours in plane, England left behind") and relates his "Walking on Sunset," encountering the likes of Zappa and Canned Heat ("2401" and "The Bear") and his return to England.

Mayall was much older than his musical cohorts (he was 35 and his former guitarist Clapton was still only 23) and so he wasn't easily swayed by the psychedelic scene, it's laid back, somewhat lethargic style; indeed he recorded Blues in just three days, in a time when Brian Wilson would spend six months perfecting "Good Vibrations." 

In 1967, my mother, brother and I lived in the Valley where my brother and I shared a bedroom and my mother slept on a pull-out in the living room. My brother would borrow the car, a 1961 Ford Falcon, and head down to Hollywood. When my mother was "out," I'd sometimes get to go along (I was six or seven). We'd head down to Hollywood to Wallach’s Music City, grab a handful of records and sit all night in a listening booth.  When I wasn't along, my brother would frequent the clubs: "I used to take the car from Van Nuys over Laurel Canyon to Sunset and go to the Whiskey or The Trip or The Sea Witch. I saw Fleetwood Mac pre-Buckingham-Nicks, Flying Burrito Brothers, The Doors and John Mayall. He wore a Mexican belt with like 20 harmonicas in place of ammo. It's why I relate so strongly to many of the songs, from the opening Mick Taylor guitar solo to 'Walking on Sunset' and "Medicine Man" and "The First Time Alone". AM's always going on and on about Laurel Canyon. Can't believe they're only just getting around to Blues From Laurel Canyon."

When Graham Nash sings about "Our House" we get a glimpse of Laurel Canyon. Despite the depth of the artists who shared the enclave, Laurel Canyon was simple and homey.  Still, the Laurel Canyon crowd never created a pastiche of the real L.A. the way that Mayall does on Blues; one might think he was walking down Sunset over the weekend. I listen and I can see my father painting one of the Sunset billboards.