By CRAIG HAMMONS – John Mayall may be 83 years old, but “The Godfather of British Blues” played like he was a teenager at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ Jazz, Blues and R and B Weekend.
Mayall, long regarded as a master of blues, was joined by Charlie Musselwhite and three-time Grammy-nominated vocalist Bettye La Vette.
Musselwhite opened with the barn burner “Good Blues Tonight.” Fifty years of nonstop touring has not stopped this bluesman from slowing down. Musselwhite is proof that great music only gets better with age. He reminisced about being born in Mississippi, then later moving to Florida but like all good blues cats he said his heart is in Chicago. He later did a song called “Strange Land” about when he arrived in Chicago and how big and strange it was, with so many tall building and people everywhere.
Charlie’s band may be the best he’s ever had with drummer June Core, bassist Steve Froberg and guitarist Matt Stubbs. For Charlie, the blues is his best friend, as it’s been with him through the good times and comforts him in the bad. This blues cat is still at the top of his game and tonight it showed.
After a short intermission, next up was mighty and majestic soul singer LaVette. I’ve only heard a few of her of songs before tonight. But after a few songs in, I realized she does not only sing a song, she lives inside each song. LaVette set a high standard and never fell below it.
She can re-sculpt a song, bring it to life and make it her own. She did a very personal song called “A Woman like Me” where she sings: “It’s hard loving a woman like me, you need to think about it before you get hooked on the venom and can’t live without it.”
She’s a tall, slim and sultry woman that slides across the stage with grace. Her career spans over 50 years. When it was time for her to close out her set she just kept singing as she exited stage left.
Next up was the legendary Mayall. A pioneer of blues music who has had nothing but the best players in has band over the last 50 years including Eric Clapton, Peter Greene, Walter Trout, Mick Taylor and Coco Montoya. But the blues brothers he had with him tonight were tight and on fire. His touring band consists of: Rocky Athas (guitar), Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums).
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At 83 years old, Mayall played like he was a teenager again. He had two keyboards set up in front of the stage with one a piano and the other a Hammond B3. He switched between them effortlessly while at the same time playing harmonica. By the time they were into their second song “Congo Square,” the joint was jumping. One of my favorite songs of the night was the old Sonny Boy Williamson song “Help Me” also done by Ten Years After. Besides playing keyboards and harmonica, Mayall also played guitar on a couple songs even taking some pretty impressive solos.
They whole band all played with excitement and emotion that touched the audience. Mayall says “The blues take takes you, claims you and never lets you go.”
Make no mistake Mayall is a true bluesman still out on the road.
Video courtesy of DoctorNoe