If you ever wanted virtually every musical utterance John Mayall made on his way to becoming the Godfather of British Blues, your homework is already done. The staggering 35-CD box set The First Generation: 1965-1974 features many of the Brit blues supergods — including Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, and Mick Taylor — who passed through the revolving doors of Mayall’s band The Bluesbreakers in those years. Some of the material is still available in its original form, but in addition to remastered versions of the original Decca and Polydor albums this collection contains eight previously unreleased studio recordings and seven previously unreleased live recordings from 1967-70, along with 18 unreleased BBC sessions starring Jack Bruce, Clapton, Green, McVie, and Taylor.
And for us vinyl junkies who miss the visual feast that accompanied the wax platters of the era, this one has plenty of eye candy. Two hardback books chronicle the Mayall experience, showcasing a slew of memorabilia including posters and interviews.
But the music is the dominant force here, a tsunami of blues with some heavy-duty flotsam bobbing around in the waters. The remastered version of 1969’s Looking Back is impressive enough, with a cast that includes Bruce, Green, Clapton, Taylor, McVie, and Mick Fleetwood. In “Mr. James,” their tribute to Elmore James, Mayall asks him why he had to go, later admitting that “I’d like to follow in your shoes.” Most of that same cast, a star-studded premonition of Fleetwood Mac with Mayall on top, turns in blistering performances with the BBC sessions, recorded from 1964 to 1968. Mayall once again pays tribute to James’ classic “Dust My Broom” with a version he called “Dust My Blues,” which also appears on 1966’s A Hard Road. Freddie King’s classic 1961 hit “Hideaway” is also in the package, a gem that The Bluesbreakers hauled out frequently to show off Clapton’s guitar skills.
“The Last Time” would come back later on as well as a device for another string scorcher, Walter Trout, who would redo a blistering version as a latter-day Mayall Bluesbreaker on 2007’s Life in the Jungle: Charly Blues Masterworks 4.
You could spend the rest of your life bouncing around in the rabbit holes this monster set unearths, going back and forth in time, comparing and contrasting what time has done to the tunes and your perception of them. Meanwhile, the 88-year-old Mayall soldiers on, preparing to unleash yet another flurry of blues-breaking tunes with a new studio album set for June.