June, 2011

The beginning of summer... YES!!!

This month we are shining a spotlight on three very different musicians, with very different personalities. Each is unique, and each has provided very different, strong, positive influences on the people they have touched in their respective communities. Now that is something to celebrate!


This Month:
    Reflections on John Mayall 
   The Unstoppable Patty McLaughlin
   Dorian Baxter - An Original Indeed

Reflections on John Mayall

The story of John Mayall’s life and music (though far from over) offers an opportunity to contemplate the power of musical influences and mentorship.  Although relatively few people know about this British bluesman, almost everyone is familiar with the young blues players he shaped.  Born on 29th November 1933 near Manchester England, Mayall dabbled in public performances of the blues while busy with his “real” career as a commercial artist. 

Empty Rooms Album Cover
1970 Empty Rooms
By 1956 (he was in his mid-20s), his biographical and musical readiness (maturity) coincided precisely with that particular moment in history when British musicians, caught up in the energy of American Rock and Roll, began to look beyond the immediacy of white popular music back to its blues (i.e.: African American) roots.  These white Brits modeled their musicality on the work of people like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, both Sonny Boy Williamsons (I and II), Big Joe Turner, and many others.  The British blues revival as it is now known, was a decidedly white phenomenon and it spawned many talented blues-rock musicians, including Savoy Brown, Ten Years After, The Rolling Stones, Long John Baldry, Jeff Beck, Eric Burdon and the Animals, and Gary Moore (Procol Harum).  Sometimes an outsider’s perspective teaches more than an insider’s. That generation of young British musicians latched onto an indigenous form of American music, re-worked it, and exported back to America in fresh new musical forms.  Ironically, the Brits taught America about its own music.  In later years, after they gained notoriety, these same British bands traveled back to America and actually mentored their mentors—bluesmen like Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters—and in so doing, brought them into the consciousness of the  American (white) mainstream.

Mayall’s first blues band of note was The Powerhouse Four (1956) and later he formed The Blues Syndicate (1962), but in the end, he hit the sweet spot in 1963 when he formed “John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers.”  Mayall’s unflinching mission was always larger than himself; he wanted to publicize the blues and educate audiences about the people and the culture that gave birth to this musical genre.  His album “Crusade” (1967) is a poignant reminder of just how intense and committed he was to this goal.  For instance, that album has a song called “The Death of J. B. Lenoir” and in it, he laments that “A car has killed a friend in Chicago, a thousand miles away/When I read the news, night came early in my day.”  Mayall wanted to bring attention to bluesmen, living or dead.  He also happened to want to do this at precisely that time in history when American civil rights were at their most intense, and consequently the music of the black man was as one might say, “ideologically charged.”  For friendly audiences Mayall’s crusade was magical; for hostile audiences he was a dangerous man. 

John Mayall entered musical history in the right place and exactly at the right time.  In London, the blues scene was booming (even the Rolling Stones took their band name from the Muddy Waters tune, “Rollin Stone” (aka “Catfish Blues”) .  As a multi-instrumentalist, Mayall focused all his musical and vocal talents on the blues; he sang and played guitar, piano and harp. His career really took off after he moved to London, which was a creative center for all kinds of music.  Under the direction of the brilliant producer, Mike Vernon, Mayall’s career soared.   Vernon also produced Ten Years After, Savoy Brown and later on, David Bowie.  Vernon understood the heart, soul and feel of blues and blues rock as evidenced in the great job he did capturing Alivn Lee’s seminal guitar work in “Goin’ Home”. 

 

A HARD ROAD album cover
1967
John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers became fertile ground for spawning of what would soon be a spectacular list of some very influential musicians.  In April of 1965 for example, Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds to join Mayall’s Bluesbreakers; he stayed until 1966 when he and Jack Bruce (also with Mayall at the time) left the Bluesbreakers to form Cream.  Mayall replaced Clapton with Peter Green (1966-1967) and at the same time, the Bluesbreakers were joined by John McVie on bass (to replace Jack Bruce), and Mick Fleetwood on drums: all three of them went on to form Fleetwood Mac in 1967.  Peter Green was replaced by Mick Taylor (1967-1969) who later left the Bluesbreakers to join the Rolling Stones. From there, the story meanders through a number of interesting stops as Mayall continued to recruit and develop many other musicians who would go on to be influential performers.  For instance, the Chicago-born Paul Butterfield began his career as Mayall’s harp player, and Dr John started his career as Mayall’s keyboard player.  There are many more examples of Mayall’s profound and long-reaching musical influence.   

Mayall’s love of blues music and love of art came together when he designed the album cover for Hard Road (1967).  His discography is impressive; with 59 albums to his credit there’s never been a time he rested. 

My own awareness of Mayall came in 1967 (I was 14 years old) when I discovered his Crusade album. Thereafter I remained under his spell.  More importantly though (and I suspect Mayall himself would agree), his tributes to earlier generations of blues musicians served its deeper purpose—it kick-started my own curiosity and got me going on my own journey of discovery into Chicago blues (Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, etc) and to their Yazoo Delta predecessors—people like Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ragtime Henry Texas and so many more.  In 1969, at precisely the moment in history when the electric guitar was being developed as a high-volume virtuoso performance instrument thanks to the work of Jimmy Page, Jimmy Hendrix and others, Mayall went against the grain and put out an album with no drums, acoustic guitars and only light percussion.  That album, called “The Turning Point” had another song about J.B Lenoir called “I’m Gonna Fight for You JB.”  One highlight of that album is the track, “Don’t Waste My Time” ; it’s delicate finger style guitar and its intricate polyrhythms have made it still a favourite performance piece on his tours today.  Given that my own band, The Coyotes, often play with very light percussion (or sometimes none at all) it’s easy for me to see where my love of this style of music originated. 

The predecessor to this The Turning Point, Bare Wires (1968) inspired me because of its interesting jazz-blues fusions.  The album was as politically incorrect (musically speaking) as you could get in 1968: no drums, an accordion, a violin, an upright bass instead of an electric bass guitar, and other “unconventional” instruments were recruited into the service of making a new kind of jazz-blues music.  “I Started Walking” is well worth a listen. The Empty Rooms album (1969) was also interesting because Mayall experimented with two bass players in his band.  Stephen Thompson and Larry Taylor (the bass player from Canned Heat) share a gorgeous bass solo duet in “To a Princess” that is simply spectacular.  Mayall himself never charted a hit, but so many of the famous musicians of the era all came through the Bluesbreakers.

With success and modest notoriety came some financial reward, and by the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mayall began to spend more and more time in America, especially in Laurel Canyon in California where he purchased land and built a home.   There he cocooned himself with the likes of Larry Taylor, Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson and Bob “The Bear” Hite from Canned Heat.  They would sit around for hours and listen to the thousands and thousands of old blues 45s from Hite’s vast collection.  Mayall’s musical tribute to the pleasures of those days was expressed in a song called “The Bear”. 

In 1979 Mayall suffered a terrible setback when his hand-crafted Laurel Canyon cabin burned to the ground in a brush fire.  He lost everything he had, including meticulously kept diaries (his and his father’s), his artwork, all his master recordings, and his book and magazine collections—and of course his guitars and other instruments.  Determined not to be self-pitying, he re-grouped and started anew.  During the 1980s he toured extensively (though not all at once) with Mick Talyor, John McVie, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Etta James and many more.  More recently over the last 10 years, he has toured with Steve Miller, Billy Preston, Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) and many other blues and blues-influenced musicians.   He still continues to tour today and maintains a rigorous road schedule.

John Mayall was in the right place at the right time to use his passion for the blues to mentor many other musicians.  One part of the story I’ve left out is how Mayall actually came to prominence on the London scene.  It’s true that Mike Vernon did much to build Mayall’s reputation through recordings, but there is another story here—one that gives credence to clichés like “what goes around comes around” and “pay it forward.”  Mayall himself was encouraged and mentored by another unknown musician named Alexis Koerner who formed a blues band in 1961 called “Blues Incorporated.”  Some of the musicians other than Mayall who were mentored by Koerner are Charlie Watts (Rolling Stones drummer), Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Long John Baldry, Graham Bond, Danny Thompson and Dick Heckstall-Smith. Koerner also attracted a wider crowd of mostly younger fans, some of whom occasionally performed with the group, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Geoff Bradford, Rod Stewart … and Jimmy Page.

Musical influence and inspiration are magical things.  In the case of John Mayall and Alexis Koerner it’s easy to see how the ripples of their influences went out in every direction because of the fame acquired by so many of their protégés.  But who’s to say it isn’t like that for every musician?  Are we not all in some way, carrying a little part of every musician we’ve studied and admired? and of the influential musicians with whom we’ve made music?  Every once in a while I catch myself playing a lick or phasing something that reminds me of John Mayall—or equally more importantly—reminds me of some musician or other with whom I played long ago.   Brian Fitzpatrick wherever you are, this note’s for you.



Peter Paolucci
Aurora, Ontario
Plectrum

Webography:

The Official John Mayall Website http://www.johnmayall.com/bio.html

The Unstoppable Patty McLaughlin

This month we would also like to tell you about another wonderful local musician.  Patty McLaughlin has been a very active member of the Aurora and surrounding music scene for many years now.  Her audiences know her distinctive powerful, folksy voice and guitar work that seems to be a natural extension of her voice.

Patty At Jonathan's, April 19, 2011
Patty At Jonathan's

Patty is the founder and the driving force behind the Aurora Folk and Blues Society.  Through the Aurora Folk and Blues Society, Patty hosts a song circle at Jonathan’s Restaurant in Aurora.  This has become a long running tradition and has provided  encouragement, learning opportunities, and a showcase to so many local musicians (including those from The Coyotes ).  It’s also one heck of a lot of fun!

All this Patty inspired fun has not been just reserved for the grownups in our midst.  Many children have been fortunate to experience smiles and giggles inspired by Patty’s various children’s shows.

Patty has recently been a music concert promoter through generously hosting a number of house concerts in her home in Innisfil where she recently moved.

Charlie Fitzwhiskie's
With The Coyotes!!



On occasion we're lucky enough to have Patty sit in to gig with The Coyotes where she has seemlessly added her wonderful sound and can howl with the best of us.





Here she is performing at the Newmarket Folk Society's Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot (November 13, 2010):


Patty At Jonathan's, April 19, 2011
Patty and Paul Snelgrove



Patty continues to help drive the music scene in our area, and now in Barrie too. Check out her website to see where you can catch her next. Keep the music flowin' Patty!

Eric Mattila




Plectrum

Dorian Baxter - An Original Indeed

And… as long as we are on the topic of local heroes, let’s shine a “Scat spotlight” on the inimitable Dorian Baxter.  There is certainly no other like him.

There are so many facets to the complicated mosaic that makes up Dorian’s life, past and present, it is hard to know where to begin.

Elvis Priestly
Elvis IS Alive!

So… since I can’t possibly do justice to this local icon, I will begin with his most overtly showy side:  he’s a bloody Elvis impersonator!  Unlike most who pursue this curious artefact of the passing of The King, Dorian frequently focuses his Elvis persona as a medium to connect with the many people he works so hard to serve in his community.  Largely through his church, though not exclusively, Dorian has used his Elvis side, as well as his articulate voice, passion and energy to help those in need in his community. 

Here is a partial list of many sides to Dorian’s life:

  • Athlete:
    • Boxer (competing in the Kenya National Championships)
    • Swimmer (Kenya National Backstroke Champion)
  • Educator: Classroom teacher
    • public system (York County Board)
    • private (St. George's College)
  • Anglican Priest:
  • Motorcycle rider:
    • Which to us bikers is always an encouraging sign…
    • Motorcycle accident survivor (whew!)
  • Social activist:

Check out this video of the musical Rev. Baxter:



Dorian with Mike Bullard
Dorian Baxter with Mike Bullard


Rev. Dorian Baxter has certainly added some colour and some thoughtful discourse to our region, and hopefully he will continue to set an example to those who have the energy and courage to do things in their own unique way.



Eric Mattila

Plectrum