Guide to British Music of the 1960s

July 1998

CD Review

John Mayall's Bluesbreakers - Looking Back


But first an explanation. In the sixties, in England (? and elsewhere ?) artists used to go into the studio, record 2 songs, release them as a 45. If they did well, they were allowed to record an album. But the material on the 45 was rarely used on the LP release. If not, they recorded another 45. And if you didn't buy the 45, you usually never had a chance to collect that piece of music.

In America, if an artist was considered good enough to sign to a contract, they recorded an album, and tried to make a 45 from some of the tracks that were recorded. In either case, when they went into the studio to record an album, many times they would record more tracks than they needed in order to have more options when putting the final album together.

Some of the Bluesbreakers non-LP material has been released (first on vinyl, and in some cases on CD) on Looking Back, Thru The Years, So Many Roads, Rare Tracks, Volume 1 and Rare Tracks, Volume 2.

John Mayall's Bluesbreakers was a British band, that was dedicated to performing American style blues. The band was controlled entirely by John Mayall. He regularly hired and fired people for his band while trying to create a sound he could be happy with. Because of this, it seems like every time he wandered into the recording studio, he had a different collection of musicians with him. And it also seemed like he was constantly in the recording studio. Between his trying to create a specific sound, and looking for people that he thought would work well, he became more famous for the people that worked for him in his band, than for any of the material that he actually performed. This is a shame, as he recorded / released a consistent set of music that is still very listenable to this day.

You are unlikely to ever see a greatest hits package for John Mayall. While some of their recorded works were able to crack the top 100 charts, nothing ever went to number one.

Looking Back is a small compilation of some of the 45s that John Mayall's Bluesbreakers recorded between April 1964 and December 1969. This is just a straight re-release of the original vinyl release from 1969. However, it does have extended liner notes commenting on some of the band members, the tracks recorded on this release, as well as some of his other recording sessions during this period.

One of the interesting things about this release, is, that while it contains 11 tracks, they were recorded by many different versions of his band. So you can see the evolution of the sound of the band, through the rapidly changing personnel involved.

John Mayall covers a lot of older material in both his live shows and studio recordings. And when he isn't covering older tunes, he is writing similar style tunes. This re-issue doesn't list the author of the songs, but I recognize at least one as being a cover tune (Stormy Monday).

Check out track 3, Stormy Monday to see what Eric Clapton was doing between his time with The Yardbirds, and Cream. Check out track 7 It Hurts Me Too and track 8 Double Trouble to see where Fleetwood Mac would shortly be going. Check out track 9 Suspicions (part two) to see what Mick Taylor was doing before he joined the Rolling Stones. Better yet, check out some of the complete albums they worked on for a better idea of what these and other musicians were doing in their early years.

Chrome Oxide, June 1998

Released: 1990
Deram 820 331-2

Essential Tracks:

  • Stormy Monday
  • Looking Back
  • Double Trouble

Track Listing:

  1. Mr. James - April 20, 1964
  2. Blues City Shakedown - February 26, 1965
  3. Stormy Monday - March 17, 1966 or April 1966?
  4. So Many Roads - September 30, 1966
  5. Looking Back - September 30, 1966
  6. Sitting In The Rain - October 11, 1966
  7. It Hurts Me Too - April 19, 1967
  8. Double Trouble - April 19, 1967
  9. Suspicions (part two) - September 14, 1967
  10. Jenny - December 4, 1967
  11. Picture On The Wall - December 5, 1967

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