John Mayall’s influence on blues and rock music is incalculable. Two weeks ago, for instance, he returned to his former home of London to attend the Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards and accept the Classic Album Award for his famed 1966 LP credited to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Titled “Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton,” it features Clapton laying lead guitar on songs mostly written by Mayall, who also sings, plays guitar, keyboards and harmonica on the famed LP. At the time, Clapton had recently left the Yardbirds and Mayall quickly offered him the job as his new guitarist.
“Eric stood out because he understood what the music was all about,” Mayall says by phone after arriving back at his current home in Los Angeles. “Few people had his gift, something that has been supported by the passage of time.”
During the same ceremony in London earlier this month, Black Sabbath accepted the Living Legend Award. The band’s pioneering heavy metal guitarist Tony Iommi paid tribute to the Godfather of British Blues by telling the star-filled theater it was “so amazing to be in the same room as John Mayall because without him we wouldn’t be here.”
Mayall has hired and played a key role in launching the careers of some of the most famous blues and rock musicians of the past 50 years. In addition to Clapton, they include Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Walter Trout, Coco Montoya and Buddy Whittington.
On Friday, Mayall will celebrate his 80th birthday with a performance at the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium. Mayall’s backing is Rocky Athas (guitar), Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums). Every time Athas, a star in his native Texas, steps on stage, he’s probably being compared to the many guitar heroes who have stood beside Mayall in the past. But Mayall didn’t hire him to replicate the sounds of anyone else.
“Any time I have a guitar player in my band, they all have to have that individual something and that’s the criteria,” Mayall says. “They have to make their own individual contributions.”
As for those numerous musicians who have left Mayall over the years, the bandleader sounds proud of their accomplishments without the slightest bitterness regarding their departure.
Take Mick Taylor, for example. He left Mayall’s Bluesbreakers to become the lead guitarist – sorry, Keith Richards is the riff king but Taylor played the amazing solos – during The Rolling Stones’ classic era from 1969 to 1974; and recently returned as a member of the band on its current worldwide tour. Mayall actually got Taylor his start with the Stones.
“I was just about to disband that Bluesbreakers lineup and go into my acoustic (phase) when Mick Jagger called and asked me if I knew a guitar player,” Mayall recalls, with a soft laugh. “Everything fell into place for Mick Taylor and the rest is history.”
JOHN MAYALL’S 80TH BIRTHDAY SHOW
John Mayall Band with opening acts Larry McCray and Tucci.
6 p.m. Friday; Sarasota Municipal Auditorium, 801 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; $45; 989-327-0801; brownpapertickets.com.