“MICK TAYLOR RE-EXAMINED” RE-EXAMINED by Jim Sheridan 
( Part 1 )

(As a huge fan of music and music journalism, I started trying my own hand at writing about music for the college newspaper years ago. A while after college, I decided to try it again, as a casual thing, and had a few articles published in Relix, a largely Grateful Dead-oriented magazine. My success with that led me to try to get works published in some larger magazines (Rolling Stone, Musician, Guitar World, etc.) which met with resounding failure. This was due to a few things: my interest in older or less-than-hip bands, my lack of access to the famous performers themselves, my unwillingness to make it a full-time thing... I have since written many pieces for smaller magazines aimed at collectors and enthusiasts rather than the general public or trend-followers. My success there was through trying to find an angle on a famous band that had not yet been covered, or to explore lesser-known works that had some connection to a more known artist.

In November of 1996, a lengthy piece I wrote on Mick Taylor was published in DISCoveries magazine. My thinking was that he had so much material out there through all of his sessions and guest spots, with more being released each year, and yet what fame he had was centered almost solely around his 1969-1974 stint with the Rolling Stones. The research I began doing for that article has really never stopped, and the connections and friendships I made through the process have continued as well. That article was more or less reprinted in Blues Man magazine, the very excellent official Mick Taylor fanzine, as well as on the Mick Taylor website, run by Gary Paranzino. I had originally written the article before having access to either of these sources. When John Carr asked me to consider an update of the DISCoveries article, then, I realized that there was much I had learned of since the time of that writing, and who knows? Maybe someday this piece will be extended into a Mick Taylor book! His musical journey is certainly enough to fill volumes.)

A buddy of mine and I were listening to a bootleg CD version of the out-of-print Stones album Metamorphosis a while ago. Our debate kicked in; who was soloing over that fade-out? My friend’s immediate response was “Mick Taylor. It’s the fluidity; when I think of Mick Taylor, I think of fluidity.” He was right about the song and about Taylor.

Mick Taylor was born Michael Kevin Taylor in Welwyn Garden City, Hertforshire, England, on January 17th, 194?. (For reasons not 100% clear, many reports have 1949 as his year of birth. The likely culprit is Rolling Stone magazine, who listed his age as 20 when he joined the band, which would indicate 1949 as the year.) He grew up in Hatfield, a city about 20 miles to the north of London. His father was an aircraft worker, a fitter for de Haviland Ltd., whose employees filled the area. His mother, an office worker, played some piano, enough to appear at the local pub, and her younger brother John was a rock’n’roll enthusiast who played guitar. Between the two, there was always music of some kind playing at the Taylor household. They even took him to see Bill Haley and the Comets, and the young boy was mesmerized by what he witnessed. Something about the exotic vision of the rock’n’roll spectacle, and soon, of the even more distant world that spoke from out of dusty American blues records, must have reached into t he young boy in the drab working-class surroundings of the aero-industrial suburb. His uncle was in possession of a Hofner semi-acoustic guitar, and was adept enough to show Mick some chords.

His uncle’s influence was powerful early on: “...that was really the kind of music that I first heard, even before I really started playing guitar - Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard.” At around the age of 9 or 10, he really began playing the guitar, and it all took off from there. “I used to come home from school at lunchtime - I’d have lunch at my grandmother’s - and he (his uncle) would be out at work. After I’d finished my lunch and before I had to go back to school, I’d go up into his bedroom and play his guitar. And that’s kind of how it started.” (Guitar Player, February 1980)

The first blues album to blow him away was B.B. King’s Live At The Regal. A review of that album now will give the observant listener an earful of tasty licks, masterful vibrato, and the vocal-sounding cry of the bent note, all of which are earmarks of Taylor’s playing as well. His early teens were spent in pursuit of blues records, which were rather hard to come by in England at the time. The quiet youngster dug about in record stores in SoHo for albums by Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, and Freddie King, players whose licks he would painstakingly copy. Per Philip Norman in Symphony for the Devil, “By the age of twelve, he was sought after by every amateur group in Hatfield...”

Mick recorded with a band called The Juniors during his high school years. The group had two singles to their credit: “Garageman”/”My Boat Baby” on Polydor, and “There’s A Pretty Girl” / “Pocket Size” on Columbia. In Al Lewis’ Unknown Stone: The Mick Taylor Story, Taylor said “I think we were about 13 or 14. We were just school friends who liked rhythm and blues. Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf. We played one or two gigs here and there. It was fun...I recently saw an article in a very old magazine that had a photograph of me, when I was fourteen years old playing with my high school friends. I’d never seen it before. There was a full page ad in that magazine for the single we did.” Taylor admits he is not fully sure whether he played on the Columbia single.

Lewis’ book goes on to note that other members of The Juniors included keyboardist Ken Hensley, who went on to form Uriah Heep, and John Glascock, later one of the founders of Jethro Tull. A major problem with the history of Mick Taylor is the conflicting memories of so many of the key players, including Mick himself!! In Lewis’ book, Taylor says “As for The Gods, I was never in The Gods. Somebody I played with, Ken Hensley, a keyboard player, went on to form a group called The Gods. That’s what I actually had to do with them.”

However, Lewis arranged an interview with Ken Hensley for Blues Man issue 7, and the story was somewhat straightened out there. Hensley stated “Well, I think he (Mick) is right in a sense and he’s wrong in a sense. He was in the very first incarnation of The Gods and that didn’t last very long. He wasn’t in The Gods that recorded for EMI. In other words, what happened was when Mick went off to join John Mayall, the band in effect broke up, and I reformed the band (with Greg Lake, Lee Kerslake, and John Glascock) and that is when we signed our recording contract with EMI. Then we went on to make the two albums that we made. So Mick was in the very original incarnation of The Gods.”

One anecdote Hensley offers in the interview dispels some of the image of Mick as the “non-smoking angel” later corrupted by the Stones. “...we were supposed to go and play a show up in northwest England. You know we didn’t work that much, but we did get isolated gigs, but they weren’t worth that much money. Our biggest problem was scraping up enough money for petrol to get to the gigs. We played mainly because we just liked to play. We all pretty much lived in the same town north of London, , so we all got together to go to this gig. Our plan was to each put in enough money so we’d have enough petrol to get there. On the way out of town we had to stop because Mick had to buy some cigarettes, and that was the end of our journey because he spent his gas money on cigarettes! There are a lot of funny stories I’ll never forget. Mick was a pretty sulky person in those days and if things weren’t exactly right Mick used t get upset about it and threaten to quit and all that stuff. We just used to laugh at him and say if he was quitting then we were all quitting. You know it was a great time and we had a lot of fun.”

At around this time, in 1965, a single was released called “London Town” by a Mick Taylor, but it was not this Mick Taylor.

The Gods unfortunately did not release any recordings during Taylor’s stint with them; however, some famous players did get a chance to see them live. John Mayall witnessed Taylor’s playing at a Gods university gig - “Again, he was really great - playing ‘Hide Away’ and all that stuff, and sounding terrific.” (Guitar Player, 8/95)

Ronnie Wood offers a different take on The Gods: “Mick Taylor always underestimated himself. He didn’t think he could play guitar, which I always used to tell him he was totally wrong about. Some nights he had so much stage fright when he was in The Gods that I had to go on and do his set. He was just too nervous to go on. I’d go on and play with this band I had never played with before and do his set, and then I’d go and do my set with The Birds.” (Best of Guitar Player, 12/94) Although one has to take Wood’s words with a very large grain of salt, it seems that Taylor was indeed exceptionally withdrawn. However, he would overcome his timidity to take a fateful step forward, aided by Eric Clapton’s unpredictable behavior.

Stepping In For Slowhand

Mick had gone to school during this time at Onslow Secondary School, getting a job as a commercial engraver. He also served as a sales assistant in the Strand’s Civil Service Stores. Then destiny stepped in. At age 16, he went to see John Mayall and Eric Clapton at the Hatfield Polytechnique. The at-the-time rather bohemian Clapton did not show. The shy teenager, egged on by friends, approached Maya and told him that he was familiar with the band’s repertoire. “The night without Eric, the Bluesbreakers couldn’t have sounded worse,” recalls Taylor, “so I plucked up the courage to go on stage, which was kind of a pushy thing to do. But, you see, I’d learned the ‘Beano’ album note-by-note...” (Guitar, UK, 1998)

He filled in ably for Slowhand that night, showing himself to be a Clapton disciple. Mayall told Guitar Player (8/95): “Not only did he know the songs, but he played ‘em like WE did, instead of just like the originals. He fit in great and then disappeared - “ without Mayall getting his name or address. A year or so later, when Peter Green departed the Bluesbreakers to form Fleetwood Mac, Mayall, remembering the stellar performance of the unknown teen, put out an ad in the Melody Maker. Taylor responded and joined the Bluesbreakers at the age of 17.

To move from living at home and playing with the small-time Gods to jumping into the full-time recording and touring schedule of the very respected Bluesbreakers, replacing two established guitar heroes, was an incredible transition. Dealing with his new mentor, 15 years his senior, must have been enough in and of itself. “John was a great eccentric,” Taylor said. “He’d lived in a tree once - somewhere near Manchester. He collected erotica and wore all his harmonicas on a belt ‘round his waist. And every conversation you had with him, he’d record on a tiny little tape.” (Symphony for the Devil)

His first album with Mayall was 1967’s Crusade, announcing to the record-buying public that a new kid was stepping into Clapton and Green’s shoes. The album was cut in only seven hours, in Taylor’s first month with the band. It was Mayall’s intention with this album to pay tribute to the playing styles of his blues idols, and to further his crusade to popularize the blues. To this end, he had a backing duo of horn players - Chris Mercer and Rip Kant - in addition to the drums/bass/guitar line-up. Crusade shows Taylor mostly staying within the framework established by his predecessors; the album consists mostly of covers, including a take of Otis Rush’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” that bears interesting comparison to the Zeppelin version that would come a bit later. On this album Taylor played though the then-standard-for Mayall-guitarists Les Paul through a Marshall amp combination. He’d purchased his first sunburst Les Paul at Selmer’s in Charing Cross Road; the salesman was Paul Kossoff, who would make his mark with Free. Mick would later buy another Les Paul from Keith Richards at Olympic Studios while the band was working on Their Satanic Majesties Request! He also received his first songwriting credits; the instrumental “Snowy Wood,” co-written with Mayall. This track is a powerful number whose angry main riff foreshadowed the modern virtuosic edge that Taylor would contribute to the Rolling Stones.

Other stand-out cuts include “Oh Pretty Woman” - Mayall credits Mick with bringing the Albert King influence to the Bluesbreakers - and “My Time After A While.” John McVie and Keef Hartley were a tough, tight rhythm section. McVie would soon leave, however, to join Green and Mick Fleetwood in Fleetwood Mac. Taylor was apparently more disappointed by this than Mayall, who felt that McVie tipped the jar a bit too often. Per the recent The Guitar Magazine (8/98 U.K.) article, though, Taylor empathized with McVie: “ The fact that Taylor was none too innocent is confirmed by John McVie; Taylor was the only band member to lay into t he McVie when he suddenly abandoned the ‘too-jazzy’ Bluesbreakers for Chicago purists Fleetwood Mac. Perhaps Taylor felt let down; he and McVie had become close friends during the Summer of Love of 1967, on a holiday holed up in a Moroccan hotel room boozing, smoking hash and chasing women.”

McVie would be replaced by Paul Williams. Rip Kant would be replaced by horn player Dick Heckstall-Smith. The single “Suspicions (Part One)” was collected on Thru The Years, along with two more tracks with Taylor form 1968, while its extended flipside “Suspicions (Part Two)” was later found on Looking Back (Both of these albums are Mayall oddity/single compilations). Taylor’s sound owes much to Clapton on these recordings, though not as wild and fierce as EC’s “Beano” material, showing more subtlety and restraint.

John Mayall, ever the archivist, recorded much of the tour which the band undertook for Crusade. But - keep up with the band changes! - Paul Williams was first replaced by Keith Tillman. It was on the American branch of this tour that Taylor purchased his first Fender Stratocaster, inspired by bluesman Hubert Sumlin’s choice of ax. The tour was a delight for Taylor for more reasons than this. For one, he got to spend some time searching the record stores of America for more blues records! For another, while in the States, the Bluesbreakers tended to set up residency in a given city and play there for a few nights in a row. It gave the band a chance to know the area, meet the locals, and jam with the area musicians. For these reasons, America would continue to delight Taylor.

Pieces of the live recordings from the European leg of the Crusade tour appear on Diary of a Band Volumes One and Two. The selections are rather choppy, as Mayall offers mostly excerpts and choice moments alongside a few songs left in their entirety, and lots of sloppy British humor. What remains are some earthy live pieces, complete with the band talking onstage, amplifier buzzes, and beyond that, some great off-the-cuff jamming throughout. The diamonds in the rough glow brightly indeed.

Volume One opens with the beautiful haunting interplay of Taylor’s wafting slide, Mayall’s nighttrain harp, and the mournful horn section, searching through “Blood On The Night.” As for Mayall’s scatting, Jagger would do a much better job with the live “Midnight Rambler,” but the vibe here was more relaxed. It is interesting to note the parallels between the horn and guitar playing on the live recordings; it seems some mutual influencing was at work. A nine-minute version of “I Can’t Quit You baby” finds its way amidst silly band introductions and shows off Taylor’s finesse nicely. His tone is so thick you could slice it with a knife. This is followed by a brutal segue of wonderful soloing by Mick interrupted by interviews; it goes solo to interview to solo to interview to solo, dropping out of the middle of some hair-raising instrumental moments!!! In the middle of a jam the volume just drops, and voices kick in! A somewhat sloppy-sounding Keef Harltey is heard explaining to a Dutch fan/interviewer, “Well, maybe the new guitarist will get good and leave as well and start his new group! But, um, that’s the way it goes, you know? It’s surprisin’, every time a guitarist leaves, we always find another one, you know, but they’re always sort of not as good to start off with, but when they’ve been with the band about six months, they’re REALLY brilliant, you know, they get very good, and then they seem to want to leave and make their own groups, which is good for them and bad for us, but there you go...”

This dissertation fades into a spliced medley which contains the dramatically feedback-sustained passages of Taylor’s “Anzio Annie” and “The Lesson” and the Taylor/Mayall “Snowy Wood” interspersed with the Dutch fan asking what became of Green and Clapton, and would Taylor leave too? To which the bandleader good-humoredly replies, “I don’t know, you’d better ask him! I don’ t think so...” Taylor’s stinging Albert King-esque attacks liven up the languidly relaxed and lengthy “My Own Fault,” which follows for 11:27.

Volume Two continues with more of the same mix of British humor and blues. Highlights include Taylor stepping out 6:35 into “The Train” over a heavy drum shuffle, smoothly punctuated with horn jabs. He repeats key melodic phrases to build intensity. Tracks like this clearly foreshadow the type of playing Mick showed off in the Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” end jam. Admittedly, “The Train,” like so many Mayall “compositions,” is not necessarily any display of songwriting genius, but rather a basic structure that enables the players to dig into a virtuoso display. “Soul of a Short Fat Man” is another Taylor-Mayall co-written track; one can only hope Mick was not responsible for the title! The majority of the track is actually a drum solo, with a brief guitar coda at the end. “Crying Shame” is a slow blues that lets Mick build his solo gradually and delicately, working the notes with care. You can sense his deliberation over his solo. He gives way to some horn soloing, but returns at the song’s end to liven up the vocal segments with some flowing, sustained licks. As he stated in Guitar Player (2/80), “I’ve always admired saxophone players, and I try and squeeze out many sorts of saxophone-like things. I’m very heavily influenced by Eddie Harris, John Coltrane - lots of saxophone players.” These live recordings were released in February of 1968, by which time the band had clearly moved from t he lean blues pioneered by the Clapton and Green line-ups to a more horn-oriented jazz-blues sound.

More originals appeared on their studio LPs as Mayall, aided by Taylor, grew more confident in his own vision of the blues, and offered less covers. Mayall was an interesting bandleader at this time; while it was clear that he was in charge, writing the lion’s share of the songs, he gave his players seemingly as much space as they wanted. The live recordings show Taylor stretching out with abandon, either as lead soloist, in duels with Mayall’s harmonica and keyboards, or as a source of fills that added flavor to Mayall’s vocals. Mayall told Guitar Player (8/95) “It was a new regime when Peter (Green) and McVie and Mick Fleetwood left. Luckily, Mick Taylor and Keef Hartley worked well together. We got more and more into extending the numbers the way that jazz players do. We were stretching out, exploring the inner workings of the tunes.”

If one compares this with what the Stones were doing at the time, it is clear that the two bands were worlds apart. While both were steeped in the blues, the Stones were producing tightly honed nuggets that stayed around the three-minute range, working the rhythm of the songs hard and rarely “stretching out.” While Satanic Majesty’s Request was very experimental, it was not necessarily experimental in a virtuosic sense, but rather in the sound effects department. Mayall’s line-up was, as the leader stated, moving more towards jazz, even while playing with some psychedelia and sound effects of their own.

Bare Wires was released by John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers in June of 1968, with the epic 22:54 epic “Bare Wires Suite” taking up half the album. That song (and much of the LP) is a collage of ideas and styles and new production ideas, much of it more about the horn section and new violin flavor than Taylor’s guitar. New drummer Jon Hiseman proves to be a monster player, wonderfully all over the place! The recording quality is crisper than most of Mayall’s efforts, with many trippy effects designed to please headphone listeners. The “Bare Wires Suite” has the following segments: “Bare Wires,” a very brief intro; “Where Did I Belong?”, on which Mick plays some blues chords very lightly. Mick does let rip in “Start Walking,” (or “I Started Walking” as it is listed on the interior sleeve), the 3rd segment of the multi-part suite, the volume leaping noticeably. His intro lick roars out of the stereo, bordering on feedback, very electrified blues. Mick duels sweetly with the horn section in the 4th segment, “Open Up A New Door,” and adds several sharp fills. The horns and drums dominate the remaining parts of the suite; it is an impressive piece of music, wonderful listening, but because the CD does not allow you to skip between its segments, the listener is in for all or nothing! This may be the least immediately accessible release from the Taylor/Mayall era, perhaps because it begins with such a dauntingly lengthy epic, but it is a rewarding album once digested. Mick steps out of the blues patterns established by his predecessors and really comes into his own.

For this release, the jazzier Jon Hiseman replaced Keef Hartley, Tony Reeves replaced Keith Tillman on bass, (Andy Fraser, later of Free, had briefly appeared between) and a third wind player, Henry Lowther, was added to handle cornet as well as violin. Taylor wrote “Hartley Quits,” a foot-stomping blues instrumental that works nicely with the horns. He also co-wrote “No Reply,” on which Mick duels with himself on wah-wah, a funky rhythm in one speaker with a spidery lead running through the other side. Mayall’s “Killing Time” is a slow blues which features some tasty slide with the trainyard tone that Taylor fans adore, and very biting solo with bare fingers on the bare wires, Mick really ripping notes off the neck and shaking some extreme vibrato. Taylor’s control of vibrato was very impressive at this point, freer than it had been on Crusade, a skill he credited to listening to B.B. King and especially Jimi Hendrix.

Two tracks featuring this line-up appeared on the Mayall compilation Primal Solos. The songs are “Look At The Girl” and “Start Walkin’.” The latter number is particularly impressive live, a jazzy, rolling, tumbling shuffle that was one of the middle section of the “Bare Wires Suite.” Here Mayall gets the vocals out of the way quickly to leave Taylor to reach up his sleeve and pull out every trick that he knew. He traverses the fretboard in its entirety, showing a full, jaw-dropping mastery of his instrument. Blinding speed and unorthodox licks show how fully Taylor had evolved; nothing like this would appear during his Stones stint. “Thank you very much, that ends the first lesson!” declares Mayall at the end of this epic display. Mayall included this song on the 1997 compilation The Best of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers: As It All Began 1964-1969.

As seemed to be common with Mayall, the band changed direction around mid-year, dropping the horns and the jazz for the more straightforward four-piece unit which recorded Blues From Laurel Canyon in late August 1968. The Bluesbreakers officially disbanded on July 14th, 1968, a month after the British release of Bare Wires. Whether this was because the stress and cost of the large band was too much, or perhaps because Mayall felt that the jazz and experimental facets of the band were straying too far from the blues, he would go to California with a much smaller band. Bassist Steve Thompson and ex-Zoot Money drummer Colin Allen joined Mayall and Taylor to craft what would be the most rock-oriented release from Taylor’s Mayall years. In the liner notes, Mayall wrote “This boiled down to choosing the right personnel for the new quintet formation. I doubt if there could be a better choice than guitarist Mick Taylor who really shows his brilliance on this new album. He has worked with me longer than any other guitarist I’ve had and I hope that we’ll continue as a team for a long time to come.” Incidentally, the sleeve notes also state that Mick was born in 1949, and perhaps this was where Rolling Stone got their information from!

Mick clearly enjoyed the solid bedrock provided by drummer Colin Allen, who would join him for the 1982 Bluesbreakers reunion tour as well as the 1983-1984 Bob Dylan Infidels album and subsequent Real Live tour/live album experience. Blues From Laurel Canyon is Taylor’s favorite release from his Bluesbreakes stint, and also his favorite line-up. He told Guitar Player (2/80) “It was a nice, tight little four-piece band. It was great! Probably my best and most enjoyable period...I mean that that was when I really felt I was developing as a guitarist, although in some ways there’s probably less guitar on that album.” Laurel Canyon was his final complete studio effort with Mayall, released early in 1969. His playing is marked by the effortless grace and almost liquid flow of notes which would become known as his trademark sound.

“Vacation,” the album’s opening track, jumps off as a guitar assault with wildly bent notes and rapid-fire flurried soloing; the verses and singing are negligible, as the track is mainly a Taylor-made excursion. It fades into the blues shuffle of “Walking on Sunset,” which like many of the other tracks is a paean to the L.A. music scene and California environment that the band had become enamored with. “2401” is a heavy riffing ronka-ronka number that offered a further foreshadowing of the electrified hard blues energy that Taylor would bring to the Stones (think “Stop Breaking Down”); it has a smooth, creamy slide solo to boot. Aching solos are found at the heart of the slow, bluesy “First Time Alone” and “Long Gone Midnight.” The album’s closer, “Fly Tomorrow,” was recently picked by MOJO magazine as having one of the best solos of all time. It offers almost nine minutes of music, developing into a classic rave-up.

Taylor got a chance to see his hero Jimi Hendrix around this time, as the band spent a good deal of time in the States. “I was really into him at the time. In fact, we used to play with him a lot. We played with Jimi Hendrix and Albert King at the old FIllmore West in San Francisco...he just completely blew my mind...the way he switched from rhythm to lead, and his guitar and his voice were almost like the same thing. “ (Guitar Player, 2/80)

Mick elaborated on his admiration for Hendrix and on his experiences with other musicians as a Bluesbreaker in the August 1998 issue of the British The Guitar Magazine: of Hendrix, he said “Awesome guitarist, and an absolutely fantastic blues player. I don’t think a lot of people appreciate that because he didn’t do too many straight blues in his short recording career, which, if you think about it, spanned only four, maybe five years. But listen to Jimi doing “Catfish Blues” and you can hear the raw influence of Muddy Waters and Albert King.

“In John Mayall’s band I was lucky enough to do some shows on the same bill as Hendrix at the Fillmore West - Albert King was playing as well. Seeing Albert King for the first time was unbelievable - someone who had developed completely his own style, left-handed with the guitar strung upside-down. I can remember me and Jimi Hendrix standing together listening to Albert playing. Both of us were in awe of him.

“Jimi was very humble about his own talent but also completely obsessed about playing guitar. I did a show once with him in Zurich and we all got there early. It was quite a show - Traffic were on as well as the Experience, plus some other big acts from that period - and as soon as Jimi got to this small stadium he went backstage and plugged into an amp. He was playing literally for hours before he went on t o do this most amazing show and all the other musicians were watching him with their mouths wide open. It wasn’t just that his technique was like nothing else around at the time; his feel and that timing were awesome too. Completely unique...

“But the other great thing about being a Bluesbreaker was that it didn’t cut you off so much, and that tended to happen a lot in the Stones. I made far more lasting friendships with John Mayall than I did with the Stones simply because touring with Mayall we would spend two weeks in one place playing at a club, and I met lots of musicians - that’s exactly how I met Hendrix. And playing in Greenwich Village at a place called Club A-Go-Go a band did their first-ever gig, playing support for John Mayall - they were Blood, Sweat, and Tears. I also met and jammed with Stephen Stills, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead...so when I did join the Stones, musically, I’d already been round the block a couple of times.”

In early October of 1968, Mick was summoned to play with blues pianist Sunnyland Slim in Los Angeles at Liberty’s studio. They played evening sessions after afternoon recordings with George Smith and the Muddy Waters band were done; Mick appeared for the first session only, October 2nd. With Smith on harmonica and Luther Allison joining Mick on guitars, Slim and the boys recorded a handful of tunes, four of which would end up on his 1969 Liberty Records release Slim’s Got His Thing Goin’ On. “You Used To Love Me” has Mick on crunchy rhythm with Allison taking the lead, but Taylor steps to the forefront on “She’s Got A Thing Going On” and “Substitute Woman.” His solos here are very subdued; he does not cut loose with the distorted fire he employed increasingly with Mayall. His lines are stately and classic, showing his respect for the elder statesmen he was sitting in with.

The re-released CD offers and interesting note regarding the sessions: “The December edition of Blues Unlimited carried a report by a ‘special correspondent’ (probably producer Steve LaVere or perhaps Bob Hite), telling a revealing story about the first session: ‘ - towards the end of the first evening Slim wanted to perform ‘Rolling & Tumbling’ but both Taylor and Allison had a deal of trouble with the tune. Both are much involved with modern blues and have no understanding of pieces in this older, essentially country style...It’s interesting - the difficulty wasn’t racial or anything like that, but generational and perhaps cultural. Allison...is a modern blues musician like Taylor - and he couldn’t grasp the structural peculiarities of the tune any better than could Taylor, a young white Briton.’”

The liner notes also laud Taylor’s lead playing on “Substitute Woman, describing him as “taking a very post-Clapton break.” The final track, “My Past Life,” features very playful rhythm guitar work, not unlike the song “My Baby.” This one’s solo is most likely by Luther Allison.

Mick Taylor had held the record for being the longest-lasting guitarist with the Bluesbreakers, but once again the bandleader decided to change course, this time with the idea of having a drummerless band. This idea did not suit Taylor. Philip Norman, in Symphony For The Devil, states that Mayall would “train up such brilliant pupils only for so long as they threatened no direct rivalry to himself.” He continues that “Mick Taylor realized he had become too good for Mayall’s peace of mind, and that he had better find employment elsewhere. This theory seems unlikely, given the amount of space Mayall would give his players to solo. Mayall’s incessant desire for change would seem to be the cause. It must be said that Taylor was probably ready for a change, too; however, their material had only improved since his joining the band.

Indeed, time has not necessarily been kind to the Bluesbreaker’s legacy. The ‘Beano’ album is established as a classic, of course, but the following albums deserve more mention. The live Bluesbreakers, as the BBC recordings on the 1998 bootleg Beano’s Boys reveals, could hit the heights that other British blues legends like Cream and Fleetwood Mac were and are extensively praised for. John Mayall’s voice is an acquired taste that many still cannot fully digest, it is true, and many of his songs are mere excuses for jams. However, the guitar work on those recordings from three decades ago is still revelatory, and rates right up there with Taylor’s playing from almost any point of his career.

Mick Taylor observes “When I joined the Bluesbreakers, I was still absorbing all the different styles of blues guitar. It was during my time with John that I began to develop my own style a bit. Listening back to some of my Mayall stuff I think that it stands the test of time, especially Blues From Laurel Canyon - but it is quite studied and imitative. John has said that between Eric, Peter, and myself we kind of covered the styles of the three Kings - Eric with Freddie King, Peter with BB; and me with Albert. I can see what he means.” (The Guitar Magazine, 8/98)

Before he left the Bluesbreakers in 1969, Mick was summoned by Mayall producer and blues aficionado Mike Vernon brought Taylor in for the February 3rd and 4th sessions that would be released as Champion Jack Dupree’s Scoobydoobydoo. Dupree was a 59-year-old blues pianist with a colorful history as a player and as a maverick. Scoobydoobydoo finds him in high humor, playing New Orleans-style keyboards and mostly original compositions. Taylor was the sole guitarist on the album, and while the recording is not the lead guitar solo-fest that one might expect after the Mayall albums, his playing is wonderful, tasteful and mature. It shows some different and equally interesting aspects of his style. His rhythm comping on slow blues like “Going back To Louisiana” and “I’ll Try” is punctuated by taut fills that play off the sweet, sad vocals, and in “Blues Before Sunrise,” he peels off a restrained, relaxed solo as well. A funkier side is displayed on “Grandma (You’re A Bit Too Slow)” and “Lawdy, Lawdy,” where his muted chicka-chicka picking drives the band in a syncopated fashion. “Ain’t That A Shame” (not the Fats Domino song covered by Cheap Trick) is a 50’s-ish rock’n’roll number with a very nimble solo that shows that the kid from Hatfield had absorbed his Bill Haley lessons well.

He plays steel guitar on a few other numbers, comping with lots of overdrive on “Postman Blues,” and throwing Elmore James licks into “Stumbling Block,” a fast shuffle that borders on rockabilly with its runaway horse drumming. This type of drumming, called New Orleans “parade style” drumming, is demonstrated by Dupree himself on the galloping instrumental “Puff Puff.” The lap steel slides all over the place on this one as the bandleader huffs and grunts along. A bonus track, “Ba’ La Fouche,” is included on the CD; it has Taylor’s co-writing credit on it, but is largely a recap of “Puff Puff” with an extra guitar track dubbed in. As one lap steel digs at the ears with short repetitive phrases, another heavily echoed and sustained, veers off into the otherworldly domains of the type Jeff Beck explored while playing with the Yardbirds. Though under 2 minutes, this bonus track is outrageous!

He also joined up with his former Bluesbreaker partner Keef Hartley on The Keef Hartley Band’s The Battle of North West Six. Taylor only plays on one track of the drummer’s solo album, the song “Believe In Me.” His playing on this track is textural and supportive; the band’s sound recalls that of Blood, Sweat & Tears or early Chicago. The emphasis is on the horn section, not any lead guitar.

By all credible reports, Taylor’s departure from Mayall was very amicable. Mayall would call on Mick in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, and indeed it seems likely their paths will continue to cross. To get true perspective on Taylor’s incredible performance at that time is difficult. With the vast quantity of musical instruction available to young people these days, it is not uncommon to see teens who are virtuosos. Tablature, computer instruction, a guitar teacher in every town, videos and guitar magazines and computer aids; this on top of the fact that blues and rock’n’roll are everywhere these days, in advertising and restaurants and film. Re-examine what was on the charts at the time that the 17-year-old Mick Taylor was recording Crusade with Mayall. He was truly a prodigy; where this gift for music came from, as with any prodigy, is difficult to say.

Page 2