John Mayall had no goal other than “to make a normal blues album” with “A Special Life,” his first studio album in five years. Which is what the veteran artist and bandleader has done over the course of his 51-year recording career.
“Any time I make an album, I’m going to do something of my own, always do an update of where I’ve been — the songs or the subject matter — and just go from there,” Mayall tells Billboard. “I can’t think of anything else that I might be doing. Once I got started in the business, so to speak, it kind of took care if itself and there wasn’t any other choice. Fortunately, music is one of those things that it doesn’t matter what your age is; as long as you’re physically capable of performing, then of course that’s the way to go. And if you start adding it up, after 50 years, it’s obviously quite a career.”
Mayall recorded “A Special Life,” his first release for Forty Below Records, during a three-day session with his band during November at Entourage Studios in North Hollywood. It features four originals — one written by band members Greg Rzab and Rocky Athas — plus covers of songs by Jimmy Rogers, Albert King, Sonny Landreth and others. Mayall’s band is also bolstered by accordionist C.J. Chenier on several tracks, including a version of his father Clifton Chenier’s “Why Did You Go Last Night” that kicks off the album. Listen to it below:
“That was one of the songs I’ve always had a fondness for,” Mayall says. “In fact, we used to play it when Jack Bruce was in the band, so it goes that far back, and it’s far less Zydeco than straightahead blues. I thought it was a perfect time to approach C.J.; his father wrote and sang the song originally, and he was available, so I just contacted him. I hadn’t met him before, but he flew in for the day and we nailed it. It was a really great experience.”
Mayall and his band are currently in Germany and wrap up its European tour on April 19 in London. North American dates begin May 23 in Napa, Calif., with shows booked into September at this point. Mayall is also working on more releases for his Private Stash live recording series, including some that will make longtime fans particularly happy.
“I finally got ahold of some tapes that were made in the ’60s of the lineup when Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood were in the band,” Mayall says. “I’ll give those a listen, so that’ll probably be the next one on Private Stash. That’s a rare slice of history, just remarkable. That band was on fire. It’s a wonderful piece of history.”