A rock star? Well, yes, but John Mayer is a great singer, composer of brilliant songs and a rather fantastic blues player too, says Les Davidson.
Les Davidson looks at a player who tops the pop charts and plays killer blues – John Mayer.
John Mayer was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in the Usa but raised in nearby Fairfield. He attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston but didn’t complete his course. Alongside Clay Cook, he settled in Atlanta, Georgia and formed a band called The Low-Fi Masters. Although this set-up was short-lived, Mayer soon set about building a name for himself in the local area playing in clubs and bars.
By 2001 he had a record deal, first with Aware Records then Columbia Records. He released two albums, Room For Squares (2001) and Heavier Things (203), both of which achieved multi-platinum sales and he won a Grammy in 2003 for his vocal performance on the single Your Body Is A Wonderland.
Mayer’s original musical influences included Stevie ray Vaughan, BB King, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, so it came no great surprise when during the mid-noughties he released first a rock-blues live album Try! (2005) with Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino (a tip of the hat toward Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys), and then Continuum (2006), an album steeped in the blues.
Since then, Mayer has played along side many of his blues heroes and has been a guest at Eric Clapton’s’ Crossroads Festival, notably performing with Clapton Cream’s version of Robert Johnson’s Crossroad Blues (Crossroads). But it’s clear that while Mayer is a big fan of the blues, he certainly has his own blues guitar voice. Like Hendrix he’s a master of slipping in really cool fills between vocal lines – often playing complex licks while singing; a very tricky feat indeed!
As always, take time to build up the necessary stamina and articulation to play these pieces. There are many ways to build up to the required tempo but I’d suggest you first attempt to play these ideas at full tempo, even if you can only manage the first couple of bars. Reduce the speed by all means, and add the next few notes or even a single note – then take it back up to tempo, being careful to play the notes cleanly and accurately.
This way you’re making progress by expanding the duration of an idea rather than playing an entire phrase at a fraction of the desired speed. Picking is ‘down up down up’ unless otherwise stated but Mayer sometimes uses just thumb and first finger.
John Mayer’s original musical influences include Stevie ray Vaughan, BB king, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix and eric clapton.
John Mayer playing a beaten up Fender Strat