john may­all

The blues veteran talks gui­tars, play­ing by feel and the rest­less Eric Clap­ton

Total Guitar - - MONITOR -

“I have never learned to read or write mu­sic. I can’t even play a scale...”

Got my first real six string

“I don’t re­mem­ber the first gui­tar that I had. My fa­ther was a gui­tar player so I strug­gled around on his. The ac­tion was a lit­tle high for me so it wasn’t some­thing that I could re­ally get my teeth into. He had an old gui­tar that he wasn’t us­ing so I took the bot­tom two strings off and used it as a four-string gui­tar. I was able to man­age on that for a while. The first gui­tar that I got for my­self was when I was in the army and on leave in Tokyo. It was called a Wel­done.”


“I never had a dream gui­tar. I’ve never taken much in­ter­est in gui­tars for what make they are or what cre­den­tials they have. If it feels good then that is all that mat­ters to me. That first gui­tar that I bought from Tokyo, the ac­tion on it was fine for me and it played in tune and all that. That gui­tar is ac­tu­ally fea­tured on the cover of TheBluesAlone al­bum. I did all of the carv­ings on it. I don’t col­lect gear, I just stick to what I am us­ing at the time. I think over the years I have only had about half a dozen gui­tars. The one I am us­ing now is a semi-acous­tic. It’s a 1957 Gib­son hol­low­body. That’s what I’ll bring to the UK with me on tour.”

Go your own way

“I don’t think any­one has ever given me a piece of ad­vice about play­ing gui­tar. Not any spe­cific ad­vice, any­way. For me, an in­stru­ment is some­thing that gives you the op­por­tu­nity to re­flect what you are feel­ing. That is all that play­ing gui­tar is about. I don’t know how to judge my­self as a gui­tarist. I have never learned to read or write mu­sic. I can’t even play a scale. The gui­tar is just a tool to get across how I am feel­ing so I just do the best that I can with it. I don’t re­ally have any tech­nique that is any­thing to write home about.”

I’m the man

“Be­ing a band­leader is nat­u­ral to me. I can’t imag­ine work­ing any other way. I love that po­si­tion. Be­ing a band­leader you have a free­dom to call the shots. If some­thing is not work­ing very well then you find the rea­son for it and if it is down to the mu­si­cians that you are play­ing with or if there is dis­sat­is­fac­tion any­where along the line then you go with your in­stincts.”

Me and my friends

“Eric [Clap­ton] is fan­tas­tic, he and I got on so well and I think it showed in the mu­sic. But, he’s a rest­less per­son and he was find­ing his own roots back then. When he left the Blues­break­ers he wanted to ex­plore his own po­ten­tial, which he has done ever since. Peter Green was very in­sis­tent that he was bet­ter than any­one else that I was us­ing in the band after Eric had left. There was a dif­fer­ent gui­tar player ev­ery night and Peter was one of those who was sure he was bet­ter than the oth­ers and I should give him a try. I did give him a try and we all know what hap­pened after that. He was great. All of the gui­tar play­ers that I have cho­sen to work with have some­thing that sets them apart from each other. I think that the in­di­vid­u­al­ity of the per­former is the most im­por­tant thing.”


“There isn’t a sin­gle gui­tar part from my ca­reer that I would go back and change. I think they are all very im­por­tant. It’s like a form of mu­si­cal di­ary. As soon as I hear them it brings back mem­o­ries from a par­tic­u­lar time in my life. As long as it does that then they will all re­main very pre­cious to me.” John May­all’s UK tour starts on 17 Oc­to­ber

John May­all: Blues­breaker, band­leader and the boss

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