My vinyl copies of two of John Mayall’s albums, The Turning Point and Empty Rooms, are long gone. I don’t remember how I lost them or who borrowed them and never returned them – a common enough way to lose albums in the 1980s when I still used to lend music to others (now I simply share files).

Both the albums came out in 1969 but I got to listen to them several years later. Mayall, the legendary English bluesman in whose band, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, big names such as Eric Clapton, Peter Green, John McVie and Jack Bruce cut their teeth in the 1960s, turned 81 in 2014. That’s the year he also released a new album, A Special Life. Listen to that album and you’ll see why he’s still the boss of British blues.

On A Special Life, Mayall sings a number of covers but his own song, World Gone Crazy, which is about the effects of religious intolerance, is the album’s must-listen track. Listening to it, I wanted to listen again to the two albums that I lost years ago. I have them in digital formats and in the cloud but it’s not the same thing. I heard them but missed the vinyls with their sleeves, album art and the text.

On The Turning Point (a live recording) and Empty Rooms (a studio album), Mayall had done away with loud electric guitars and drums and relied on horns, flutes, acoustic guitars and bass guitars that made the two albums sound spare but tight and intense.

Also watch: John Mayall 80th anniversary tour “full concert” – Marseille 2014

Turning Point has songs influenced by the zeitgeist of the 1960s – the politically charged The Laws Must Change and I’m Gonna Fight for You JB, a tribute to JB Lenoir, a black American bluesman who died in 1967 and whose songs dealt with issues of politics and racism.

On Empty Rooms also there are signs of the charged-up 1960s (Plan Your Revolution) but there are also several mellow love songs (Thinking of My Woman, To a Princess, Many Miles Apart) that strike a very intimate and personal note.

On Apple Music, I found Simla Beat '70, it has tracks from forgotten Indian rock bands.

I have heard quite a few Mayall albums (his discography is long; and his band line-ups have changed frequently) and his style of blues is quite heavily influenced by the Chicago blues sound – with themes dealing with city life (my reco on the leading exponents of the genre to explore: Muddy Waters, Hound Dog Taylor, Howlin’ Wolf and Koko Taylor but there are dozens of others). Like his compatriots, The Rolling Stones, Mayall’s music is highly influenced by the American blues but unlike the Stones, he stuck to the blues mainstream.

Re-hearing the two old albums, rekindled the blues bug and I spent hours trying to locate the 40th Anniversary Collection of Alligator Records CDs that I knew I’d bought a few years back. A renowned blues label, Alligator marked its 40th anniversary with the release of a 2-CD set with 38 songs.

As it happened, I couldn’t find it. I knew I had it. I knew I hadn’t lent it to anyone but yet I couldn’t find it. Then I remembered that I’d bought it just after it came out via Amazon back in 2011 and that my account in Amazon’s Music Storage in the cloud would have all the albums that I ever bought from the website plus all of what else I’d uploaded.

So, right now, as I write this, the Alligator album is streaming off the cloud. And exactly at this point, it’s Charlie Musselwhite, the phenomenally talented harmonica player doing Where Hwy 61 Runs.

Also watch: JJ Grey & Mofro – The Sun Is Shining Down

It’s a fine album, the 40th Anniv from Alligator Records. It’s got a mix of old blues musicians as well as the new. So you have Hound Dog and Buddy Guy and Albert Collins sharing an album with newer performers in the genre such as JJ Grey & Mofro, Janiva Magness (listen to her Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Love) and Eric Lindell, a New Orleans-based bluesman whose guitar has a healthy proclivity to jam!

While I’m talking of streaming, cloud storage and so on, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’ve been trying out Apple Music, the new music streaming service.

First, it’s dirt cheap (Rs 120 per month for unlimited streaming after the three-month free trial); second, I get to hear a 24×7, always on radio (this morning at 7.30, Elton John was DJ-ing); and third, I can find almost anything I want to. Or at least that’s what I decided to challenge.

I looked for an ancient psych-rock band from my old hometown (then called Calcutta), Great Bear. They played gigs in the city way back in the early 1970s. I found them. Not only that, I found two albums, Simla Beat ’70 and Psych Rock from India. Both are crammed with tracks from forgotten old Indian rock bands. Worth checking out. In heaps.

Download Central appears every fortnight

Follow @sanjoynarayan on Twitter
Download PDF

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (2 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

Ever since iTunes opened up its store to customers in India, it has been bliss for me. I can now buy music at very reasonable prices – songs for as low as R12 and in some cases, even full albums for a dirt cheap R30. The opening up of the iTunes Store was the best thing to have happened for Indian music lovers but some of us, especially of the grey-haired (or, no-haired) vintage, the real deal is often all about buying the album in its physical, touchable form. There is a certain something about peeling off the plastic and opening up the jewel case of a new CD that digitally downloaded albums just can’t match. Read more

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

There are some musicians that you want to kick yourself for not discovering earlier. And the desire to plant the sole of your shoe firmly on your own behind is intensified if the musician happened to have been right under your nose and yet you didn’t notice. Sugar Blue is one such musician that I wish I’d discovered much earlier than I did, which happened to be just a couple of weeks back. Sugar Blue plays the harmonica. In fact, he is dizzyingly good at it. But more about him in just a minute. Read more

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

When one of your favourite pieces of music becomes Muzak, piped into an elevator or played in the background at an airport, you can sometimes feel indignant. When I heard the Garcia-Hunter track, Crazy Fingers (off The Grateful Dead’s 1975 album, Blues for Allah) playing in a muted sort of way at an American airport, I was genuinely upset. I mean, come on, when we used to listen to that album it had to be in a darkened room, everybody had to be quiet and the use of additives was, well, let’s just say not actively discouraged. And here I was at a bustling JFK terminal and I could almost hear the late Jerome J Garcia’s voice going “Your rain falls like crazy fingers/ Peals of fragile thunder keeping time/Recall the days that still are to come some sing blue….” and so on. Only it wasn’t him singing but a synthesized, unreal sounding electronic tune of the song. Read more

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...