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.

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A couple of days after Levon Helm, drummer, singer and key member of The Band, the legendary rock group of the 1960s and 70s (and then again the 80s and the 90s), died in the middle of last month, I got to hear a podcast that excerpted two radio interviews with Helm—one from 1993 and the other 2007. There was a distinct difference in Helm’s voice between the two interviews. In the 1993 interview he sounded exactly like he did on The Weight. Remember The Weight? I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin’ about half past dead;/ I just need some place where I can lay my head. “Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?”/ He just grinned and shook my hand, and “No!”, was all he said. What a gorgeous song that is. The vocals were shared by three of The Band’s singers. Besides Helm, there was Richard Manuel and Rick Danko. The song itself was written by guitarist Robbie Robertson who, I read somewhere, was inspired by the films of Luis Bunuel to write The Weight. Read more

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When a Facebook friend sent a Dropbox link to a mixtape called San Francisco Dues, I just had to explore what it was all about. San Francisco Dues is a Chuck Berry album that was released 40 years ago  and any mixtape that evokes Berry needs to be given a listen to post haste! So I wasted no time in downloading the mixtape and to my most pleasant surprise, it turned out to be a bonanza. But before that, a bit about Dropbox. Do you use it? I’ve just started and I can’t stop raving about this most convenient way to ferry your files to wherever you want on whatever device you like or happen to have with you. In more technical terms it is a Web-based file hosting service that uses cloud computing to enable users to store and share files and folders across multiple devices as well as with other people. Read more

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You are unlikely to find a rock musician who works harder than Warren Haynes. The 51-year-old lead guitarist and singer works in three bands – Gov’t Mule, which he fronts, The Allman Brothers Band where he plays the lead guitar along with, Derek Trucks, his own solo projects, as well as occasional stints with Phil Lesh & Friends. How the man manages to do all of that for outfits that tour like maniacs – most of these bands mainly play live gigs (sometimes more than a 100 shows a year) and record very few studio albums – is a mystery. Yet Haynes, who was featured at No. 23 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, powers on, shuffling his dates between bands and, as he did recently, makes time to record studio albums as well. Read more

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I don’t know exactly what I was doing on March 12 and 13, 1971 except that I was not-yet-a-teenager studying in Class 6 in a Calcutta school. Of course, I had not even the faintest idea that on the other side of the planet on those two dates, rock history was being made as a band played what is one of the best live concert recordings that I have heard. On those two nights, at New York’s Fillmore East venue, The Allman Brothers Band played two gigs that were later turned (along with another gig there that they played in June the same year) into The Fillmore Concerts album. Read more

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What’s worse than being jet-lagged? Being jet-lagged and hung-over. So it was last Saturday, around noon, when I woke up with minor explosions going on inside my head, non-stop. Now, I have friends who’ve told me about several remedies for hangovers—ones that they even swear by—such as drinking a Bloody Mary; several cups of black coffee; an Alka-Seltzer or two or three and so on. To be honest, I have tried all of these and more and none really ever worked. So, with my head feeling like it was being pounded from inside, I took a risk and reached out for The Black Keys’ new album, Brothers, and pushed the play button. Joy is what followed. Read more

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