Album Review: John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – Live in 1967 Volume 3

Though the movement got its start in the 1950s thanks to pioneers Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner – both of whom were greatly influenced by American blues records – the British blues boom of the 1960s had John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers at its epicenter. An astounding number of notable musicians – making their names in both rock and blues idioms – passed through the ranks of Mayall’s band. Time in the Bluesbreakers wasn’t just creatively fulfilling for these musicians; the Bluesbreakers provided a kind of proving ground for their future endeavors.

From its start in 1963 through to current day (at age 89, Mayall continues to record and perform), the Bluesbreakers have seen well over 100 musicians pass through the group’s ranks. Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton both served under Mayall (though not at the same time only briefly) before forming Cream. Dick Heckstall-Smith, Jon Hiseman and Tony Reeves launched ambitious jazz/blues ensemble Colosseum after their time together in Mayall’s band. Mick Taylor was only 17 when he joined the group as lead guitarist; his time with Mayall raised his profile and eventually helped him land a spot in the Rolling Stones.

But the group of ex-Bluesbreakers that went on to play the purest and most exciting brand of the blues was Fleetwood Mac. Years before the group (with a very different lineup) became leaders of the soft rock movement with their landmark 1977 album Rumours, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac (as it was originally known) delivered a fiery, impassioned blues.

Green had been a full member of Mayall’s group since taking over for Eric Clapton, who left the band to start Cream with Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. Green’s work on A Hard Road arguably bested what Clapton had done on Mayall’s so-called “Beano” LP. The rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie was only part of the Bluesbreakers with Green for a very brief period (April to June 1967), and never recorded an album together. That four-piece would release only one single, a reading of Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble” backed by a cover of Elmore James classic “It Hurts Me Too.”

The a-side of that 45 was a highlight of the short-lived lineup’s set list. It and seven other tunes would be captured in a series of live recordings from that year. Select tracks from several different 1967 gigs – one at the Manor House, another at the Ram Jam, one at the band’s regular haunt Klook’s Kleek and a Bromley date – form the core of Live in 1967 Volume 3.

The audio quality on this new collection is far from pristine; Mayall’s vocal and Fleetwood’s drumming both come through sounding a bit thin. But McVie’s lyrical, rock-solid bass work shines through, and even with its sonic shortcomings, the set sizzles.

That quality is largely thanks to the incendiary fretwork of Peter Green. At the top of his game, Green served up searing leads, showcasing his take on the Chicago brand of blues. Whether it’s the slow-to-the-breaking-point blues of “Tears in My Eyes” or the lead guitar showcase of “Greeny,” the band is on fire. Mayall’s harmonica and keyboards are always tasteful, and the quartet is whip-smart and tight on “Your Funeral and My Trial.”

The highlights of Live in 1967 Volume 3 come toward the end: Freddie King’s “The Stumble” had been the high point of A Hard Road, released the previous February; Green’s complete command of his instrument is highlighted even more so on this live recording. And at nearly five minutes (two more than its studio counterpart) there’s even more to love in this version of “The Stumble.” Unsurprisingly, the crowd goes wild. The collection wraps up with a performance of “Double Trouble,” a smoky take on the song that more than doubles the length of the single.

Because Live in 1967 Volume 3 is a compilation, it might have programmed better with “The Stumble” closing the set. But the recording of “Double Trouble” ends with a quick band introduction over the crowd’s cheering, so placing it at the end makes sense as well.