John Mayall

Years ago I had the chance to hear Robert Lockwood Jr. a few times in a small club in Cleveland. My mother had just died, or was about to, and I was in the midst of a series of trips to be with her and then to deconstruct the house. Lockwood was the same generation as my mother, 91, a few months away from dying, and a link to the past as the only guitarist to have learned to play from Robert Johnson and, later, as a collaborator with Sonny Boy Williamson II. on the King Biscuit radio show. Why he preferred Cleveland to Chicago I don’t know. He’d show up at Fat Fish Blue, several nights a week I believe, across the street from the Terminal Tower (now called Tower Center, where the Republicans had the convention that nominated Donald Trump), sit down, and play. Doing what he did

I saw Big Mama Thornton once too, no longer big, sitting in a chair in the Pub at UCSD, brought there by a local musician friend, to do what she did. Most of the children (I mean college students) had no idea who she was, had no idea what it meant when she sang Hound Dog. I had no idea she’d be there when I walked in looking for a beer, serendipity I guess. And she wasn’t well, she died at 57 and this can’t have been much before that, she only looked old, older than Lockwood when I saw him.

Last week I saw John Mayall at The Belly Up in Solana Beach, the same place I saw X the week before. X had a good time, fortieth anniversary tour, perhaps planning to keep going until at least one of them dropped. Mayall just needs Mayall. These aren’t his glory years, if he ever had them, he doesn’t have Eric Clapton or Harvey Mandel in his band now, just a bass and drums behind him and an organ, guitar, and harmonica in front, sometimes two at once. He’s 83, and I guess you’d know it, or think he was at least 60, but maybe only for his attitude. Here’s what I thought: he has nothing to prove, he just does what he does. And for all I know that’s the way to stay alive.

The contrast with the X show was interesting. The members of X are all about a decade younger than me, Mayall a decade older. (For reference, I’m slightly older than Mick and Keith, and a few years younger–this surprised me–than Grace Slick. If you don’t know who I’m talking about you probably need to ask your parents.) Mayall’s audience skewed older than most I’ve seen at the Belly Up (though Billy Bob Thornton’s audience wasn’t terribly young either): I didn’t feel out of place, and they didn’t pat us down on the way in. X sold out two nights and the line to get in was horrid; Mayall played one night, and it was walk right in. Both X and Mayall are arguably important in the history of rock, but influence is not popularity, perhaps the reverse if the size of Pere Ubu’s audience last December at the Casbah is an indication.

Greg Douglass, Barry Melton, Peter Albin, David Aguilar, and Roy Blumenthal (on drums)

On Saturday I drove to Venice Beach in LA for the Venice Beach Music Festival. I didn’t know what to expect but, as I told a couple of friends recently, I feel as though if I can go from music to music I’ll be fine. I hadn’t been to Venice for about 40 years, the last a time I almost rented an apartment right on the Boardwalk (which doesn’t seem to have any boards, but that’s not important). The drive was bad, the parking worse, I walked a mile from my car to the beach. I didn’t start listening to the Festival music right away, walking the length of the Boardwalk to see if I could find the place I almost lived (no luck). There were musicians everywhere, craft artists, lots of signs that said things like “no free photos,” and a topless protest parade that passed within feet of me almost before I noticed. This group was followed closely by a less attractive group of religious zealots shouting what you might expect. One sign said something like “Ask me why you deserve hell.” Those guys were followed by a few police officers, to keep the peace I assume, and an incidental indication of legitimacy.

Greg Douglass, Denise Kaufman, Barry Melton

After the walk, a bathroom line, and a sandwich, I got back to the festival stage just in time to hear more old folks–my age group, my generation, this time–having fun, Barry Melton’s San Francisco All-Stars. Barry Melton is the “fish” of Country Joe and the Fish. In his band were Greg Douglass (Steve Miller), now a Del Dios resident where I used to live, Denise Kaufman (Ace of Cups), Peter Albin (Big Brother), Roy Blumenthal (Blues Project), and David Aguilar (broad resume). Seeing these guys made me happy. I love lead guitar and harmonica more than anything, and Greg Douglass and Denise Kaufman were terrific. No one played like they had anything to prove, and it was grand.

A little later the Festival headliners, The Strawberry Alarm Clock came on, suffering a little from their repertoire.

Strawberry Alarm Clock

And, just because I have it, and because if you’ve gotten this far you deserver it, here’s a photo of The Head and the Heart (a Seattle band my daughter and granddaughter like) singing California Dreaming with Michelle Phillips at Monterey Pop 50.

The Head and the Heart with Michelle Phillips

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