The eighty-four-year-old Mayall isn’t laying down or playing for a retirement check. I saw him in Washington, DC in 2014 and again in Richmond, VA in 2016. In between those two shows we had a nice phone chat about his music and his legacy. Humble and reserved, he came across more like a blue collar working man than The Godfather of the British Blues. Before the DC show he told me “We’re going to cook tonight.” And he delivered in spades.
He managed to top that energy level in 2016 at The Tin Pan, a show that saw not only virtuosic performances from his four-piece unit, but also included moments of laugh-out-loud comedy as Mayall and company played loose goosey. At one point, Mayall was scatting, and as an audience member passed in front of the stage on the way to the restroom Mayall began pointing and scatting at him as if he were a nagging housewife. The crowd ate it up. The show was a barn burner.
Fast forward to 2018. Mayall has retooled and stripped the four-piece down to a trio, with the emphasis shifted to Mayall’s keyboards, harp and guitar skills. Gone is Texas guitar picker Rocky Athas, a fine player in his own right. But the retooling shows us, if anything, Mayall’s willingness to reinvent himself. Legacy acts don’t like to tinker with what’s working. Mayall looks at it and says, “I wonder what it would be like if we tried this?” It is what makes Mayall still vital to the blues in 2018.
Three for the Road documents that the Godfather of Brit Blues is alive and doing well, thank you very much. He is bolstered by Greg Rzab on bass, and Jay Davenport on drums. They are in lockstep with their boss and intuitively anticipate his every move.
“Big Town Playboy” jumpstarts the proceedings. The song tells the tale of a man who refuses to get a job, much to the consternation of his girlfriend. The central character sees himself as a freewheeling playboy-type, although the listener sees through his false persona immediately. Mayall plays the harp and piano simultaneously and is clearly enjoying himself.
“The Sum of Something” is a mid-tempo number featuring a tasty drum solo courtesy of Jay Davenport and a rollicking ramble on the keyboards by Mr. Mayall. Underneath it all Greg Rzab’s bass line provides a steady foundation for the band to build on. Mayall closes out the album with “Congo Square,” one of Sonny Landreth’s most covered songs. Overall the record is a load of fun and a testament to a man who has made blues music his life’s mission. At this point Mayall could be retired and enjoying the fruits of his labors, but he still has the urge to create and, in doing so, continues to teach us all about following our dreams.