As I was heading into John Mayall’s early show at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley last night, my father had an ominous way of reminding me to enjoy the show.
“He could die tomorrow,” he texted me.
Fat chance. The British blues legend was in fine form Thursday, the first of a four-night run at Jazz Alley, as he and his stellar band ripped through a set that was a joyous blues history lesson.
Mayall started the night out by signing CDs before the show began and he looked tired and every one of his 79 years, but stepping onto the stage was transformative. By the time he launched into the first number, Junior Wells’ “Checking On My Baby,” Mayall exuded the energy of a much younger man.
You got the feeling watching Mayall that the reason he still plays 100 shows a year is that he’s just having too much fun to stop. The crowd ate it up when he strapped on a guitar and growled out a menacing version of The Standells’ “Dirty Water” that featured some impressively intricate guitar interplay with lead guitarist Rocky Athas.
Make no mistake, it was Mayall’s show, but the Texan contemporary of Stevie Ray Vaughan managed to steal it a couple of times by coaxing the the kind of soulful, searing solos fans of Texas blues love out of his Les Paul.
A highlight was the slow-rolling “Blues For Last Days,” which had Mayall congratulating Athas with a handshake afterward, such was the fury of the extended Texas guitar hurricane he unleashed.
Mayall tipped his cap to the Northwest by closing with Curtis Salgado’s “The Sum of Something” before coming back out for an encore with the crowd-pleasing “Hideaway,” the Freddie King hit that Mayall recorded with Eric Clapton in 1966.
To borrow from Charles Portis, a little of the starch might have left Mayall’s white mane, but he proved Thursday these are not his last days for blues. My father and blues fans can rest easy.
Mayall’s Jazz Alley run continues tonight through Sunday.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails