John Mayall is an often overlooked and misunderstood musical figure who began his career in the 1960s. Remembered by many casual fans as simply the namesake for the band that helped launch the careers of guitarists Peter Green and Mick Taylor and provided a safe haven for Eric Clapton while he escaped from the limiting pop-sound that The Yardbirds had moved towards. But Mayall was much more than just a stopover for blues hungry musicians on their way to bigger things. He was a Godfather of the British blues movement and had a long career both before and after his many young guitar prodigies had long ago left his band.
Throughout the '60s Mayall flew in the face of conventional music. He refused to comprise his blues-stance and play what was popular at the time. Live at the Marquee 1969 (Eagle Records) captures Mayall at one of his most musically-rebellious stands, almost forsaking the blues-movement he had embraced for so long. Dispensing with a traditional lineup, Mayall put together a group that included no drummer and no lead guitarist, instead focusing on the deep textures and subtle rhythms of the blues with a stripped down crew.
Playing with whispered authority, the power of this group was not in the songs themselves but in the moments of pure improvisation that they exploded into. With no drummer and no true lead guitarist, the band is powered along by Mayall's occasional harp flourishes and gentle guitar. Sax man Johnny Almond provides the perfect counter to Mayall's restrained touches, with horn lines that detonate with a riotous fire. The brief set is highlighted by a snippet of Cream's Sunshine of Your Love" that sneaks into So Hard to Share" for a brief moment before dissolving.
While Live at the Marquee 1969 represents a unique and often forgotten period in Mayall's long career, it is an era that has been represented better on other releases (most notably 1969's The Turning Point). Live at the Marquee 1969 is a solid release completists will surely clamor for, but it is by no means required listening.