On July 22, 1966, John Mayall released his second album and the first as "John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers" - "Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton".
"Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton" is an iconic album that not only marks a pivotal point in Eric Clapton's career but also leaves an indelible impact on the history of blues and rock music and on the sound and use of the electric guitar.
This influential album may have not been put together if not for Eric Clapton's passion for blues. In March 1965, Eric Clapton and "the Yardbirds" achieved their first major hit with "For Your Love". The song's commercial success led the band to shift towards a pop-oriented sound, which frustrated Clapton, a dedicated blues musician. He left "The Yardbirds" on the day of the song's release.
After departing from "the Yardbirds", Eric Clapton joined "John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers" in April 1965. It was right after the release of John Mayall's first album, the live recording "John Mayall Plays John Mayall. This union brought together two blues virtuosos, Mayall's soulful vocals and masterful bluesmanship, and Clapton's unparalleled guitar skills., further establishing Eric Clapton's reputation as a blues guitarist of exceptional talent.
Following the success of his first album, John Mayall intended his second album to be a continuation of the live recording approach. The idea was to capture the electrifying guitar solos performed by Eric Clapton during their live shows. With Clapton on board, Mayall saw an opportunity to showcase the brilliance of Clapton's guitar work through a live album.
To bring this concept to life, a live set was recorded at the famous "Flamingo Club" in London. The lineup featured Eric Clapton on lead guitar, John Mayall on vocals and keyboards, and Jack Bruce on bass, who would later join forces with Clapton in the legendary supergroup "Cream". The anticipation for the album was high, given the outstanding talent of the musicians involved.
Unfortunately, despite the promising setup, the recorded live performances suffered from technical issues and poor sound quality. The subpar recordings failed to capture the true essence of Clapton's electrifying guitar solos and the band's captivating chemistry. Due to these quality concerns, John Mayall and the band made a difficult decision to abandon the live album concept. Instead, they opted to head into a studio setting to recreate the powerful energy and intensity of their live performances while ensuring the fidelity and clarity of the recordings.
Undeterred by the setback, the band entered the studio with a slightly different lineup to record "Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton". John Mayall on piano, Hammond organ, harmonica, and most vocals; bassist John McVie; drummer Hughie Flint and Clapton on guitars and vocals, the band meticulously crafted each track, capturing the raw emotion and dynamic interplay between the band members. Despite the change of plans, the studio recordings managed to retain the spirit and spontaneity that characterized their live shows, resulting in a remarkable studio achievement.
Throughout the album, Clapton's guitar work takes center stage, with a thick, crunching, creamy but powerful sound that was never heard before. In order to achieve that sound, Clapton had to change his gear. He bought a sunburst 1960 "Gibson Les Paul Standard" with two PAF humbucking pickups. Now Clapton was equipped with a guitar whose tone was far from mellow. Its construction and potent humbucking pickups could push an amplifier into unexplored territories of distortion and sustained notes. To complete the set Clapton had to find a mind-blowingly, devilishly powerful amplifier that could unleash the raw fury of his guitar. The answer came from a small music shop in west London owned by Jim Marshal. Musicians in the UK were looking for more powerful amps like the Fender Bassman amp. Since the Fender Bassman amp was rare and expensive, Jim Marshal asked his repairman Ken Bran to build one, and he Did. It was the UK version of "the Bassman". The Marshall 45 watt 2x12 combo, later known as "Marshall Bluesbreaker". And when Clapton plugged in his new Les Paul into the "Marshall Bluesbreaker", the result was nothing less than astonishing!!!
(Photo: Michael Putland)
The 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard, delivered a mesmerizing array of tones. The two PAF humbucking pickups in his guitar produced a warm, rich sound that beautifully complemented his impassioned playing style. Underpinning Clapton's guitar wizardry was the unmistakable sound of his 1962 Marshall JTM45 combo amplifier, modified by Jim Marshall to provide more gain. This setup gave Clapton the power and distortion he needed to craft his distinctive blues-rock sound. The resulting combination of Clapton's Beano Les Paul and the modified Marshall amp would become the blueprint for countless aspiring guitarists seeking to recreate the same magic.
"Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton" had a profound impact on the blues and rock music landscape. It became a definitive representation of the British blues movement of the 1960s, inspiring a generation of musicians to delve deeper into the blues genre and experiment with its fusion into Rock music and later even Metal.
While the album didn't achieve massive commercial success, its significance as a guitar-oriented blues record and its enduring influence on subsequent generations of musicians cannot be overstated. Guitar enthusiasts and aficionados consistently praise Clapton's emotive and technically brilliant solos, considering them a gold standard for blues and rock guitar playing.
In retrospective evaluations, "Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton" often receives accolades as one of the greatest blues albums of all time. Its impact on popularizing blues-rock, coupled with Clapton's remarkable guitar skills, solidified its place in music history. Numerous publications, including "Rolling Stone" and "Guitar World", have recognized it as an essential recording for any serious guitar lover. In 2003 the album was ranked number 195 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". It was also voted number 391 in Colin Larkin's "All-Time Top 1000 Albums" and Robert Dimery included the album in his book "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die".