A few years ago, if you were young and into your tunes, your go-to was an iPod loaded with mp3 files. Today, you’re probably streaming Spotify or maybe Tidal, the current of 1s and 0s rafting you along your own private river. The first records I had (1954 or 1955) came from the grocery store as a promotion: spend a certain amount on your cart of Campbell’s Tomato Soup and Wonder Bread and you were entitled to add in the week’s album in something called The Golden Treasury of the World’s Most Loved Music (or some such) for a nominal extra bit (a buck?). And in those pre-antibiotic days, I spent hours and hours, the shades drawn, as I played Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty over and over in the fevered haze of yet another stretch of tonsillitis. And even when I was a teen, music was still a scarcity to be searched out and not yet the seemingly unlimited archive to be mapped as playlists with the help of algorithms as one dangles by a pair of ear buds from some virtual server.
In the mid-1960s, Amazon was still a river, and in smaller towns, records (if they were sold at all) were to be found in a “music store,” where the real business was selling accordions to parents who hoped their children would join The Lawrence Welk show—then charging the parents for weekly lessons so junior and missy could learn to squeeze boring hits from their parents’ youth when what they wanted to play was something they’d heard on American Bandstand after school. And there, in that badly lit store, the stamped tin ceiling lurking up in the shadows and next to the bins of Tin-Pan-Alley-you-too-can-squeeze-along-who-coulda-ever-thought-this-stuff-was-cool sheet music, there one might find fifty or sixty LPs (mostly classical) and the current hit list of 45s.
A record store? Not in Sebastopol or Calistoga or the other little towns where so many of us grew up. At least not in 1966. But Santa Rosa? That was a different world. A city! In 1966, the population of Santa Rosa was, if memory serves, about 45,000. It had a Department Store (that was where you’re mother bought you the sport coat you didn’t want to wear to church and where you would buy The Hardy Boys books with your allowance if you saved up). And a toy store with real model trains that you could watch run around the layout set up for Christmas shopping. And a Goodwill and a Salvation Army where you could buy books for a quarter while your mother shopped for the clothes that seemed fine to you but you later realized marked you as not quite belonging. And when you were old enough to drive a car you discovered, too, a record store. And, yes, in that non-digital past record stores had booths where you could listen, just like the clothes stores had little closets where you could try things on. And, yes, I did buy John Mayall and the Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton there one afternoon the summer of 1966. And whatever else I don’t remember, I do know I didn’t buy any Lawrence Welk—that day, or later either.
Bruce Eder’s All Music Guide entry for John Mayall & The Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton places this album in Clapton’s development as a guitar artist, and William Ruhman’s All Music Guide entry for Eric Clapton provides an overview of his career. Given Clapton’s later forays into pop, it’s worth remembering that at the time of this album, he’d recently left The Yardbirds because they were moving away from their initial blues repertoire and beginning to experiment with the pop psychedelic stylings that would yield their greatest hits. On John Mayall & The Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, Clapton’s debt to the great Freddie King is very much to the fore, just as his admiration for the great Albert King would become evident in Cream’s remake of “Born Under a Bad Sign.”
- John Mayall & The Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton has often been reissued, both on vinyl and digitally. The mono mix is to be preferred, but mono or stereo, Clapton’s commitment to the material is evident (just as it was when I was playing the LP on a turntable scavenged from a so-called “entertainment center” fed through a Danelectro guitar amplifier).
- a number of Albert King’s influential singles are gathered on the Atlantic set, Born Under a Bad Sign. Don’t think Clapton listened to these sides? Check ’em out.
- The Complete King/Federal Singles (a compilation on the Real Gone label) gathers the sides that Clapton was listening to as he taught himself to play.