‘The Beano Album’: John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers And Eric Clapton Create A Classic

Affectionately known as ‘the Beano album,’ Bluesbreakers forever changed the landscape of rock music.

Published on

The Bluesbreakers album
The Bluesbreakers pose for a portrait in 1966 in London, England. L-R: John Mayall, Hughie Flint, Eric Clapton, John McVie. (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images )

In 1965, British blues artist John Mayall enlisted Eric Clapton – then a rising guitar virtuoso – to join his band, the Bluesbreakers. While their musical partnership would only last for one album, the guitarist’s imprint was mighty. Affectionately known as “the Beano album” (as it features Clapton reading the British comic on its jacket cover), 1966’s Bluesbreakers forever changed the landscape of rock music.

In 1965, 20-year-old Eric Clapton was already one of the UK’s most buzzed-about guitarists. His distinctive guitar stylings reflected his love of American blues music and were particularly influenced by artists like Freddie King, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King. After two years of playing with the Yardbirds, however, Clapton found himself dissatisfied with the group’s shift towards a pop-forward sound and left to join the UK’s premier pure blues outfit, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.

uDiscover Music Store - Rock
ADVERTISEMENT
uDiscover Music Store - Rock
ADVERTISEMENT
uDiscover Music Store - Rock
ADVERTISEMENT
uDiscover Music Store - Blues
ADVERTISEMENT
uDiscover Music Store - Blues
ADVERTISEMENT
uDiscover Music Store - Blues
ADVERTISEMENT

A fixture on the British blues scene

Mayall – a guitarist, singer, keyboardist, and harmonica player – had been a fixture in the British blues scene for more than a decade, and had recently relocated from Manchester to London to take advantage of the capital’s buzzing blues scene. In 1963 he formed the Bluesbreakers, alongside drummer Peter Ward (soon replaced by Martin Hart, followed by Hughie Flint), bassist John McVie (of future Fleetwood Mac fame), and guitarist Bernie Watson (replaced shortly after by Roger Dean). While the band, which still exists today, underwent a record-breaking amount of lineup changes, the Bluesbreakers long served as an incubator to some of the most talented names in rock and blues, including Mick Fleetwood, Aynsley Dunbar, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Mick Taylor, Peter Green, and Tony Reeves, among many others.

Early on, the Bluesbreakers scored a dream gig of backing blues legend John Lee Hooker on his UK tour. Not long after, they were spotted by a Decca staff producer, Mike Vernon, who persuaded the label to sign the band. Their first single, “Crawling up the Hill,” was released in April 1964. Nearly a year later, they released their live debut, John Mayall Plays John Mayall. Although the album failed to chart, their first studio LP would be a very different story.

In April 1965, Clapton joined the Bluesbreakers, replacing Roger Dean. While he departed months later (forming another band and touring Greece), the young guitarist rejoined in October – and Mayall wasted no time getting to work on their next release. Initially, he planned to record another live album, in order to document the energy of Clapton’s out-of-this-world guitar solos.

A set was captured at Soho’s Flamingo Club, with Clapton’s future Cream bandmate, Jack Bruce, on bass. Unfortunately, the quality of the recording was poor, leading the group to pivot to a studio setting. In May 1966, Mayall, McVie, Flint, and Clapton set up shop at Decca Studios in West Hampstead with Vernon (who would go on to helm albums by David Bowie, Ten Years After, and Fleetwood Mac) at the controls.

Paying tribute to the greats

Recreating their live shows, the band devoted more than half of their tracklist to blues standards, including Otis Rush’s “All Your Love,” Freddie King’s “Hideaway,” Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin’ on My Mind” (featuring Clapton’s first solo lead vocal), and Little Walter’s “It Ain’t Right.” They also performed a spirited cover of Ray Charles’ 1959 hit, “What’d I Say.” Driven by Mayall’s dexterous work on the Hammond B3 organ, the song features an impressive drum solo by Flint and finds Clapton paying homage to The Beatles’ “Day Tripper.”

In addition to the covers, the Bluesbreakers recorded several originals, including Mayall’s “Key to Love,” “Have You Heard,” “Another Man,” and the Mayall/Clapton-penned “Double Crossing Time.” Bolstering the group’s work was a trio of horn players, who Vernon brought in during post-production for added texture.

Throughout the album, Clapton delivered a fiery performance on his 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard, playing it at maximum volume through a Marshall 1962 2×12 combo amplifier and generating plenty of distortion – a novel sound at the time, outside of the electric blues scene. Clapton’s tone was so unique, that it led to the use of the album’s name to refer to both the guitar and the amp models (“the Blues Breaker” or “Beano” Les Paul and the Marshall Bluesbreaker).

Bluesbreakers was released on July 22, 1966, and proved to be the breakthrough that Mayall was seeking, landing at No.6 on the UK album charts in its first week. Musically, it captured a short, magical moment in time – one that could never be repeated. Before Bluesbreakers even hit record stores, Clapton had already quit the band to form Cream with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Peter Green (who formed Fleetwood Mac a year later) stepped in as his worthy replacement.

More than half a century later, Bluesbreakers endures as a cornerstone in the blues-rock genre, while its influence can be heard in countless recordings that followed. Clapton’s contributions, meanwhile, instantly secured his standing as one of the era’s most innovative players and reverberated for decades to come.

Buy or stream Bluesbreakers.

“The
ADVERTISEMENT
The Beatles - Let It Be
ADVERTISEMENT
The Beatles - Let It Be
ADVERTISEMENT
13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. nick

    July 22, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    Have the original gret disc.

  2. Rick

    July 23, 2014 at 12:40 am

    I noticed a band called Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, before he was Jimi Hendrix wasn’t he going by the name of Jimmy James?

    • uDiscover

      July 23, 2014 at 6:53 am

      Different Jimmy James, this one was more of a soul band man. But Rick you are correct JH did go by JJ for a while.

    • Nick Lawson

      July 24, 2014 at 7:10 am

    • Roger Rushing

      July 22, 2015 at 8:39 pm

      In New York’s Greenwich Village, James Marshall Hendrix was fronting a band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, with a very young Randy California (later of Spirit) on guitar.

    • Mark Arouh

      July 23, 2015 at 9:15 pm

      About ‘Jimmy James and the Vagabonds… Yes Jimi played in the US (with Randy California of Spirit) under the name Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. Chas Chandler did not arrange for Hendrix to come to the UK until later in 1966, long after this concert.
      Just read several other comments about Hendrix. sorry for the duplication.

  3. Robert

    April 8, 2015 at 3:16 am

    This is one of my all time favorite records. Songs are great. Musicians are great.

  4. ron beretta

    July 23, 2015 at 11:55 am

    The Bluesbreakers were a huge influence in my early days of learning the blues. The Yardbirds, with Keith Relf on harmonica, as well as Jack Bruce with Cream, were two of the people that got me interested in playing the “harp”. John Mayall kick started a lot of musicians careers, hats off to him for many years of great music and inspiration to a lot of aspiring bluesmen.

  5. Mal Ayre

    July 24, 2015 at 10:21 am

    Terrific ground breaking album. Many Bluesbreakers followers at the time regarded the line-up which recorded the next album A Hard Road,( Mayall, Peter Green, McVie and Aynsley Dunbar) as a better band. Green was arguably as good as Clapton, certainly Mayall seemed to think so, and the rhythm section was tighter probably because the line-up was more settled and because Dunbar was a superior drummer to Flint whose solo on What’d I say is awful.

  6. StBob

    July 24, 2015 at 11:55 am

    And there’s Dick Morrissey before he became just plain Morrissey and formed The Smiths. The rest is history.

    Music history for trainspotters.

  7. Tom Crawford

    April 20, 2016 at 7:29 am

    I was lucky enough to be sitting on the front row at the 6th Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival. Cream were on last, on a calm and quiet night, until Cream came to the stage. Clapton,s solo near the end of their performance was really memorable.

  8. mic

    October 30, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    was a young white guy learning rock and blues guitar………. trying to find the real blues feel, fed on fm radio,,,,,,,then heard hideaway, it was as if god said…..HERE TRY THIS…….

  9. Wayne Blanchard

    August 1, 2021 at 7:28 pm

    It’s always nice to see the tale of this album reiterated. One correction: Clapton did not quit the Yardbirds to join the Bluesbreakers. He simply quit the Yardbirds. Period. I’ve read that Mayall, who’d heard about Clapton (not sure he ever saw him) heard ‘Got to Hurry’, the guitar instrumental on the B-side of the Yardbirds ‘For Your Love’ and was mightily impressed, prompting him to bounce Dean and enlist Clapton. (I recall a headline circa 1968 saying the Bluesbreakers by that point had gone through 125 members – which included Andy Fraser, later of Free). Clapton’s ‘tour’ of Greece appears to have been more of a residency. And it was ill-fate, ultimately seeing EC and the lads make a quick exit from the country. He managed to take his guitar but his amp was left behind. Upon arriving back on UK soil, he phoned Mayall and requested his job back. At that point Peter Green was gigging with the Bluesbreakers, the third guitarist during Clapton’s absence. Mayall had previously promised Clapton he could have his job back upon his return and he lived up to his word. (EC’s band, the Glands, who quickly changed that to the Faces, had set off on a driving tour of the world but were back in London after just a few weeks.) Green, who would previously show up at Bluebreakers gigs telling Mayall he was better than Clapton and should have the gig, was not at all happy with getting ejected. So, when EC quit for Cream – and Mayall was unable to find the tel. # given to him by a young Mick Taylor who played part of a Bluesbreakers gig in ’65 when EC failed to show – Green was invited back. Apparently he played hard to get. He was stepping into big shoes, though as the albums ‘Live in London ’67’ volumes 1 and 2 confirm, Green had the goods. And hey, he delivered ‘The Supernatural’ on ‘The Hard Road’ album. Surely one of the greatest instrumentals, it was a huge influence on Carlos Santana’s style (and his band would later cover Green’s ‘Black Magic Woman’…doing it, coincidentally, with the latin flavour of ‘Soul Dressing’, an unissued instrumental by the Peter B’s – Green, Peter Bardens (Them, Camel), Dave Ambrose (Brian Auger, Jeff Beck), and Mick Fleetwood.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Don't Miss
uDiscover Music - Back To Top