Nightline Playlist: John Mayer

When John Mayer was a boy, he fell in love with the guitar.

It was entirely Michael J. Fox's fault.

While watching Fox's character Marty McFly belt out "Johnny Be Good" in the '80s classic "Back to the Future," a young Mayer became enthralled. Soon after, his infatuation led him to pick up the instrument at the age of 13.

"My father rented an acoustic guitar from the music store," Mayer said. "I remember looking at the guitar going, 'Well, if I knew how to play you, I would play you.' And it was that simple. It was just like, I'm not gonna stand for not knowing how to play this. And I still don't."


Mayer, now 29, has held strong to his youthful determination. Since Mayer's debut album, "Room for Squares," was released in 2001, his work has garnered multiplatinum sales, critical acclaim and five Grammys including three best male pop vocal performance honors. The guitarist has also used his success to expand his influence outside the realm of music.

In 2002, Mayer started the Back to You Fund, a nonprofit organization that raises money for a variety of organizations dealing in health care, education and the arts by auctioning off different Mayer memorabilia. This summer he performed in one of the North American Live Earth concerts in order to raise awareness about global warming.

Mayer even had his own column in Esquire magazine entitled "Music Lessons With John Mayer," the topics ranged from analyzing the music on the shuffle feature of his iPod to challenging readers to write music for his unreleased lyrics.

So what songs does such a thriving artist listen to when trying to relax between gigs?

"Um. … Geez, I don't know," he said. "You're asking a musician to make a list. You're asking a musician to get all numeric. Can't I just draw my visual interpretation of what a Top 5 looks like?"

Despite his struggle, Mayer managed to come up with a few choice tracks.

With just two years of practice under his belt — and against his parents' wishes — Mayer began playing in local bars and clubs while still in high school. It was there that he continued to develop his guitar skills, as well as his growing love for the blues and soul music.

A young and impressionable Mayer gained a wealth of musical education from his experiences at these small venues, but they were nothing like Filmore East, the so-called "Church of Rock," where one of his playlist choices was recorded.

'Who Knows'

"Now I gotta get soulful," Mayer said. "Now I gotta get, uh, street with it so … maybe I'll put in Jimmy Hendrix … 'Who Knows' from the live at the Filmore record."

The live album, "Band of Gypsys," was recorded at the famous Filmore East, where Hendrix's new band debuted on New Year's Eve 1969. The album was released just five months before Hendrix's death in September 1970 and is said to have the definitive versions of several of the rock legend's songs. The Filmore recordings make up Hendrix's only live album, a record that reached No. 5 on the U.S. charts and later became one of his best-selling records.

While Mayer certainly doesn't consider himself of the same caliber as Hendrix, his impressive guitar skills have become a signature of his style. His developing mastery of the instrument coupled with a fusion of pop, rock and R&B are what define Mayer's sound. He is aware that some critics may chastise his blend of genres as "watered-down" music. He just doesn't care.

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