John Mayall Gathers Bluesbreaker Alumni

After four decades of leading some of the most influential and electrifying blues-rock ensembles, British bandleader John Mayall's latest project is something of a Supernatural achievement. Along for the Ride, which hit stores on May 8, is an all-star project that features alumni of Mayall's Bluesbreakers bands — including Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, and John McVie, who went on to form Fleetwood Mac, and ex-Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor — as well as admirers such as Steve Miller, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Steve Cropper, Billy Preston, and upstart talents Jonny Lang and Shannon Curfman.

"It was an amazing opportunity to go into all this and do a dream list, so to speak," says keyboardist and harmonica player Mayall, 67, who has six children and six grandchildren and now resides in Southern California. "It assumed a life of its own; everybody I called sort of said yes, then there were a few extra people I didn't expect who showed up along the way, like Jeff Healey and Gary Moore and Billy Gibbons. [Gibbons] usually isn't allowed to play on anybody else's records; ZZ Top has a policy since the beginning. But I've known [band manager] Bill Hamm longer than ZZ Top's been together, so I was able to get permission for him to be let loose."

Particularly special among the album's 13 songs is a version of Tony Joe White's "Yo Yo Man," which reunites the Green-Fleetwood-McVie lineup of the Bluesbreakers, with Miller adding additional guitar. "It's pretty much the same thing as before," Mayall reports. "I don't think people change that much; if you've worked with them before, it's exactly the same. The passage of years doesn't seem to make much difference, except maybe we've all got our chops together more."

Some Bluesbreakers are conspicuously absent from Along for the Ride — notably guitarist Eric Clapton and bassist Jack Bruce, who joined forces in Cream after their tenures with Mayall. He says Bruce wasn't able to come to Los Angeles for the sessions, while with Clapton, "I received a message that Eric didn't want to do it. That was kind of a dead end. Everybody else made themselves very, very available."

But Mayall — who has high regard for Carlos Santana — is careful to differentiate his album from his colleague's similarly star-studded Supernatural, which established a contemporary template for such projects. "I don't think it compares with a gathering of name, seminal musicians," Mayall says. "There's so many great talents on this one; it's more than a gimmick. It doesn't even come into that category. Everybody's playing for the love of it … to create a beautiful album. I can't think of anything that's been done that parallels this."