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Playing Around: John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers 

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People say you're judged by the company you keep. By that standard, John Mayall must be among the best there has ever been. Throughout the '60s, his band, the Bluesbreakers, acted as a finishing school for the leading British blues-rock musicians of the era -- Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor played with the band in the mid-1960s before they went to play with Cream, Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones, respectively. John McVie and Mick Fleetwood (of Fleetwood Mac), Jack Bruce and a slew of others have sat in with Mayall's Bluesbreakers. At least 15 different editions of the band were in existence from January 1963 through mid-1970. Plenty of the players in the band have gone to great success, the kind of wild success that has eluded Mayall. Nevertheless, he has had a career that has spanned nearly four decades and 40 releases of classic recordings, many considered among the purest blues records of the 1960's and '70s.

"Having a hit record is something one has no control over," says Mayall. "I'm not jealous of Eric, or anyone. You want the best for your friends, and some of them have gone on to good things. I certainly don't envy the hoopla that goes with their careers. My career couldn't be simpler. There are no distractions from the music -- no pressures. I don't have to go on the morning show to plug my albums. I can just focus on playing."

"Blues is ... a very alive form of communication," he continues. "It's always fresh because it's how you express yourself on a day-to-day basis. As long as I can get in front of an instrument, and as long as we turn in a good performance ... and give them something to remember, they will come out to see us."

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