Songlines: ‘Call It Stormy Monday But Tuesday is just as Bad’ Part 2
John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers – Eric Clapton & Peter Green
In 1965 new recordings of T-Bone Walker’s song were released in the U.K. in August, September and October see Part 1).
There was also a live performance of the song by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers caught on tape in early November, though it wouldn’t see release for another four years, appearing on the Mayall retrospective “Looking Back”. (Mayall was contracted to Immediate Records at the time of the recording, so the track technically belonged to them. Decca or Mayall listed the recording as having been done in March of 1966 to sidestep any legal issues).
This was Clapton’s second show back with The Bluesbreakers after a two-month absence. John McVie had been replaced by Jack Bruce in early October and these recordings (five others would be released in 1977) are the only documentation of this short-lived line-up; Bruce would be gone by late November for a brief stint with Manfred Mann and McVie would be a Bluesbreaker again by the New Year.
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers
John Mayall: vocal & organ / Eric Clapton: guitar /
Jack Bruce: bass / Hughie Flint: drums
Recorded live at the Flamingo Club, London England November 07, 1965
Usually listed as March 17, 1966 (see above)
Released on: Looking Back (Decca 1969)
They Call It Stormy Monday* (incomplete) (T-Bone Walker) (4:33)
*On the original vinyl release, the song was listed as ‘They Call It Stormy Monday’ on the record label and ‘Stormy Monday’ on the back of the sleeve.
When the recording begins, Mayall has finished the vocal and Clapton has begun his break. Unlike all of the recorded versions before this, it sounds nothing at all like the original, or any of the other covers.
Mayall’s organ slicks the roadway with an inch or two of water, and Clapton moves cautiously at first; but as the blues overtake him, he knowingly pushes down on the accelerator.
The drums discharge like thunderclaps and the irregular thud of gallons of water being thrown against the car by passing eighteen-wheelers.
Hydroplaning as he careens across multiple lanes, he nonetheless refuses to ease up on the gas, his self-confidence (arrogance) prodding to him push harder despite (or because) of the risks.
Three quarters through the recording, Mayall reasserts control, forcibly reclaiming the number that Clapton has just hijacked. His anguished cry of “Lord, have mercy” is a shout of both witness and relief.
The number would become an anticipated highlight of the Bluebreakers’ shows over the course of the next eight months before Clapton departed once more to reunite with Bruce and Ginger Baker to form The Cream.
As 1965 rolled over to 1966 the song cemented its place as a standard for club acts throughout England.
In the early months of 1966, the Peter B’s Looners’ set list featured an instrumental version of the song as a showcase for Peter Green.
There are no known live recordings of Peter B’s Looners or the later iterations of the band, The Peter B’s and Shotgun Express while Peter Green was still a member and for decades the same was true for his time as Clapton’s replacement in the Bluesbreakers.
Then in 2015, personal recordings that Tom Huissen made at an array of venues during what would be Green’s final months as a Bluesbreaker, were made commercially available; among them, two performances of ‘Stormy Monday’.
The first finds Mayall and his Bluesbreakers backing Ronnie Jones, who’s gritty, horn driven Northern Soul makeover of the Bobby Day pop hit ‘Little Bitty Pretty One’ had just been released.
John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers
John Mayall: vocals & organ /
Peter Green: guitar / John McVie: bass
Mick Fleetwood: drums
Guest vocalist: Ronnie Jones
(said to have been*) Recorded live at Klook’s Kleek, April 28, 1967
*Christopher Hjort lists the band as playing The Ram Jam Club in Brixton on the twenty-eighth. Jones’ appearance on this track lends credence to this assertion.
Stormy Monday (T-Bone Walker) (8:07)
After hearing Clapton’s rendition, this performance seems like a throwback to the earlier versions.
Green takes a leisurely, almost minute long, intro, with Mayall coming in about half way through, and then holds back as Jones takes center stage, adding only an occasional fill between the verses.
Three and a half minutes in, Jones call on Green to take a solo; there are some similarities with Clapton’s break but Clapton’s seems wilder due to the higher volume at which he played, (which also overpowered Mayall’s recording mic, further distorting the sound) and his faster speed.
For me, what is missing in Green’s playing in this performance is a lack of personal investment in the number. He is playing what the number calls for, but only what the number calls for.
Interestingly, it is Mayall, coming in immediately after Green, who heightens the tension with his organ solo (just slightly shorter than Green’s break).
Green needed to either cut loose or dig down much deeper; Jones’ testifying vocalizing seemed to warrant the former but Green was already loath to play something that he didn’t actually feel.
Compare this with their performance captured just nine days later.
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers
John Mayall: vocals & organ / Peter Green: guitar /
John McVie: bass / Mick Fleetwood: drums
Recorded live at The Manor House, Bluesville ‘67 May 05, 1967
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers Live In 1967 (Forty Below Records 2015)
Stormy Monday (T-Bone Walker) (8:32)
The entire band now seems engaged; the intro is almost identical in length, yet Green’s lines sting, his withholding of them making the listener want more while opening a space for Mayall’s organ and even more importantly, McVie’s mournful bass.
Where Fleetwood leadenly thudded his drum kit on the earlier recording, he loosens up here, going to the cymbals and matching his slurred brushwork to Mayall’s weary vocal.
As with the intro, Green holds back during the vocals, (same as on the previous version) but now when he responds, it is with sweet, sustained single notes, murmured affirmations.
The biggest difference is Green’s solo. Offering understanding through identification, for over four minutes Green replays Mayall’s cyclical tale of living large only to be brought down low; building and releasing the tension and starting all over again.
Here are the seeds of the style that he’ll soon be sowing in his own band.
Where Clapton’s solo was all explosive energy, Green tamps that energy down, increasing the pressure, and fuses it with the sense of sorrow (and frustration) heard in the original song, thereby acknowledging Walker’s original, and all those that came after it, but making it truly his own.
Mayall apparently never attempted the number in the studio, with either Clapton or Green.
Yet, a studious search will turn up live performances of the song by both Mayall and Clapton in each intervening decade since these original recordings.
Green though seemed to have been finished with the number after this, turning his attention to Walker’s ‘Mean Old World’ (by way of B.B. King). We do have a couple of recordings of his bandmate, Jeremy Spencer, having a go at the song during Fleetwood Mac’s first American tour in the summer of ’68 and we’ll take a look at them in the next installment.