Interview with John Mayer, reflecting on 2013 Hall of Fame Inductee Albert King
Written by: Rock Hall
Friday, April 12, 2013
The consistency with which John Mayer combines word craft and melody has earned him rarefied status as a respected songwriter and musician.
As one of few musicians to achieve both critical acclaim and popular appeal, the seven-time Grammy Award winner has earned accolades for each album release while selling more than 17 million albums worldwide.
Known as a musician who defies genre boundaries, Mayer is well known for collaborations with a range of artists. From rock to blues, hip-hop to jazz to country, Mayer has performed and/or recorded with Hall of Fame inductees Eric Clapton, BB King and Buddy Guy, as well as T-Bone Burnett, Herbie Hancock, Dixie Chicks, Jay Z and Alicia Keys.
On April 18, 2013, John Mayer inducted legendary blues man Albert King into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame at the 28th Annual Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Mayer also performed a tribute to Albert King with Gary Clark Jr. and Booker T. Jones.
In this interview with John Mayer, the musician reflects on the lasting influence of Albert King, including how King's music first resonated with him and why King belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Rock Hall: What's your first memory of hearing Albert King's music – how old were you, where were you, what was the song, album, etc. – and what kind of impression did it make?
John Mayer: I first found Albert King’s music through Stevie Ray Vaughan. More specifically, his interviews with guitar magazines. Stevie was such a student of blues guitar that he would always cite his influences, not just on his guitar playing as a whole, but specific songs. I remember adding Albert King to the “must listen” list and asking my Dad to drive me to the record store. I must have been 15 years old or so. The only album the record store had was I’ll Play The Blues For You, and I played along with it for years. Looking back on it, I think I really connected not just with his guitar playing, but also the arrangements of the songs. The record came out on the Stax label in the ‘70s, so it borrowed from the Al Green school of soul, which was great to get under my skin without having known it.
RH: How would you describe Albert King to somebody who'd never listened to him before? What song would you tell them to listen to first and why?
JM: I would probably direct them to “Born Under a Bad Sign” since everyone’s heard that song at least once in their life. I’d describe Albert King as an incredibly powerful player – literally. There’s a real effort he’s making – and I speak in present tense because his playing still exists on record – with each note he bends. And you can feel it.
RH: How has Albert King influenced or inspired you, and can listeners and fans of your music hear that influence anywhere?
JM: Albert’s playing influenced me twice: once through Stevie Ray Vaughan and then directly through his own records. Oh, Albert’s everywhere in my playing. Listen to the guitar solo in “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” on Continuum, and you’ll hear it. Even more so on the outro solo.
RH: Why do you think Albert King deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
JM: Because whether he’s a household name or not doesn’t matter. He’s like a household sound. He’s had a profound influence on guitar players – let’s say guitar players who solo – the world around. His influence comes through loud and clear, and can’t be diluted. If you play an Albert King riff, everyone’s gonna know you picked an Albert King riff to play and that’s how you’re choosing to express yourself for that moment, through his vocabulary. If you can create new musical notes – and in Albert’s case, they’re two notes: the one before the giant bend and the one he shakes once he gets there – then I’d say you should be right up there with the legends of rock and roll.