Singer-songwriter John Mayer has more than justified his off-stage ego, with a musical career that constantly turns over a new and impressive leaf.
Having had much of his career dogged by controversy, Mayer’s music is often overlooked in the mainstream media, but his abilities as a versatile lead guitarist are well documented.
He has played alongside some of music’s greatest guitarists, and can count his idols Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and the late B B King as fans. From his blues-rock days with the John Mayer Trio, to his latest country album, John Mayer is one of America’s most exciting and evolving natural talents.
John Mayer was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1977. He left home as a teenager to attended the Berklee College of Music, but un-enrolled (like our previous guitar virtuoso, St. Vincent) and moved to Atlanta, Georgia in the late 90s. He formed a short-lived, two-man band called Lo-Fi Masters with Clay Cook, and after the duo’s demise, continued to play local clubs – refining his skills and gaining a following.
After his appearance at the 2001 SXSW Festival, he was signed to Columbia Records, which released his first EP, Inside Wants Out. By 2005, he was collaborating with the greats and formed the John Mayer Trio. He followed the band up with solo albums, established himself as one-to-watch, and even played a moving, instrumental rendition of ‘Human Nature’ at Michael Jackson’s memorial ceremony.
After several incidents with the media (most notably his rapidly increasing “lothario” status and penchant for dating A-list stars), Mayer withdrew from public life in 2010, moved to the picturesque hills of Montana, and began working on a new musical direction.
John Mayer is a guitar collector (he owns over 200) and has collaborated with elite guitar companies to design his own instruments. Like his idol Eric Clapton, John Mayer typically wields the Fender Stratocaster – one variety or another – as his musical weapon of choice.
His first main guitar was a used SRV Signature Stratocaster that he purchased after saving enough money working at a petrol station. That particular guitar went on to see many of his live performances, and was also the basis of his signature ‘Big Dipper’ pickups. His faded and battered ‘The Black One’ is his most recognisable axe, and up until recently, made an outing at almost every live performance.
In 2005, Fender introduced the John Mayer Signature Stratocaster, and there are four models all up.
The key feature of a John Mayer song is tone. The man has tone in spades.
His influences are mainly drawn from a wide range of other guitarists work, such as Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter and Santana, but his musical heritage is firmly rooted in the blues genre.
He is the king of clean delivery, making good use of vibrato, bends, hammers, pull offs and acoustic picking styles. There is very little overdrive, fuzz or echo in a Mayer riff or solo. He can make a guitar sing, scream, sigh and cry with his worn and warm tone. His voice is mellow and effortless, and perfectly complements his cruisy guitar sound and stage persona.
These-days, Mayer keeps things relatively acoustic. On his last two albums Born and Raised (2012) and Paradise Valley (2013), nylon string strums and the harmonica were king. Fingers crossed he returns to his blues-infused days sometime soon though, because therein lies his skills as a guitarist.
The gentle pop solo of ‘Waiting on the World to Change’, the aching archs of the ‘Slow Dancing in a Burning Room’ intro, the mostly instrumental and spine-tingling intimacy of ‘Gravity’, the fast-paced finger picking of ‘Neon’, the fun and dirty blues bar chords of ‘Vultures’, the delayed synth opening of ‘I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)’, the old-school lengthy lick and slides of ‘Belief’, the pop bop of ‘Heartbreak Warfare’, the electric solo of the mildly menacing ‘Assassin’ and the gorgeous moving melody of ‘Heart of Life’.
The Crossroads Guitar Festival is a benefit concert that has been held 4 times at Madison Square Gardens. All artists are hand-picked by Eric Clapton, and John Mayer has featured at every one so far.
Any Given Thursday is an early Mayer CD/DVD, recorded in September of 2002 in Alabama during the Room for Squares tour. The album featured mostly songs from Mayer’s album, as well as several covers including Stevie Ray Vaughan and The Police. Covers have since become a regular feature in Mayer’s live shows.
The best Mayer concert to date, however, is Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles – a live album that documents the 2007 promotional tour of his album Continuum. Half documentary, half concert, the DVD is split up into three sections: Acoustic Set, Trio Set (with Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino) and the Band Set. It features Mayer’s critically acclaimed cover of Tom Petty’s ‘Free Fallin’’.
Below is an intimate performance and interview with John Mayer from Where the Light Is: