In 1970 I studied Public Relations at Humber College, a Community College in suburban Toronto, Canada. The program was affiliated with those of Journalism, Marketing, Communications and Broadcasting. As part of their mission, the Broadcasting program started CHBR, one of the first college FM radio stations in Canada. For a brief period I was an Assistant Station Manager at CHBR and an occasional disk jockey, pulling the LPs from a surprisingly large library of music, selecting music cuts, cueing and then introducing them. Apparently I was quite good at the patter (or, my fresh British accent was appealing) because I was asked to develop a lunch time radio show. I hosted Medley’s Magnificently Melodius Musical Medley (MMMMM) for several weeks in the winter of 1969-1970. The show started with a few minutes of the Moody Blues tune Are You Sitting Comfortably?, from the memorable, lushly crafted, 1969 album On the Threshold of a Dream. I doubt that my show was audible over the student clamor in the cafeteria, but I was nevertheless proud of the show and my minor fame at Humber.
The MMMMM show was a lot of fun. I don’t recall playing my favorite spine-tingling music – Welsh massed male choirs singing Welsh hymns and folk tunes – but I did play a lot of rock and blues. This was the heyday of bands like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, the Yardbirds, Spencer Davis and of course the Rolling Stones. I am a fan still of those groups. How could one forget them? – so many of the old chaps are still playing!
My favorite musician was, still is, the Father of British Blues: John Mayall. I have many of his albums. John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers was the starting point for Eric Clapton, Mick Fleetwood, Pete Green, John McVie, Mick Taylor and many other famous musicians: John Mayall incubated and nourished future blues and rock stars. In the late 60’s Mayall seemed to be moving from blues to jazz, and experimenting with compact bands with no percussion. In 1970, Mayall’s albums The Turning Point and The Empty Room were amongst my most played and much-enjoyed albums. His California from The Turning Point album is still one of my favorite pieces of music: its alto sax solo by Johnny Almond lifts my spirits as the sustained notes gradually soar. It would be a fine cut to accompany my drifting ashes . . . .
In early 1970 I wangled a Press pass through CHBR to see John Mayall perform in Toronto. I excitedly watched Mayall’s show from the wings of the stage. He had granted me a few minutes to chat and I was looking forward to editing the interview and airing it on MMMMM. At the end of the show I approached Mayall – I was so nervous at the prospect of talking to him that I almost forgot to turn the tape recorder on. My first question to Mayall was along the lines of “Why is your music evolving toward jazz?”. He stared at me, abruptly told me that I had no clue about music and sharply walked away. I was stunned. Johnny Almond apologized to me but I went home deeply miserable and ashamed; stung by rejection from an adored hero. I did not much play Mayall’s music for a long time afterward. Ironically, in 1972 Mayall produced Jazz Blues Fusion, which seemed to support the validity of my question to him.
A few years ago, my wife Julie and I saw John Mayall at Slim’s in San Francisco, a live music club. It was a great show. Mayall was wonderful – a healthy and passionate man, slender, with full, long white hair, a youthful complexion- still a superb musician. We were standing next to the stage and I had a few moments to talk to him. I mentioned that I had been deeply upset by his abrupt handling of my innocent question some 35 years earlier. He did not recall the incident but he apologized, which salved the still-small hurt from long ago.