Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

John Mayall's Bluesbreakers—
I'm Your Witchdoctor/ Telephone Blues


Released 1965 on Immediate
The Seth Man, December 2000ce
(For the next few minutes, pretend that Eric Clapton’s career ended with “Disraeli Gears.”)

I often do, as it’s just about the way only way I can come to terms with the utter tragedy of a talent wasted so shamelessly through heroin, sanitised reggae usage and being an all-round Stratocaster-wielding bore, as well as a bearded clotheshorse. I don’t care if he’s still considered ‘God,’ because even if ‘God Himself’ phoned in dull records for THREE DECADES (to ceaseless and typical critical acclaim, no less) you couldn’t hope for more non-believers. If this seems unwholesomely vitriolic (and it is, I know) believe me, it’s for good reason because older fans idolise him for all the wrong reasons (from Derek & the Dominos to the present day) and younger music fans dismiss him outright for all the right reasons (from Derek & the Dominos to the present day) while everybody else seems to have forgotten one small yet important fact (Remember quickly, before this verges on outright character assassination): Eric Clapton revolutionised the way people played electric guitar forever, like it or not. And his fuse was first really lit not in The Yardbirds, but within the blowtorch confines of his first record with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers: the single “I’m Your Witchdoctor.” A limited edition single and the trendsetting sole LP followed shortly thereafter.

“I’m Your Witchdoctor” is the first place where E.C.’s fire truly raged. Insofar as raw, rough and jumpy blues are concerned, “I’m Your Witchdoctor” is a track that surpasses all the other residents of those ropey Immediate “History of The Blues” compilations and renders asunder the yawn-o-rama and drum-less “Guitar Boogie” collection (itself an Andrew Loog Oldham rip-off of Jimmy Page’s recordings of loose blues jams with Clapton.) And “Little” Jimmy Page was the producer here as well, expertly feeling out Clapton’s solos and adding TONS of reverb to the them to make them even more soaring and fiery than they already were. Although mere months away from the formation of The Cream, the blistering displays of feel from Clapton on this track, aided and abetted by Mayall’s creaky organ and too-young-to-sound-so worldly vocals, John McVie’s bass and Hughie Flint’s expert understatement of drums, must have sounded about as raucous and otherworldly as anything the keen-eared British music fan had heard since The Pretty Things or The Stones. And right after Mayall’s “Got my eye on you...” Clapton lets loose with a ferocious solo with constantly repeated finger vibrato that harkens to the track one could (arguably, that is) hold responsible for heavy metal: The Cream’s “Cat’s Squirrel.” In furtherance of this link (and to follow an epiphany I once had about Black Sabbath -- one of several) consider this brief outline:


a.) “Cat’s Squirrel” was covered by Jethro Tull on their first album, “This Was” in 1968.

b.) Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi was in Jethro Tull for a brief period that same year, appearing with them in the film “The Rolling Stones’ Rock And Roll Circus.”

c.) The first Black Sabbath album (1970) bears many examples of extremely over-amplified blues structures rendered through SG guitar, and sounds a hell of a lot like the better parts of “This Was” (especially “Cat’s Squirrel.”)

d.) Then again, so does “This Was”: courtesy of Mick Abrahams (in terms of bearing many examples of extremely over-amplified blues, etc, etc.)


That’s not to say “I’m Your Witchdoctor” is a premier heavy metal track and not as major a tributary to that genre as “Cat’s Squirrel” but it’s certainly a SIGNPOST and a major one at that. Because when a blues purist such as Mayall sings for all his beatnik’s beard’s worth “Gonna feel you burning/Like a passion flower” and later steps asides aside for Clapton’s blistering solo that utilises kazoo-esque ‘woman tone’ to killer effect, it’s totally ROCK. Not to mention about as loaded a sexual image as you could get back in 1965 outside of The Stones or Troggs. Plus, it’s the best cut they ever recorded: way more passionate and crazy than their only album, which unleashed several British blues booms in its wake.

I haven’t even mentioned “Telephone Blues” because in the wake of listening to “I’m Your Witchdoctor” several times in succession, I don’t wanna. You probably won’t, either. Aahh, it’s live in the studio and “blues” because it says so and after all, they were professionals. But so what? “I’m Your Witchdoctor” is just about the only thing I’d stand up for Eric Clapton about in conversation.

Oh, and “Cat’s Squirrel.” But those few minutes are up by now, unfortunately.