Singer-guitarist performs Thursday at Jackson Blues Festival
Forty years ago, Jeff Maylin was a young white student at a suburban university and seemed an unlikely candidate to become a link to Detroit’s classic blues musicians.
But, as he approaches his 60th birthday, Maylin is one of a dwindling number of musicians who knew and performed with Detroit’s classic blues men.
His first real contact with the blues came in the early 1970s when he was a student at Oakland University.
“I was about 19 and I was in my dorm room, practicing guitar by listening to John Lee Hooker and trying to learn his music,” Maylin said. “I was playing a lot of acoustic then. My buddy Rick was playing in the Abstention (coffeehouse on campus) and I went there with him. Here comes this black guy, Bobo Jenkins. I sat in with him at the Abstention and he wanted my phone number.
“I thought he wanted to me to play bass, so I went somewhere in Detroit and rented a bass, because I’m a pretty good bass player. But, I found out he wanted me to play lead guitar.”
Maylin, a guitarist and singer, performed with Jenkins and soon met many of Detroit’s top players.
“I started with Bobo at the Bamboo Lounge on 12th Street and Pingree,” Maylin said. “It was a real cool blues bar.
“The really cool thing was that he had his own recording studio, Big Star, on Joy Road near Linwood. I would hang out there and met a lot of the guys like Johnny “Yard Dog” Jones and the Butler Twins. Through Bobo, I met Uncle Jessie White and he took me over to 29th Street and I started hitting the jam sessions there (at Uncle Jessie’s house).
“I always revered the blues and wanted to learn from the source. I played in ghetto bars for 20 years and I was always treated good.”
Many of Detroit’s blues greats – Hooker, Jenkins, Uncle Jessie, the Butler Twins, Baby Boy Warren, Mr. Bo, Little Mac Collins, Willie D. Warren and, recently, Little Jr. Cannaday -- have passed on. A few veterans, such as Alberta Adams, Johnnie Bassett, Little Sonny and Billy Davis, are still performing at, or close to, their peak. Others, such as Eddie Burns, are ailing.
And although there are many fine younger players currently on the Detroit scene, there’s always a reverence for the older players who set the standard of excellence.
“That whole era was awesome,” Maylin said. “It would be cool if, somehow, the blues came along in popularity again.”
Maylin, a very talented guitarist with a penchant for wandering into the crowd during his solos, has had a couple of opportunities to make it to the big time. But, bad timing and a problem with hallucinogenic drugs negated those opportunities. Psychological problems after taking LSD sidelined Maylin from his late teens until he was almost 30.
“It was like post-traumatic shock,” Maylin said. “I lost 10 years of my life, in and out of psych wards. It traumatized me, emotionally, like the Vietnam vets. It was like I left the planet and came back. It stifled me in a lot of ways, like blind paranoia.”
He hasn’t taken drugs or drank alcohol in years, relying on coffee and cigarettes to keep him going.
“It seems like five minutes since it was 20 years ago. I look at it now that I’m blessed to be alive and I try to dwell in the spirit of the Lord as much as I can and be more and more humble all the time. Sometimes the more we lose, the more we gain in the spirit realm.
“We’ve got to take responsibility for our lives. I can’t define success on how much money I’ve made or have not made. I’m just blessed to be hanging out.”
Maylin and his band will perform at 7:20 p.m. Thursday, June 2, at the 10th annual Jackson Blues Festival at Jackson County Airport, 3601 Wildwood Ave., Jackson. Other performers on Thursday include Ben Moore & the Blues Express (6 p.m.), Sonny Moorman (8:40), and The Witchdoctors (10 p.m.).
The festival continues Friday, June 3, starting at 5:30 p.m. with the Harmonica Hounds lesson for children. The first 100 kids who register Friday will receive a free T-shirt, sunglasses and harmonica, and a chance to jam with Mojo Phoenix. The festival continues Friday with The Derrick Boile Band (6 p.m.), the Mojo Phoenix Blues Band (7:15 p.m.), E.C. Scott (8:45 p.m.) and headliner Eddie Shaw & the Wolf Gang from 10 p.m.-midnight.
On Saturday, a full afternoon and evening of blues artists starts at 3 p.m. with The Bluescasters. Also on the bill Saturday are the Automatic Blues Band (4:45 p.m.), James Armstrong (5:45 p.m.), Greg Nagy (7:30 p.m.), Chris Beard (9 p.m.) and the Lee Lewis Band (10:35 p.m.).
For festival information, click http://jazzthug.tripod.com/SDP/JBFest.html.
To check out Jeff Maylin's compilation CD, "Satori in Blue" (No Cover Records), click http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/jeffmaylin1.
To contact JB Blues, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.