John Mayer's beginnings were not particularly promising; his career seemed designed by an executive who wanted to sell the softer sound of singer-songwriters to new millennium teens. But the guitarist showed that he was not a product, especially every time he plugged in his guitar, playing live and drawing magic out of the six strings, because blues and soul came into the equation and Mayer's music improved considerably. His playing also improved leading Eric Clapton to refer to him as "a master" and drawing a smile on Buddy Guy’s face every time he plays with him. From Guitars Exchange we want to honor him by talking about our 10 favorite solos of his career.
Something's Missing is one of the most interesting songs on Mayer's second studio album, Heavier Things, released in 2003. Already in the studio version it has an incredible tone, as much in the introduction as in the rest of the song, but it is possible that the definitive version of this song appeared on the notable live album Try! released in 2005 and in which Mayer shone, with his hybrid Fender Custom Shop, which is something between a Tele and Strat. Additionally, it is worth highlighting that he was supported by an excellent rhythm section formed by Steve Jordan on drums and Pino Palladino on bass.
It seems clear that Continuum, recorded after Try!, is the most important album of Mayer's career. Mayer again plays with Jordan and Palladino and, in addition, ‘rescues’ this jewel from the live album to give him a studio version and use it as the third single of the album. It is the most soulful song of his career, something that is accentuated by the vocals of Alicia Keys and the organ of Larry Goldings. In the solo Mayer opts for the clearest and purest of sounds from his Strat, achieving a result that fits perfectly with the song. The guitarist is so proud of it that the song reappeared in the 2008 live version of Where the Light Is, his third album in less than three years in which this great song appears.
Continuum's second single was another good approach to R&B that had Ben Harper delivering a great contribution on slide before Mayer exploded with a juicy solo, in which he knew how to bring out all the flavor of his black 2004 Strat, his favorite guitar.
Slow Dancing in a Burning Room
Another song extracted from his third album, Continuum, this song is a ballad ‘cooked over a low heat’. The tone of his guitar is clean again, almost transparent, making the atmosphere of the song even more relaxing. In fact Mayer makes his guitar weep, as George Harrison would say.
In Your Atmosphere (LA Song)
This is ‘one of the great luxuries’ that appears on Where The Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles, his 2008 live album. The album was divided into three parts, one acoustic, one with the trio and another with his entire band. For the first part he used two unreleased songs, a cover of Tom Petty's Free Fallin', which he released as a single, and In Your Atmosphere (LA Song), an original unreleased song in which he demonstrates that his mastery of acoustics, in this case a Martin D-45, is totally comparable to that of his electric, by adding depth and new melodies to the main part.
Pyramids (Frank Ocean)
A gigantic song; one of the biggest of this last decade. On this track Frank Ocean recovered R&B and took it on a journey through time, from the times of Cleopatra to the present. But he also did it sonically, starting with Ocean's very personal style, bringing in house and electro, plus a wink to Michael Jackson and a final guitar solo by Mayer on his beloved black Stratocaster. Ocean would return the favor by appearing on Mayer's next album, Paradise Valley, where he sings and composes the Wildfire reprise.
Feels Like Rain (con Buddy Guy)
If John Mayer can get on stage with Buddy Guy and not be out of tune at all, then John Mayer deserves all our respect. But it is not just that; the young man doesn't try to strut his stuff in front of the old man but enters into a more than interesting musical conversation with Guy in which they complement each other, instead of throwing themselves at each other's throats.
Waiting On The Day
In 2011 John Mayer discovered the Grateful Dead and suddenly he couldn't stop listening to them. This can be noticed, and a lot, on his 2013 album, Paradise Valley, which included Waiting On The Day, in which you can appreciate the enormous mark left by Jerry Garcia's band, both in the song itself, and in the solo in which Mayer is able to channel to perfection the leader of the Dead. Live he has been seen interpreting that same solo with a Telecaster from 1952.
Sugaree (Dead & Company)
But Mayer's obsession with the Dead would take a new turn when, in February 2015, the guitarist invited Bob Weir to play with him on The Late Late Show. Chemistry and friendship arose between them, and soon after they decided to start Dead & Company, a group that had Weir, the two original drummers of the Dead, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, besides the keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, the bassist Oteil Burbridge and Mayer himself ‘climbing into Jerry Garcia's shoes’. The only living member of the band who declined to participate was Phil Lesh, but the result they achieved was remarkable. As can be seen in this beautiful rendition of Garcia's Sugaree, Mayer manages to adapt the song to his style, avoiding being a mere copy, he sings and plays it from his point of view, with respect for Garcia but without looking for imitation, leaving his soul in each given note. You can see how the rest of the band is delighted with Mayer's performance, who usually uses his 2015 PRS Super Eagle in these concerts.
I Guess I Just Feel Like
While his followers are still waiting for the appearance of the sequel to The Search for Everything, John Mayer released two new singles in 2019, the first of which was the remarkable I Guess I Just Feel Like in which he demonstrated that his quality as a guitarist is still intact, as he delivers one of the best solos of his career in the brilliant finale. From 3 minutes onwards there is a long solo that ends in a 'fade' that leaves you wanting more, so much so that it could have lasted another three minutes without you caring.