Singer and songwriter
Born October 16, 1977; son of Richard (a high school principal) and Margaret (a middle school teacher) Mayer. Education: Attended the Berklee College of Music.
Addresses: Management—Michael McDonald, Mick Management, 44 Wall St., 2nd Flr., New York, NY 10005. Publicist—Ken Sunshine Consultants, 149 5th Ave., 7th Flr., New York, NY 10010. Website—http://www.johnmayer.com.
Released album Inside Wants Out, 1999; released Room For Squares, 2001; Any Given Thursday, 2003; released Heavier Things, 2003; released Try! John Mayer Trio Live in Concert, 2005; released Continuum, 2006. Television appearances include: Chappelle's Show, 2004; John Mayer Has a TV Show, 2004. Performed stand-up comedy in clubs, 2006.
Awards: Grammy Award for best male pop vocal performance, Recording Academy, for "Your Body Is a Wonderland," 2003; Grammy Awards for best male pop vocal performance and song of the year, Recording Academy, for "Daughters," 2005; Grammy Awards for best male pop vocal performance and best pop vocal album, Recording Academy, for "Waiting on the World to Change" and Continuum, 2007.
One of the most successful pop singers of the 2000s, John Mayer was pigeonholed early as a soft, sensitive songwriter, and has since put much of his energy into defying that label. In four years, he won five Grammy Awards, including three for best male pop vocal performance. Three of his major-label studio albums have gone platinum or multi-platinum. His best-known song, "Your Body Is a Wonderland," established him as a romantic heartthrob, but when the most sentimental song on his second album, "Daughters," was released as a single despite his objections and became a huge hit, Mayer decided to alter his career by emphasizing his work as a blues guitarist. He collaborated with several blues legends and began recording with a tight trio. Though such a move generated some predictable criticism, given his musical reputation and middle-class upbringing, his recordings with the trio have earned him a measure of critical respect as well as continued commercial success.
Mayer grew up in Fairfield, Connecticut, where he became a fan of classic blues guitarists. "I was 15 years old, with my room plastered with posters of Stevie Ray Vaughan and as many Albert King photos as I could have, which wasn't many," he told Chris Willman of Entertainment Weekly. "Bonnie Raitt, Jimmie Vaughan, Robert Cray—these were like my buddies." He briefly attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, where an overdose of intense guitar performances drove him to explore soft, melodic ballads. In 1998, after he dropped out, he moved to Atlanta, where he became a frequent performer at music clubs such as Eddie's Attic.
While in Atlanta, Mayer released his first album, Inside Wants Out, a mostly acoustic affair that stressed lyrics more than musical hooks. He appeared at the prestigious South by Southwest Music Festival in March of 2000, and his performance there won him a contract with the Columbia Records subsidiary Aware Records. He went into the studio in late 2000 to record his major-label debut with a full band and producer John Alagia, who had previously worked with Dave Matthews—a musician to whom Mayer would often be compared early in his career.
The new album, Room For Squares, included re-recordings of some songs from Inside Wants Out with more punch and instrumentation. The album, released in September of 2001, included two very successful singles, "No Such Thing" and "Your Body is a Wonderland." The first song, with an alienated teenager defying the expectations of "prom kings" and "drama queens" and imagining a sort of emotional revenge at his ten-year high school reunion, appealed to a wide audience of young, lonely misfits. "Your Body Is A Wonderland," meanwhile, was a sweetly explicit love song.
Mayer's popularity grew steadily throughout 2002. Room For Squares was certified platinum by that summer, on the way to going double platinum. Mayer spent much of 2002 touring nationwide to promote the album, selling out concert halls with as many as 10,000 seats. A brief romance with actress Jennifer Love Hewitt attracted the attention of tabloids, increasing his fame. Columbia/Alive re-released Inside Wants Out to satiate fans' appetite for new Mayer songs. The following February, "Your Body is a Wonderland" won a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Mayer was also nominated for best new artist, but he lost that award to Norah Jones.
Room For Squares, Mayer told Entertainment Weekly's Willman, was his attempt "to make the most mature-sounding immature record in the world," that is, an album with lyrics from a youthful perspective but music inspired by sophisticated influences. "A lot of young artists right now are drawing from an incredibly shallow pool of inspiration," he complained to Willman. "There are artists my age whose musical understanding dates back to 1994. That's frightening, to think the tail of the comet only goes back as far as Jesus Jones."
That joke about a 1990s band that landed one major single on alternative rock radio made it clear that Mayer did not want to be known for only one hit. Reviewers of shows on his 2002 tour noted his attempts to show a sharper side. During his long guitar solos, "Mayer looked as if he was physically laboring to set himself apart from Duncan Sheik and other mild, one-hit singer-songwriters," Gavin Edwards of Rolling Stone wrote after seeing a gig in New York City in 2002. Edwards admitted to being surprised at Mayer's skills, calling his solos "fluid and elegant" like those of blues legend Eric Clapton. The tour produced a double live album, Any Given Thursday, released in 2003, that had something of a jam-band feel. Some of the songs from Room for Squares were expanded to double their studio length.
Another aspect of Mayer's success was, undeniably, his good looks—his "deep, searching brown eyes" and "luscious, curly brown hair," as USA Weekend writer Michele Hatty described. Combined with his romantic lyrics, his looks and 6-foot-3 frame quickly led him to heartthrob status. That seemed to surprise Mayer. "If you can see inside my brain and what I'm trying to do onstage, the last thing that comes to mind is [to] make people swoon," he told Molly Priesmeyer of Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service.
Though Mayer titled his follow-up album Heavier Things, critics dubbed it another soft, pleasant, but not edgy affair. Tom Sinclair of Entertainment Weekly gave it a grade of C-plus, half-dismissing Mayer by placing him "firmly in the sensitive-singer-songwriter-whom-chicks-dig division, where heaviness is relative." Other writers took note of the appearances of jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove and ?uestlove, drummer for the Roots, as signs that Mayer was testing his boundaries. Mayer said the album showed him at his most emotionally honest. "I'm the kid who gets naked," he told USA Weekend's Hatty. "I don't know how to have shame. It's all out there with this album."
The record company chose the song "Daughters" as the single from the album, over Mayer's strong opposition. It was the softest, most sentimental song on the album ("Fathers, be good to your daughters/Daughters will love like you do," he advises in the chorus), and Mayer feared it would forever pigeonhole him as a sensitive guy. "I saw that as career death," he later told Brian Hiatt of Rolling Stone. Meanwhile, the record company proved to be right that the song would be a strong single: "Daughters" won Mayer his second Grammy, for Song of the Year.
After that, Mayer began to resist the sensitive singer-songwriter tag. "I got pigeonholed," he told Clark Collis of Entertainment Weekly. "Everybody [was going], 'You're doing good,' but I felt terrible. They had the wrong man. So I had to jam the door open." He told Rolling Stone's Hiatt, "It was, 'let me take a year and get myself on track.' I've met people who didn't realize they were off target, and they looked up and they were forty—they had six failed records, but everyone told them they were great. And they're … miserable."
To change his career path, Mayer formed the John Mayer Trio, a band that included bassist Pino Palladino, who had toured with The Who, and drummer Steve Jordan, who had recorded sessions with Clapton and Bob Dylan. They embarked on a tour of small theaters that sold out around the country. The move pushed Mayer to test the limits of his musicianship. "In a trio, there's nowhere to hide," Jordan told Entertainment Weekly's Collis. "And it was different for John, not being the best guy in the band. He'd never worked so hard in his life. But he more than held his own. He's a fantastic musician. Here's a guy that knows about tone; he's constantly tweaking his guitar tone."
Meanwhile, Mayer also began working as a guest musician with several legendary and popular musicians, from bluesmen B. B. King, Buddy Guy, and Clapton to jazz veteran Herbie Hancock to hip-hopper Kanye West and R&B singer Alicia Keys. His insistence in interviews that he was a bluesman upset some critics. "Mayer's no bluesman. That's a title and privilege afforded those who make music imbued with the rawness of real life," Boston Globe writer Renee Graham ranted before the John Mayer Trio even played its first gig. But when the trio released a live album, Try! John Mayer Trio Live in Concert in 2005, People reviewer Chuck Arnold, who had been lukewarm about Heavier Things, called the live album "exciting," praising Mayer's "surprising new blues, funk, and jazz colors." Mayer spent a week visiting Clapton at his country estate in England and writing songs with him. He also wrote songs with Keys, but did not have any plans to record the results of either collaboration.
Mayer spent a few years recording his next studio album, Continuum, with Palladino and Jordan. The collection of mostly soul-influenced songs included some radio-friendly pop ballads, but also showed off his blues-guitar skills, which critics described as similar to Texas bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughn's (no surprise, since Mayer had Vaughn's initials tattooed on his left arm). He declared the new album his best. "Continuum is kind of like my thesis paper," he told Collis of Entertainment Weekly. "It's the one I feel best about. I've finally got it right. There's a little bit of me that's, like, now I can die, proverbially." He promoted the album with a co-headline tour with Sheryl Crow in 2006. Though a record-company executive briefly upset Mayer during the recording sessions by saying he did not hear a single on the album, Mayer soon produced "Waiting for the World to Change," a sort of passive protest song in which he declares that members of his generation did not participate more in politics because they sensed the system was fixed to prevent them from changing it. The song, with a sound reminiscent of 1970s soul great Curtis Mayfield, became a successful single.
Mayer has also explored comedy and magazine writing. He appeared on comedian Dave Chappelle's Chappelle's Show in 2004, in a skit about which types of music get people of different races to dance. He also appeared in a half-hour VH1 special, John Mayer Has A TV Show, in which he was shown telling a bunch of his fans that 1980s soft-rocker Richard Marx had actually written all of his singles. In 2006, he began performing standup comedy, appearing at little-announced comedy shows in New York and Los Angeles, revealing a sometimes blue humor that would surprise those who had pigeonholed him as square. He continued doing so even after a blogger created a small furor by reporting that Mayer had performed a routine about how black people can use a certain racial slur, but white people cannot. "Everyone begs me not to do stand-up," he told Hiatt in Rolling Stone. "Everyone connected to my well-being and on my payroll says stand-up is terrible. When I say, 'I'm doing stand-up tonight,' they hear, 'I'm going to start heroin.'" He insisted that people in the entertainment industry had become too cautious. Mayer also began writing a regular column for Esquire, "Music Lessons with John Mayer." Meanwhile, the celebrity gossip press pounced on him again, spreading the rumor that he was dating singer Jessica Simpson. But Mayer, who had become quite media-savvy, expertly parried questions about the alleged romance.
By 2007, Mayer's efforts at being taken more seriously were succeeding. In February, he won two more Grammys. "Waiting on the World to Change" won him his third award in four years for best male pop vocal performance, and Continuum won best pop vocal album. At the ceremony, he partnered with singers John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae, each singing the others' songs. Then, in May, Time named him to the Time 100, its list of the world's most influential people. Mayer performed three songs at the close of the Time 100 gala at Lincoln Center in New York City. In July, he performed in the finale of Live Earth, a set of concerts at several locations around the world meant to raise awareness about global warming. After playing a set of his songs at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, he joined the reunited rock band The Police and rapper Kanye West for the concert's final song, a performance of the Police song "Message in a Bottle." He spent the rest of the summer of 2007 touring to support Continuum and writing songs for a new album.
Inside Wants Out, self-released, 1999; Aware/Columbia, 2002.
Room For Squares, Sony, 2001.
Any Given Thursday, Aware/Columbia, 2003.
Heavier Things, Aware/Columbia, 2003.
Try! John Mayer Trio Live in Concert, Aware/Columbia, 2005.
Continuum, Aware/Columbia, 2006.
Boston Globe, September 13, 2005.
Entertainment Weekly, August 9, 2002, p. 36; December 20, 2002, p. 47; March 14, 2003, p. 62; September 12, 2003, p. 148; February 16, 2007, p. 38.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, April 6, 2004.
People, October 7, 2002, p. 107; October 6, 2003, p. 51; December 12, 2005, p. 45.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland), June 29, 2007, p. T17.
Rolling Stone, August 22, 2002, p. 28; September 7, 2006, p. 30; September 21, 2006, p. 66.
Teen People, June 1, 2002, p. 99.
Time, May 14, 2007, p. 140; May 21, 2007.
University Wire, February 26, 2007.
USA Weekend, December 28, 2003.
"Biography," johnmayer.com, http://www.johnmayer.com/bio (May 13, 2007).
"Earth Gets Rocked, Live," E! Online, http://www.eonline.com/news/article/index.jsp?uuid=c64c8d73-8000-48e7-991c-03d4fb312ad9 (July 8, 2007).
"John Mayer: Biography," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:kifqxqrkldfe∼T1 (May 13, 2007).
Pop singer-songwriter John Mayer came to the fore in 2002, fueled by the popularity of his major label debut, Room for Squares, which sold more than three million copies and earned him a Grammy Award in 2002. Literate and thoughtful, Mayer has been lauded for his sensitive lyrics, astute guitar playing, and melodically rich songs that are a blend of jazz, pop, and blues.
Mayer was born on October 16, 1977, to Margaret, a school teacher, and Richard Mayer, a school principal. He grew up as the middle child between two brothers in Fairfield, Connecticut. According to Jenny Eliscu on RollingStone.com in November of 2003, his mother described him as "a peaceable kid." While he was growing up, Mayer wanted to be a radio announcer. "Maybe it was the booming baritone or the glib delivery," he told Eliscu. He practiced announcing his own radio station, WJOHN, in the bathroom, and recorded radio shows in his bedroom. His aspirations changed when he started playing guitar at age 13. He learned to play mostly by himself, listening and playing along to CDs. He drew attention as a teen by emulating the blues guitar licks of his hero, Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Mayer's guitar playing got in the way of his school work and he was constantly at odds with his parents, who wanted to know what their son was planning to do if he didn't become a world-famous musician. "Just watch, just watch," he recalled saying to his mother, according to Eliscu. He graduated from high school and earned a partial scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music, which he attended for a year. In 1999 he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he worked at a gas station to support himself. He played guitar and sang in coffee houses during time off from work, and released his acoustic, independent debut, Inside Wants Out, during that year. In Atlanta, Mayer found an audience in the coffee houses and clubs, and began to draw the attention of major record labels. He later moved to New York City.
Mayer found a major label record deal at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, in 2000. A representative of Aware Records, a Chicago-based imprint of Columbia, saw him perform, and Mayer was able to sign to the label soon after. Columbia took over his contract before his first release. By the fall of 2000 he was in the recording studio with producer John Alagia, who had worked with Dave Matthews and Ben Folds Five. In contrast to Inside Wants Out, Mayer's major-label debut, Room for Squares, was backed by a full electric band.
Room for Squares simmered for a while before it began to pick up speed. But by the spring of 2002, the album was climbing the Billboard charts in leaps and bounds. Radio stations across America were playing his first single, "No Such Thing," in heavy rotation, as they did with his next two, "Your Body Is a Wonderland" and "Why Georgia." Rolling Stone magazine named him one of Ten Artists to Watch, he was featured on television and in major magazines, and many of his 2002 concerts were sold out. When Mayer was struggling at Berklee in 1997, his father had sent him a check for $250 with a note that read, "Remember me when you go platinum." In 2002 Mayer gave his first platinum record plaque to his father, with the note mounted inside the frame.
Early on, Mayer's lyrical and vocal styles earned him comparisons to Dave Matthews, David Gray, and Steely Dan, but the young musician still counts Vaughn as his biggest influence, along with Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, and Robert Cray. Mayer appears to take his guitar playing more seriously than he does his stardom. "At a time when countless musicians wish they were pop stars," critic Jon Pareles wrote in the New York Times, "Mr. Mayer is a pop star aspiring to be a musician."
"I want to run through the walls of my high school, I want to scream at the top of my lungs," Mayer croons in the opening refrains of "No Such Thing." In the song he looks forward to his ten-year high school reunion, and postulates that there's no "real world" to be afraid of or look forward to. In Mayer's follow-up single "Your Body is a Wonderland" he describes the joys of making out. The song earned him a Grammy Award in 2002 for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Mayer's style appeals especially to female fans. "In Mr. Mayer's songs," Pareles wrote, "he's a perfect candidate for a boyfriend: thoughtful, affectionate, a little wounded, and ready for assurance, with a breathy voice." A brief but highly publicized romance with actress Jennifer Love Hewitt left Mayer wary of celebrity dating.
Mayer's highly anticipated follow-up to Room for Squares, titled Heavier Things, debuted at number one on the American charts, and pushed his career further into the stratosphere. Rolling Stone critic James Hunter called it a "more sophisticated album." The songs, Hunter wrote, "are sparser … Most of these tracks proceed more subtly, with an emphasis on interior life." Being a famous person isn't Mayer's goal, he claims. Even after his second, star-making album, he told Eliscu, "I'm focused on proving my success wasn't an accident…. I want to get twice as good as I am now."
For the Record . . .
Born on October 16, 1977, in Fairfield, CT; son of Margaret (a school teacher) and Richard (a school principal) Mayer.
Began playing guitar, 1990; attended Berklee College of Music, 1997; released Inside Wants Out, 1999; signed with Aware Records, released Room For Squares, 2001; released Heavier Things, 2003.
Awards: Grammy Award, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for "Your Body is a Wonderland," 2003.
Addresses: Record company— Columbia Records, 555 Madison Ave., 10th Fl., New York, NY 10022-3211, website: http://www.columbiarecords.com. Booking— Creative Artists Agency, 3310 West End Ave., Nashville, TN 37203, phone: (615) 383-8787. Website— John Mayer Official Website: http://www.johnmayer.com.
Mayer is respected throughout the music community by his pop peers and, perhaps surprisingly, by rap music's elite. Rap star Jay-Z and Grammy-winning producer Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes have both publicly praised Mayer's music. Williams elaborated to MTV: "You know, the dude is a real musician," Williams said. "It's like anything you ever loved in Joe Jackson or anything you ever loved in any '70s rock. You're gonna get it out of this dude. He's a real student, and it comes through in his music."
Inside Wants Out, Aware, 1999.
Room For Squares, Columbia, 2001.
Heavier Things, Columbia, 2003.
New York Times, November 26, 2003, p. E1.
People, October 6, 2003, p. 51.
Rolling Stone, October 2, 2003, p. 116.
Village Voice, October 1-7, 2003, p. C89.
"Forget Cristal: John Mayer CDs are the Latest Hip-Hop Must Have," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1484845/20040205/index.jhtml?headlines=true (February 13, 2004).
"Songs in the Key of Mayer," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/features/featuregen.asp?pid=2043 (January 3, 2004).
Throughout his 50-year career, John Mayer never stopped growing as a musician and composer. "John Mayer was one of those multiple-threat music talents that made most other players' lives and career paths seem simple," wrote Bruce Eder in All Music Guide. Whereas many musicians were content to work within the confines of a particular genre, Mayer drew from both Eastern and Western tonal scales, and from classical and jazz, to create a distinct blend of music that defied categorization. He began his career as a violinist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1950s, but delved into fusion jazz and world music during the 1960s and 1970s. "Very few musicians make a significant impact on even one sphere of music," wrote Yehudi Menuhin in the London Times, "but to leave a lasting impression on three vastly different areas—classical, jazz and world music—is an exceptional achievement."
Mayer was born into a poor family in Chandni Chawk, Calcutta, India, in 1930. His Anglo-German-Indian father was a dockworker and his mother, an Indian, had come from Madras. "Starvation was never far away," wrote the London Telegraph, "and young John frequently waited for food parcels at local churches." Mayer found his deliverance, however, when he began violin lessons at the age of seven. Although he often practiced by himself due to his family's lack of money, he eventually studied classical music in Bombay with Melhi Mehta, and took violin lessons at the Calcutta School of Music with Phillipe Sandre.
When he was 22, Mayer won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London. Although his skills as a violinist had won him the scholarship, he started out studying composition under Matyas Sether, and eagerly began exploring the connections between Eastern and Western music. His money ran out after a year, but he was hired by the London Philharmonic Orchestra to play in its violin section, and he remained there for the next eight years, simultaneously studying at the Royal Academy. Mayer also composed while working with the London Philharmonic, and several of his works were performed.
Mayer's first real break came when Sir Charles Groves commissioned him to write Dance Suite. The piece combined orchestral arrangements with tabla, flute, sitar, and tambura, and was performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in 1958. But Mayer's success created tensions with his current employer. "This early success … created problems with the management of the London Philharmonic," wrote Eder, "which was a conservative organization and didn't appreciate having a composer within the ranks of its performing musicians."
After being forced to leave the London Philharmonic, Mayer accepted a position with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Thomas Beecham. For the next seven years he worked with the Royal Philharmonic, learning to conduct and becoming familiar with the inner workings of a large ensemble. By the mid-1960s Mayer was making enough money with his compositions to leave the Royal Philharmonic, and he quickly gained a reputation in avant-garde circles for his works combining Eastern and Western classical music styles.
In 1964 producer Denis Preston was finishing an album for Atlantic Records, and asked Mayer if he had written any short pieces that would be suitable for a jazz album. Mayer said he had, and Preston asked him to bring his music to a recording session the following day. In truth, Mayer had not written anything of the sort, but he stayed awake all night to write "Nine for Bacon." Once the piece had been recorded, it came to the attention of Ahmet Ertegun, the president of Atlantic Records. He liked Mayer's work and suggested he record an album for the Atlantic label. Mayer joined with saxophonist Joe Harriet, who formed the Indo-Jazz Fusions with pianist Pat Smythe, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, flutist Chris Taylor, sitar player Diwan Mothar, tamboura player Chandrahas Paiganka, and tabla player Keshan Sathe. "It was certainly the first ensemble to successfully introduce jazz, classical and Indian music to each other," wrote Alyn Shipton on the Indo Jazz website, "and it was the first band to use the term 'fusion' in its name."
The duo of Mayer and Harriott had a month to prepare new material for their first album, and two days in which to record it. Indo-Jazz Fusions was quickly followed by Indo-Jazz Suite. Consisting of four ragas and using an Indian tonal scale, Indo-Jazz Suite resembled free jazz by eschewing the linear progression dominant in Western musical scales. The presence of a Western quintet, however, along with elements of the blues and swing, also seeped into the music's framework. Thom Jurek of All Music Guide wrote of Indo-Jazz Suite, "This work, written and directed by Mayer, offered the closest ever collaboration and uniting of musics East and West." Together Mayer and Harriet recorded three highly praised albums between 1966 and 1968, and toured Europe and Britain.
After tensions developed between Mayer and Harriott in 1970, the latter dropped out of Indo-Jazz Fusions. He was replaced by Tony Coe, and the band recorded a fourth album in the early 1970s. Following Harriott's death from cancer in 1973, however, Mayer chose to retire the band. "I felt very disheartened when Joe died," he later told Shipton, "and I just didn't want to carry on with the band." For a short time Mayer worked with progressive rock musicians, including Keith Emerson, and he played violin on Cosmic Eye's Dream Sequence. Soon, however, Mayer turned to quieter pursuits. For the next 20 years he concentrated on writing new compositions and on his academic work at the Birmingham Conservatoire.
In 1995 Mayer decided to revive Indo-Jazz Fusions. "Soon after we re-formed," he told Shipton, "we visited Bangladesh. Audiences were bowled over, and I knew then that this was different. This was a group full of new blood, playing the music a very different way." Many of Mayer's former students joined the group, and over the next several years Indo-Jazz Fusions would record three albums for the Nimbus label and tour India. "Indo-Jazz Fusions is just such a proof of the folly of labels," noted Shipton. "It isn't a question of the music being jazz, or Indian, or classical; it is a thoroughly satisfying blend of ingredients into something genuinely new, original and forward looking." Mayer died after being hit by a jeep while returning from an optical appointment on March 9, 2004.
For the Record …
Born on October 28, 1930, in Calcutta, India; died on March 9, 2004, in England.
Joined London Philharmonic Orchestra, 1950s; commissioned by Sir Charles Groves to write Dance Suite; joined Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, late 1950s; wrote "Nine for Bacon" for Denis Preston, 1964; recorded with Joe Harriott as Indo-Jazz Fusions, 1966-70; established at Birmingham Conservatoire as composer in residence; re-formed Indo-Jazz Fusions, 1995.
Addresses: Record company—Nimbus Records, Waystone Estate Limited, Waystone Leys, Monmouth, Monmouthshire United Kingdom, NP25 3SR, website: http://www.wyastone.co.uk.
With Indo-Jazz Fusions
Indo-Jazz Fusions, Atlantic, 1966.
Indo-Jazz Suite, Atlantic, 1967.
Asian Airs, Nimbus, 1997.
Regatal, Nimbus, 1999.
Telegraph (London, England), March 20, 2004.
Times (London, England), April 12, 2004.
"Indo-Jazz Fusions," Indo Jazz, http://www.indojazzf9.co.uk/ (June 16, 2004).
"John Mayer," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com/ (June 16, 2004).
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
Born: Bridgeport, Connecticut, 16 October 1977
Best-selling album since 1990: Room for Squares (2001)
Hit songs since 1990: "No Such Thing," "Your Body Is a Wonderland"
As teenage and college girls of Generation Y (the children of baby boomers) outgrew *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys, John Mayer turned them on to more mature, thoughtful music that nevertheless retained the sentiment and soft seduction of their half-forgotten bubblegum idols.
Mayer grew up with a middle-class family in Fairfield, Connecticut, but was entranced by the idea of breaking out of the tranquil lifestyle and pursuing an individualistic life of music. He caught the music bug at age thirteen, after hearing a neighbor's cassette of the late Texas blues great Stevie Ray Vaughan. At fifteen, he started playing professionally and dropped out of high school for two years.
In 1997 he was accepted by the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. While the pop rock world is notoriously unimpressed by official credentials, Berklee is one of the few institutions that has had success in formally training pop musicians. However, Mayer felt stifled by what he saw as the school's emphasis on technical virtuosity over creativity. So after three months, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, with a friend who was originally from the city.
He found the booming metropolis an excellent live music market—plenty of people went out at night, yet audiences were not overly jaded or demanding. However, the experience separated him a bit from his blues roots. For one thing, he tended to write introspective, self-deprecating lyrics, while blues is more geared toward extroversion and accusation. Another more pragmatic hurdle was the fact that it was tough for a no-name newcomer to assemble a band. Therefore, he performed as a solo, acoustic act, which gave his repertoire some touches of the coffeehouse troubadour.
Audiences warmed up to his skillful, jazz-influenced guitar playing and his soothing, grainy voice that sounded like it was coming from someone far more mature than his years. While Mayer has always been a guitar natural, he said singing well requires a concentrated effort.
Mayer went the acoustic route for his first EP Inside Wants Out (1999). Drums are absent from most cuts, and the only obvious studio touch is some vocal overdubbing. Its first four tracks, "Back to You," "No Such Thing," "My Stupid Mouth," and "Neon," would show up on his debut album Room for Squares (2001). "Neon" is memorable for its incongruity—Mayer sings about a lover who is into "mixed drinks and techno beats" over a folksy, percolating guitar solo. His guitar playing also signals that while he may not have been interested in being the most technically proficient student, he possesses chops to spare.
He was discovered by Columbia Records subsidiary Aware at a South by Southwest Music Festival showcase in Austin, Texas, in 2000. Later that year, he began recording Room for Squares with producer John Alagia (Ben Folds Five, Dave Matthews Band). This time, Mayer used a full rock combo to fill out his raw inspiration. His slightly raspy voice draws comparisons to Dave Matthews, while his confessional lyrics and acoustic leanings make him seem an ideal counterpart to the other Generation Y breakout of the early 2000s, Norah Jones. His first single "No Such Thing" rocked along with an aggressive tempo and unusual but catchy chord progressions. With musings about high school memories and trying to avoid a boring fate, Mayer created an anthem for aimless yet ambitious twenty-somethings going through what he calls the "quarterlife crisis."
The second single, "Your Body Is a Wonderland," a new song not included on Inside Wants Out, is an acoustic-framed ballad whose success signaled pent-up demand in the pop world for direct, sexy, understandable lyrics. The song won a Grammy Award in 2003 for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
Mayer, now more than able to hire a backing band, showcased his well-honed performance skills on double-live Any Given Thursday (2003). He returns to his blues roots on the despairing "City Love" and lets bassist David LaBruyere get funky on "No Such Thing."
Millions of young people who had put away their prefab pop records were still in the market for enjoyable, inoffensive music. Mayer helped them through their college and young professional years with lyrics that treated them as adults and accessible melodies they could sing along with.
Inside Wants Out (Aware, 1999); Room for Squares (Aware/Columbia, 2001); Any Given Thursday (Aware/Columbia, 2003).