Wednesday, October 23, 2013

John 'Gypie' Mayo (1951-2013)

Gypie Mayo (far right) just after he replaced Wilko
News via the modern grapevine came in earlier today that John 'Gypie' Mayo, the guitarist, has passed away. Gypie (so-called - by Lee Brilleaux - for his tendency to be a little under the weather) was, notoriously, the second guitarist for Canvey's very own pub rock legends, Dr Feelgood.

Anyone with the most basic grasp of British rock history will know that this particular job was not an easy one to do. Following in the footsteps of Wilko Johnson (who, ironically, is also terminally ill but still with us), Mayo (real name Cawthra) had to contend with filling a gap left by one of the UK's premier six-string stylists of the '70s. But for me, not unlike Peter Green following Eric Clapton in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Gypie was every inch Wilko's equal.

To most purists this may seem like heresy. Yet as a teenager I learned far more by listening to Mayo. Johnson's signature sound of choppy Telecaster riffs combined with lead (allegedly learned by listening to Johnny Kidd and the Pirates' Johnny Green) was wonderfully stripped-down and importantly minimal, especially at a time when most other bands were making albums with four tracks that aspired to the condition of classical music. Yet Mayo was my hero. His own style was (and, indeed HAD to be) utterly different to Johnson's. A fan of the aforementioned Peter Green, he also worshipped at the altar of Steve Cropper (as his wonderful instrumentals with the band such as 'Greasball' and 'Hi-Rise' prove), and had skills and range far beyond anything that Wilko could muster.

Coming second to Johnson always meant that he was off-handedly rejected and undervalued by the 'cooler' rock press, yet he played on the band's biggest hits ('Milk and Alcohol' and 'Down at the Doctors' - both from their masterpiece, Private Practice) and had a lithe, gutsy tone that contained elements of country picking a la James Burton and the blues smarts of Bo Diddley.

I purchased the recent 'definitive' box set of Gypie's time with the Feelgoods (and even got halfway through writing about it), despite already owning the majority already, and it all still sounds every bit as fresh. The box even contained a recent interview with the man where he came across as the least bitter and most charming bloke you could hope to meet. I used to spend hours poring over every note he played on those six albums. Along with Tom Verlaine, Mick Ronson and Steve Hillage he influenced me more than any other guitarist.

Until this morning I always hoped I'd one day get the chance to meet him and say thanks. Now I can't and it's made me very sad.

Here's Gypie - looking every inch the cool geezer he was... Be seeing you!

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