I interviewed John Mayall OBE, The Godfather of British Blues, just recently, 81 years old and still performing every night on tour like a Kentucky Spring Chicken. The Blues has endured as a musical genre for more than 100 years – that's longevity in a field where genres are now thin sliced and the half life of an artist or musical genre is in decline. Here's the interview with the legendary Mr Mayall:


I was astonished to discover John's preference to never have a night off on a tour. A lesson for all of us in terms of attendance management! I also learned a lot about talent management as he talked about how he selected people to be in his band, including Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Andy Fraser, Walter Trout et al. He did not attempt to retain these star talents, letting them pass through his band and building his reputation as a result. They have paid him back in spades ever since.

A small sample of John's tour schedule – imagine doing this as a multi-site HR manager at 35. let alone 80 years old!!

In a deep sense of irony, here are some further remarks about The Blues and HR:

  1. Most blues begin: “Woke up this morning …” “I got a good woman” is a bad way to begin the blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line like, “I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town.” You can’t have a blues that begins: “I got a good HR manager, who sets meaningful performance goals and critical success factors.” It’s a cathartic artform.
  2. The blues ain’t about systematic creative problem solving, blue ocean strategy brainstorming sessions, strengths based coaching or scenario planning: You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch – ain’t no way out. Sometimes you gotta deal with people at work who believe there ain’t no way out…
  3. Blues can take place in New York City, but not in Rochester or any place in Canada. Hard times in Minneapolis, Tunbridge Wells or Macclesfield is probably just clinical depression. Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City are still the best places to have the blues, not Wimbledon, Bath or Shoreditch. You cannot have the blues in any place that don’t get rain, nor in an outsourced HR service centre.
  4. If death occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it’s a blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is another blues way to die. So are the electric chair and substance abuse. You can’t have a blues death if you expire during an HR strategy meeting, a team building day, on an overnight stay at the Holiday Inn, or while receiving liposuction at a personal development retreat.
  5. People with names like Michelle, Jason, Amber, Jade, Les and Heather can’t sing the blues no matter how many men they shoot in the "twin blues towns" of Memphis, Milton Keynes or Milan.

As far as corporate life is concerned, it’s easy to find examples of customer service that give you the blues. Just try establishing human contact with telephone behemoth O2 and you will see what I mean. Yet, some other companies stand out in terms of the excellence of their service. In the banking sector, my favourite is firstdirect, who hire people that are fond of talking and doing things about OTHER people’s problems. A refreshing change and especially so, when one considers that the words banking and service rarely fit into a songline. I recall the the HR Director's strategy is simple but not necessarily easy to copy. She says it straight:

"We hire people that like to talk about other people's sh..t"

"We hire people that like solving problems they have never encountered before"

Steppin' out with John Mayall

Contrary to popular opinion, the blues need not a negative musical genre. It can be a cathartic release for the performers and the audience alike as John Mayall attests to in his interview. Here’s “The Credit Crunch Blues”, written and performed by mhs Homes. We helped the HR department form a corporate blues band, assisted them with writing, playing, recording and performing. Ultimately the song was so successful as a cancer charity fundraising project that they ended up performing it as part of their annual conference:


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