The 87-year-old blues legend recruited the 75-year-old guitar hero to join his influential group John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers in 1965.
Over the years, the band featured the likes of the late Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie of Fleetwood Mac and former Rolling Stones strummer Mick Taylor and inspired a whole generation of blues and rock legends.
Mayall, dubbed ‘The Godfather of British Blues’, insists the most important thing to him is being an authentic artist rather than chasing fame and he has always been happy for Clapton regarding his many achievements in the music business.
When asked if he had ever envied Clapton, Mayall said: “I don’t think it really works that way. You do what’s natural to you and see if it works for the public in the same way it does for you."
Speaking exclusively to BANG Showbiz, he continued: “My philosophy has always been to work as honestly as I can with the kind of music that was natural to me so to put those songs into words, it’s a great feeling to have had that freedom.”
Clapton quit the Bluesbreakers in July 1966 and was replaced by Green. He was then invited by late drummer Ginger Baker to play in his new group Cream, the now-iconic band which also featured former Bluesbreakers member Jack Bruce.
Before Cream, Clapton was not well known in America, and had left his other group, The Yardbirds, before their track 'For Your Love' hit the US top 10.
Mayall also insisted he would never work with just any musician and is very selective when it comes to his collaborators.
The ‘Bare Wires’ rocker said: “You know you do something which is natural to you and natural to the musicians you are working with. I don’t think there’s been any point in my career where I’ve ended up sticking with someone I wasn’t really fully into ... I’ve had total freedom really; I think one of the good things about being a bandleader is you get to choose who you want to work with.”
Mayall - who was awarded an OBE in 2005 for being a pioneer of blues music – also admitted music has always been a source of "improvisation and exploration" for him since he was a child.
He said: “I don’t think anybody really knows what draws them into any kind of music. I think it was a good thing for me to find something I was attracted to. It’s not just blues. It's jazz. It’s the whole thing. It’s the improvisation and it’s the exploration through music and the feelings.”
‘John Mayall: The First Generation' – a 35 CD limited edition box set - is out now via Madfish Records through Snapper Music.