Obituary: Gypie Mayo

Guitarist with Dr Feelgood who co-wrote their Top 10 single ‘Milk and Alcohol’

When the electrifying guitarist Wilko Johnson left Dr Feelgood in 1977, the pub rockers who lit the punk rock fuse looked to be in serious trouble. From their inception in 1974, Johnson had been a mesmerising foil to the manic lead vocalist Lee Brilleaux, and the group’s primary songwriter. Yet his eventual replacement John “Gypie” Mayo rose to the seemingly impossible task of replacing the guitarist whose staccato playing and stage presence had influenced the Stranglers, the Sex Pistols and the Jam.

A gifted and creative player, Mayo proved an excellent addition to the line-up with Brilleaux and the other two original members, bassist John B Sparks – “Sparko” – and drummer John Martin, “The Big Figure”. He could help Dr Feelgood perform the seminal rhythm and blues material from their first three studio albums that their fanbase expected but also proved a sterling contributor on the songwriting front as they made headway into the singles charts.

His five-year tenure coincided with something of a purple patch for the band as they scored their first Top 40 hit in autumn 1977 with the adrenaline-fuelled “She’s A Wind Up”, written by all four members, and reached the Top 10 in early 1979 with the short, sharp, morning-after tale of “Milk And Alcohol”, co-written by Nick Lowe. With his feather cut hairstyle and his penchant for alternating between a Gibson 335 and a Fender Stratocaster, Mayo cut a striking figure and was eventually accepted by the group’s hardcore fans.

However, he left in 1981, blaming the punishing touring schedule and a need “to move on musically.” In the mid-1990s he joined another legendary band, the Yardbirds, and again delivered on the expectations of thousands of guitar aficionados eager to hear the repertoire associated with the band’s erstwhile guitar heroes, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.

Assembled by two founder members, drummer Jim McCarty and rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja, the reformed Yardbirds became mainstays of the international touring circuit. In 2003 they released Birdland, an album combining original material and revivals of several of their hits, on which Mayo more than held his own alongside stellar guests such as Beck, Brian May, Slash, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. He left in 2005 and moved to Bath, where he taught guitar and played the occasional restaurant gig.

Born John Philip Cawthra in London in 1951, he was one of many teenagers enthralled by the Shadows and the Beatles. At 13 he bought a cheap Russian-made acoustic guitar, and began playing along to Beatles and Rolling Stones records. Though he was basically self-taught, he also drew on the classical music he had listened to with his father and fell under the spell of Peter Green. “I saw him play in 1967, just before he quit John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and my life was never quite the same after that,” he said of the guitarist who made his reputation with Fleetwood Mac in the late 1960s. “I had never fully realised just how expressive and exciting guitar playing could be. I also saw Jeff Beck, Mick Taylor and David O’List [of The Nice]. I’m sure they all influenced me to some degree.”

Not academically-minded, he was expelled from school and worked in a printing shop for three years. In 1969 he took up the stage name John Mayo and joined a blues band, White Mule. Over the next few years he played wildly contrasting styles of music, ranging from psychedelia and funk via traditional Irish, a versatile grounding that would stand him in good stead when he was recruited into Dr Feelgood.

Accounts differ as to whether Johnson was pushed or quit after arguing with Brilleaux over the inclusion of the Lew Lewis composition “Lucky Seven” on Sneakin’ Suspicion, the Feelgoods’ third studio album recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales. By the time it had reached the Top 10 in June 1977, they had done a few concerts with the Irish guitarist Henry McCullough, of Wings fame, but were looking for a permanent replacement. Mayo jumped at the chance.

“I’d had enough of obscurity and they were high-profile at the time,” he said. “My main memory of that period is amazement that I had teamed up with such an unique and unusual bunch of guys. All the bands I’d been in were very earnest about playing music. The Feelgoods, on the other hand, seemed to regard playing as pure fun. They didn’t take themselves too seriously, which is why people loved them.”

Given the surfeit of Johns in the band and his tendency to complain about minor ailments, Brilleaux observed that the new recruit always seemed to have “the gyp” and the “Gypie” nickname stuck. Mayo made his bow on the album Be Seeing You, named after The Prisoner cult TV series catchphrase which the hard-working band had made their own. Produced by Lowe, it contained not only “She’s A Wind Up” but also a barnstorming version of the Otis Clay soul standard “Baby Jane” which inexplicably missed the charts.

The band’s headline tour of the UK in autumn 1977 showed they had lost none of their urgency and had arguably increased their pulling power with the punk crowd. Fresh from producing Blondie’s first two albums, Richard Gottehrer helmed Private Practice, their next album, which included the Mickey Jupp song “Down At The Doctors” as well as “Milk And Alcohol” and a wonderful cover of ‘Night Time’, the ’60s garage rock classic Gottehrer had co-written when in the Strangeloves. The guitarist also excelled on the concert recording As It Happens, released in June 1979, their last album to make the charts, and the next two studio albums, Let It Roll and A Case Of The Shakes, the latter reuniting them with Nick Lowe.

Mayo was replaced by Johnny “Guitar” Crippen of the Count Bishops. Following the departure of both Sparko and The Big Figure, Brilleaux fronted various Dr Feelgood line-ups until his death in April 1994. The group has since continued under the auspices of manager Chris Fenwick.

Between his tenures with Dr. Feelgood and the Yardbirds, Mayo played with the Inmates, Geno Washington and Pete Gage. In January 2007 he participated in a session with the Barcodes for the Paul Jones blues show on Radio 2. He told the Dr Feelgood website he’d like to be “remembered as an inventive, tasteful and exciting guitar player.” He certainly will be.

John Philip Cawthra, (“Gypie” Mayo), guitarist and songwriter: born London 24 July 1951; married Lesley (one son); died Bath 23 October 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links