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).