After making his introduction as a sensitive, acoustic-styled songwriter on 2001’s Room for Squares, John Mayer steadily widened his approach over the subsequent years, encompassing everything from blues-rock to adult contemporary in the process. Arriving during the tail-end of teen pop’s heyday, he crafted pop music for a more discerning audience, spiking his songcraft with jazz chords and literate turns of phrase. The combination proved to be quite popular, as Room for Squares went triple-platinum before its follow-up release, Heavier Things, arrived in September 2003. Mayer continued to retool his sound with each album, however, moving beyond the material that had launched his career and adopting elements of rock, blues, and soul. Moreover, he partnered with legends of several genres, making guest appearances on albums by Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, and B.B. King, while touring alongside jazz icon Herbie Hancock. Mayer also retained enough pop/rock foundation to continue his reign of the charts, making him one of the decade’s most popular songwriters.
Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and raised in the nearby town of Fairfield, Mayer began playing blues as a teenager. By 1997, his skill on the electric guitar was enough to warrant admission into the Berklee College of Music, although Mayer dropped out after two semesters to pursue a songwriting career in Atlanta. Working alongside former classmate Clay Cook, he frequented the local coffeehouse circuit and began co-writing material that melded palatable pop/rock with unexpected flourishes. Cook and Mayer parted ways shortly thereafter, however, with Cook joining the Marshall Tucker Band’s touring lineup for several years. Now a solo artist by default, Mayer recorded several of the duo’s songs, packaged them alongside a handful of his own compositions, and self-released the EP in 1999 under the title Inside Wants Out.
Mayer secured a deal with Aware Records in early 2000, and recording sessions for his debut album commenced later that year with producer John Alagia, renowned for his work with Dave Matthews and Ben Folds Five. Although Inside Wants Out had been a decidedly acoustic effort, Room for Squares proved to be a more expansive affair, with several of Mayer’s old songs receiving new, radio-ready arrangements. Released in 2001 by both Aware and Columbia Records, the album quickly launched Mayer’s career, with “No Such Thing” and “Your Body Is a Wonderland” both becoming Top 20 hits.
As Mayer hit the road in support of the album, his considerable talent as a lead guitarist (a skill that had been downplayed during Room for Squares) flourished, leading him to showcase several blues-influenced solos on his 2003 live album, Any Given Thursday. That same year, Mayer won his first Grammy Award for “Your Body Is a Wonderland.” He returned to the Grammy ceremony two years later, this time to accept a pair of awards for “Daughters,” a soulful ballad from his lucrative sophomore release, Heavier Things. Commercial and critical success notwithstanding, Mayer’s interest in other genres convinced him to take a brief break from pop music, and he tested his instrumental chops by collaborating with blues artists (Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Eric Clapton) and jazz legends (John Scofield, Herbie Hancock). He also assembled the John Mayer Trio, whose bluesy rock & roll was displayed on the band’s first and only release, Try! Mayer returned to his solo career with 2006’s Continuum, a warmly received album that saw him focusing on blues, pop, and contemporary soul. “Gravity” found modest success as a single, but “Waiting on the World to Change” proved to be the album’s commercial highlight, cracking the Top 20 in February 2007 and winning a Grammy that same month. Later that year, Mayer achieved his highest-charting single to date with “Say,” a song from the Rob Reiner film The Bucket List. After “Say” peaked at number 12, the song was included in a reissued version of Continuum, and it took home yet another Grammy Award (along with “Gravity”) in early 2009.
Mayer returned to the studio in 2009 and emerged with Battle Studies, featuring the single “Heartbreak Warfare.” Building upon Continuum’s slick, adult contemporary sound, the album sold well. However, its release marked a tough period for Mayer’s public image, as he was criticized for comments he made about ex-girlfriends Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Aniston during interviews for Rolling Stone and Playboy. Subsequently, Mayer deleted his Twitter account and took some time off from appearing in public and doing interviews.
In 2011, while recording his fifth studio album, the Don Was-produced Born and Raised, Mayer revealed that he would be receiving treatment for granulomas found near his vocal cords. Following his surgery, Mayer completed the album and debuted the lead-off single, “Shadow Days.” A stripped-down affair, Born and Raised showcased a more rootsy, folk and country-tinged sound than his previous efforts. Three months before the album’s release, a recurrence of Mayer’s granulomas forced him to cancel his subsequent planned tour and abstain from singing indefinitely while he received more treatment. Upon its release, Born and Raised became Mayer’s first album to spend more than two weeks at the number one spot on the Billboard 200 chart.
In 2013, Mayer returned to the studio with Don Was to record Paradise Valley, his sixth album and one that would continue to explore the rootsy, folk style of Born and Raised. Mayer toured Paradise Valley into 2014. The next year, he was hired by Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann to fill the Jerry Garcia role in Dead & Company, the touring revue that followed the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well shows of 2015. Dead & Company toured into 2016 and then Mayer finished his next album, The Search for Everything. An EP teaser of the album, The Search for Everything: Wave One, appeared in January 2017, and a second, Wave Two, arrived the following month. The full-length The Search for Everything appeared in April 2017. ~ Andrew Leahey