On the evening of February 4, 2020, fans converged on the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles, California, for the second and final night of the famous “David Ryan Harris And Friends” jam show.
At the time, attendees knew Harris, along with his stellar house band – comprising Isaiah Sharkey, Terence Clark, Sean Hurley and more session heavyweights – would provide stellar entertainment for a Tuesday evening.
What they didn’t know, however, was that “And Friends” also included John Mayer, and that Mayer was going to end the evening having performed arguably his greatest jam session ever.
The backdrop to Mayer’s display was Yesterday Shutting Down. A track from Harris’s 2006 album The Bittersweet, the soulful tune was perhaps always going to get the best out of Mayer’s playing: swung with ample room to roam, Yesterday Shutting Down was a see-saw song that hopped from C#7 to F#7, with the occasional G#7 thrown in for good measure.
After all, since Gravity, one of Mayer’s biggest tracks second only to Slow Dancing in a Burning Room, principally pivots around G and C – much like the popular two-chord solo outro of 2021's I Guess I Just Feel Like – it was as if the stars were aligning for a Mayer improvisation of the ages.
And that’s exactly what happened. “Did I just witness the greatest jam session that's ever taken place?” writes one commenter on the 22-minute video, which has been viewed 1.3 million times at the time of writing.
No doubt they were referring to the entire experience, which featured one of the best live assemblies of the modern jam era. But from a guitar perspective, it’s Mayer’s contribution – specifically, his jaw-dropping two-minute solo at the 10:25 mark in the video above – that was particularly remembered.
Best divided into four segments, it’s an era-traversing achievement for the Sob Rock star, who amalgamated his blues trio chops from Try (2005), loose swing feel from Born & Raised (2012), melodicism from Continuum (2006) and the various techniques he perfected throughout his repertoire into one near-perfect package.
Summoned by Harris via a Waiting On The World to Change callback, Mayer begins his solo in position four of his Nebula PRS Silver Sky for the trademark finger-and-thumb action that emerged in his early years, easing his way into the improv with the sort of minor/major pentatonic flurries and raking licks that dominated his Try blues trio album and Where The Light Is live record.
Clearly a more refined bluesman these days, Mayer moves into the second phase of his fretboard assault with a collection of chromatics that set up his B.B. King-style bends, further colored with whole-note-and-then-some embellishments that highlight Mayer’s surgical accuracy.
By this point, Hurley, Harris, Sharkey, Clark and co are sensing Mayer’s momentum, and as the instrumentation swells so too does the guitarist’s soloing. Some more urgent major pentatonic turnarounds and one breathless commute up the fretboard later, Mayer attacks a high C# and reaches the endgame of his effort.
As Mayer reaches this point, the crowd are in full voice – no doubt some are on their feet – Hurley’s mouth is open in a triumphant yell and Mayer remains totally in the zone: a man on a mission to deliver the goods.
Mayer’s best solo ever? Possibly. One of his top five? Most definitely.
Safe to say the showing made a lasting impact. Search “John Mayer Hotel Cafe solo” on YouTube and you’ll be greeted with a number of covers and tutorials. You might even spot a reaction video from online guitar teacher Michael Palmisano – posted above – who posits the question, “WTF? Best band ever?”, before praising Mayer’s lead contribution at length.
But it’s not just Mayer’s solo that gets the plaudits. Sharkey, who has the tough job of following the aforementioned effort, delivers an equally knockout lead, while Clark commands the entire 22-minute jam with his infectiously responsive drum beats.
The rhythm sensibilities showcased by Mayer are also worth a mention. The blues-pop artist spends more than 20 minutes laying a foundation for his fellow musicians to perform on, never once stepping on anyone's toes: a role he's no doubt perfected with his modern-day Dead & Company duties.
Mayer is a seasoned player who has countless collaborations and guest spots on his resume. But when he joined Harris, Hurley, Sharkey and Clark at the Hotel Cafe on February 4, 2020, he showcased his elite, era-spanning musicality, and offered up one of the best session appearances of his career.