These days, more people talk about the bevy of beautiful women that John Mayer dates than the music he writes or the tech cred he’s built. But beyond Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Jennifer Aniston, he’s first a guitarist — one that’s gained the respect of noted musicians such as B.B. King and the Rolling Stones. That music led to a professional and personal relationship with none other than Apple CEO Steve Jobs — which ended on bitter terms when he signed on as a spokesman for BlackBerry and allowed it to sponsor one of his tours.
When you add in his addiction to Twitter, prolific blogging and absolute glee of gadgets, you have a rock star with a deep-down hidden nerd inside. He’s a secret geek who appears to have it all — good looks, gorgeous girlfriends and an incredible musical talent. But as Jobs once said, he’s in danger of “blowing it big time, according to Rolling Stone.
Mayer, 35, has unusual roots for blues guitarist. He grew up in Connecticut, where his mother was an English teacher and his father worked as a high school principal. And while music wasn’t a focus of his early life, he, like a lot of boys in the ’80s, loved Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future.” And he wanted to play the guitar like Marty McFly. In fact, he was so fascinated by the instrument that when he turned 13, his father rented one for him to try.
Shortly after starting taking guitar lessons, he became so immersed that his parents took him to see a psychiatrist, he told Rolling Stone. The psychiatrist didn’t find any problem, so he continued. Two years of hard work later, he began playing at blues bars around town. Then at 17, he began writing his own songs during a recovery from cardiac arrhythmia. Not long after, by 2000, his talent emerged and the Internet began to fuel his growing fame.
In 2001, Mayer caught the eye of Aware Records, a so-called “launch” label, and added him to its festival concerts before releasing his first major album, “Room for Squares,” as an online-only album. Aware, which gave Columbia first pick of its artists, re-released the album nationwide, and gained fame from concert appearances, record sales and then Grammy awards. By 2004, Steve Jobs noticed too.
Jobs loved music, and Mayer was one of favorite artists. Since Jobs was a “rock star” of the tech world, he often surrounded himself with musicians — and Mayer was no exception. In 2004, Jobs invited him to perform during the keynote address at Apple’s annual Macworld conference. As Jobs introduced GarageBand software, Mayer played onstage to the cheers of the audience.
Mayer returned to MacWorld in 2007, where Jobs referred to him as a tradition. “We’ve got a really special treat today — we don’t have a lot of traditions at Apple besides making great products,” Jobs said in the keynote, according to Engadget. “One of them is that John Mayer has helped us at every Macworld over the years.” But Jobs didn’t bring Mayer in solely because of his fame — through the years, they developed a close friendship. And their relationship blossomed, but it wouldn’t last.
Apple fans often only use Apple products, but Mayer isn’t one of them. In 2008, BlackBerry signed on to sponsor one of his summer tours. When he called Jobs to explain the situation — that he wouldn’t be able to use Apple products in public anymore — Jobs told him he would “send me an iPhone to at least play with on the bus.” But he insulted Jobs by defecting, and when he recorded commercials that not only plugged BlackBerry, but in a roundabout way, slammed Apple, Jobs was furious.
“I didn’t sing at the iPhone 3G launch — that probably disappointed you, since people like to hear the songs that I write, which is why I’m going on tour,” Mayer said in a commercial, according to Gizmodo. “So you can hear my songs. BlackBerry is sponsoring it, since I really like the Bold.”
“John Mayer is one of the best guitar players who’s ever lived, and I’m afraid he’s just blowing it big time,” Jobs said in his autobiography. “I think he’s a really good kid underneath, but he’s just been out of control.”
After Jobs died in 2011, Mayer took to his blog to mourn and share bits of his professional and private relationship with the Apple founder.
“I first met Steve in 2003, over the phone, when I cold-called him to tell him I was a devout fan of all things Apple and would love to be involved in whatever way I could with the company,” he wrote on his personal blog, which was later taken down. “I remember the call extremely well; me on my hotel room bed, fidgeting and doodling and circuitously explaining that all I could really explain was that I wanted to have a relationship. I got nervous at one point and started second guessing myself and my intentions for calling, to which Steve replied ‘Don’t worry, I have a very good bullsh*t detector.’”
Mayer remembers Jobs, after helping to introduce products at several MacWorld keynotes, as being “almost iridescent.”
“One second he would be talking to you about ‘architecture’ as it related to digital data flow, and then in a microsecond turn his head a different way and mention Bob Dylan or a killer sushi place and just be the biggest rock star on the planet,” Mayer added.
While plugging Apple and BlackBerry, Mayer stumbled upon Twitter. And like many devotees, he discovered the site ate up too much of his time. He built up nearly four million followers, who delighted in reading such daily ramblings as, “I just woke up from a dream about drinking water. When you get to live your dreams, your actual dreams are boring as sh*t.” But one day, he decided to shut down the account and leave his fans hanging. His Tumblr blog doesn’t have nearly the amount of followers he had on Twitter, but he added that Twitter has become a dangerous addiction that he had a hard time quitting.
“I now have an even larger Tumblr addiction but it’s sort of like a book addiction, or a gambling addiction where you always walk away with the casino’s money,” Mayer told Rolling Stone. “It’s one of those things you do all the time but isn’t all that bad for you.”
Twitter, though, was more difficult.
“I stopped using Twitter as an outlet and I started using Twitter as the instrument to riff on, and it started to make my mind smaller and smaller and smaller,” he added in another Rolling Stone article. “And I couldn’t write a song.”
These days, his website has a Twitter feed, but it’s used to promote his corporate site. He doesn’t include private tweets, since it reportedly cost him one of his high-profile relationships with Jennifer Aniston. When Mayer and Aniston broke up four years ago, friends said she dumped him, according to the Telegraph, after discovering he was spending hours tweeting, despite telling her he was too busy for her.
“John suddenly stopped calling her or returning her e-mails and when she would finally catch up with him, he’d say, ‘I’ve been so busy with work. I’m sorry I haven’t had time to call you back,’” a source told Star Magazine. “He was telling her he didn’t have time for her and yet his page was filled with Twitter updates.”
Mayer kept his Tumblr open and once again started to focus on music, even though he hasn’t been able to sing for several months. After releasing “Born and Raised” in September, he had a second surgery to remove granuloma from his vocal cords. He’s notorious for giving interviews that often backfire, so staying quiet for a few months can be difficult. But luckily, he still has technology to help him out — and apparently, he hasn’t lost his love affair with Apple.
“Silent for the next few months, no singing for probably six, but all signs point to this being the last step in getting to perform again,” Mayer wrote on Tumblr. “Back to notebooks and iPad to communicate for the time being. Zen living at its finest.” ♦