By MIKE CHAIKEN
When it comes to bands that helped define British rock in the 1960s, Traffic looms large.
The band, which initially included Steve Winwood (who hit it big previously in the Spencer Davis Group with “Gimme Some Loving”), Chris Wood, Jim Capaldi, and Dave Mason, created a sound that echoed throughout subsequent bands in the 1960s and 1970s.
Launched in 1966, they released a couple of trippy singles before pulling together the seminal album, “Mr. Fantasy,” followed by their sophomore effort, simply titled “Traffic.”
The band continued for many years after those tnitial works, but Mason officially departed the band after “Traffic” (with a brief touring return after).
Over the years, Mason (who was in Connecticut this week for a Jan. 16 gig at the Infinity Hall in Norfolk) hooked up with some of the leading lights of the music scene of the late 1960s-early 1970s. Names such as George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Mama Cass, and more dot his musical resume. He also saw his songwriting inspire other artists. In particular, his song “Feelin’ Alright” has been performed by artist after artist including a seminal performance by British belter Joe Cocker.
Later, Mason established a solid solo career that includes the classic rock staple, “We Just Disagree.” Except for a brief stint with Fleetwood Mac, Mason has focused on his solo work through the decades.
For his current tour across America, however, Mason is taking a look back at the band that offered his first big break. The tour is dubbed “Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam.”
Calling from New Jersey, Mason said this time on the road, he is performing tracks from the first two Traffic albums, even ones he didn’t sing. Additionally, Mason said he will be performing material from the latter days of Traffic when he was off doing his own thing. (Mason’s set list also included tracks from his own solo material.)
“It’s kind of fun to revisit some of that stuff,” said Mason of the inclusion of songs from nearly 50 years ago.
“Traffic was a pretty significant band. It was the time to do it,” said Mason, “and (the show’s) being received well.”
Going back and listening to material pulled together back as far as 1966 to prepare for the show, Mason was asked if there was anything that struck him about the work of his younger self.
“We were trying everything and anything,” said Mason of the first album “Mr. Fantasy.” He added, “We were young and kids.”
The members of the band were trying to bring an eclectic mix of sounds together, said Mason. They were trying to innovate.
Although, Mason does admit that some of his own material from those days may have been a bit “naïve.” But, he said again, they were just kids.
The follow-up album to “Mr. Fantasy,” the self-titled, “Traffic,” said Mason, “was a little more sophisticated.”
For the current tour, Mason said some of the songs he performs on stage he had never played before “Traffic Jam.” Pulling together the set list, Mason looked for tracks that were fun to play. He also turned to the internet to see which Traffic songs were the most popular with fans and songs they were looking to hear.
Asked for particulars about the Traffic tracks new to him that have joined the set list, Mason said, for one, he is performing “Heaven is on Your Mind.” The song was on “Mr. Fantasy,” but was sung originally by Capaldi and Winwood. He also is pulling out “Medicated Goo” from “Last Exit,” the follow-up to “Traffic,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Stew,” from Traffic’s “Low Spark of High Heel Boys.” He also will be performing the title track from “Low Spark of High Heel Boys,” which has long been a staple on classic rock stations. However, Mason—who did not appear on the original album— said his arrangement is nothing like the original that was sung by Winwood.
Some artists when they leave a well-known band will try to break away away from the sound of their former hit-making conglomeration. But Mason said when he left Traffic, he wanted more of an evolution of his artistry rather than take a left turn.
Asked about the many stellar lights of the music scene he has worked with over the years, Mason was rather nonchalant about his resume that would make some starstruck fans swoon. And it’s clear, for him at least, it wasn’t something he dwelled on.
Although, Mason said, “I guess, it’s pretty impressive.”
“At the time,” Mason said, “I was just doing what I was doing… I was just fortunate. I didn’t give much thought to it at the time.”
Many of Mason’s musical peers from the 1960s to the 1970s and so on have left the music business one way or another. Some died, unfortunately. Some simply retired and got “proper jobs.”
When asked what kept him plugging along, playing and making music, Mason said, “Why not? I just do it. I love playing… Who has a better gig?”
And as 2014 progresses, what’s on tap for Dave Mason?
Mason said he has been pulling together an album called, “Future’s Past.” The album finds Mason revisiting and recording older tracks such as “World in Changes,” from his first solo effort, “Alone Together.” Mason said, however, “It’s nothing like the original.” He is also recording a new version of “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” He is recording a version of blues legend Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen.” There also is a new live version of Mason’s Traffic song, “Sad and Deep is You,” which he decided to include because it came out so well. There also are a few new tracks as well.
Dave Mason was due at the Infinity Hall in Norfolk on Thursday, Jan. 16.
For more information about Mason and his “Traffic Jam” tour, go to DaveMasonMusic.com
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver. com.
By MIKE CHAIKEN