November 23, 2010

TRAFFIC: JANUARY 1973 & OCTOBER 1974

Steve Winwood

Traffic
Winterland, San Francisco
January 26, 1973/October 3, 1974

Photos 1-21 by Dan Cuny
Photos 22-62 by David Miller

Jim Capaldi

Traffic came into being in 1967, a singularly banner year of propitious happenings in the world of British music, when Steve Winwood (keyboards, guitar, vocals) joined his pronounced talents with those of Dave Mason (guitar, sitar, vocals), Chris Wood (flute, saxophone, keyboards, vocals), and Jim Capaldi (drums, vocals). Steve Winwood already was a well-known figure to the public, having gained a considerable amount of fame as a teenage member of The Spencer Davis Group (which also included his older brother, Muff Winwood), singing and playing with an authentic soulfulness beyond his years, on hits such as "Keep on Running," "Gimme Some Lovin'," and "I'm a Man."

 Chris Wood

When Steve Winwood left The Spencer Davis Group, he and the other members of Traffic moved into a cottage in Berkshire, England, where they wrote songs and rehearsed for the next six months. Their first single, "Paper Sun" (produced by Jimmy Miller and featuring Dave Mason on sitar), was released on Island Records in May of 1967 and was a hit in the UK. It was followed, several months later, by another single that also became a hit, "Hole in My Shoe," which was written by Dave Mason and featured his lead vocal. The first album by Traffic, Mr. Fantasy, was released in December of 1967. "Dear Mr. Fantasy," the track from which the album took its name, quickly became their most famous song, and frequently served as a rousing highlight of their appearances on stage.


Traffic released their second album, Traffic, in 1968. It featured some of their strongest tracks, including "Feelin' Alright?" (written and sung by Dave Mason, and later covered by Joe Cocker), "Pearly Queen," and "(Roamin' Thro' the Gloamin' with) 40,000 Headmen." Dave Mason was in and out of Traffic during 1967 and 1968, and at times the band became a threesome, recording and performing without him. In 1969, after Traffic had released a third album, Last Exit, with tracks that included "Shanghai Noodle Factory" and "Medicated Goo," along with two songs that were recorded during a performance at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, the musicians went their separate ways. It seemed that, all too soon, Traffic had come to an end.


Steve Winwood then formed a new band, Blind Faith, with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker, the guitarist and the drummer of Cream, and Rick Grech, the bassist of Family. When Blind Faith came to an end after releasing one album and doing one tour of the USA, Steve Winwood began recording songs with Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood, resulting in a new album by Traffic, John Barleycorn Must Die, which was released in 1970. In 1971, Traffic expanded to seven members, with Winwood, Capaldi, and Wood being joined by Dave Mason (who by that time had established his own name with his first album, Alone Together), Rick Grech, Jim Gordon (drums, formerly with Derek and The Dominoes), and Rebop Kwaku Baah (percussion) for a live album, Welcome to the Canteen.


The live album was followed by a collection of fresh tracks, The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, also released in 1971. (The band was now down to six members, with Dave Mason having departed once again, never to return.) When Traffic appeared at Winterland in January, 1973, Rick Grech and Jim Gordon had left the band, making way for the arrival of three American musicians who came from the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama: David Hood on bass, Roger Hawkins on drums, and Barry Beckett on keyboards. The new lineup of Traffic had recorded an album, Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory, at Strawberry Hill Studios in Jamaica.
 

In October, 1974, when Traffic performed at Winterland again, the band had scaled down to four members: Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, and Chris Wood, along with a new member, Rosko Gee, on bass. This lineup released only one album, When the Eagle Flies (which featured "Dream Gerrard," a long track with humorously thoughtful words by Vivian Stanshall of The Bonzo Dog Band), and then split up after a tour in 1974, effectively bringing Traffic to a conclusion. (Chris Wood passed away at the age of thirty-nine in 1983, but Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi did join together again for an album, Far from Home, and a tour under the name of Traffic in 1994.)


Traffic was, without question, one of the most talented, most inventive, and most adventurous bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their sound always was utterly distinct, with the masterly contributions of Chris Wood on flute and saxophone, in particular, giving a rich and varied texture to their songs. In addition, the voice, keyboards, and guitar of Steve Winwood endowed their recordings and their performances with a full quantity of stalwart excellence. They took inspiration from blues and jazz (and in the case of one song, "John Barleycorn," from the rural tradition of folk music in the United Kingdom), combining the different elements with a skill and a maturity that put them well ahead of other bands. The music of Traffic, which sounds as good now as it did then, represents the best and highest potential of rock'n'roll.














David: Traffic was one of my favorite bands in the 1970s, and still ranks high with me today. I saw them twice at Winterland. The first time was in January, 1973. John Martyn opened, with Free second on the bill. This was the first concert that all four of us attended together. It was also the first time that I had gone early and waited all day to be at the front of the stage, a practice that continued for almost two years.

Traffic had just recorded a new album, Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory, the follow-up to The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. They were now an expanded version of the earlier threesome. Roger Hawkins was behind the drums, leaving Jim Capaldi free to be at the front of the stage, singing and playing tambourine. He seemed very comfortable doing that. Rebop was on percussion. He broke a drumstick, and it landed right in front of me. I still have it today.

The second time I saw them was in October, 1974. Lindisfarne opened that show. (I forget if there was another opening act.) I was glad to see Traffic return as a smaller band, with Jim Capaldi playing drums again.

I was impressed by Steve Winwood's musical agility. Seeing him go from guitar to organ to piano, from one song to the next, was amazing. Even though he is best known for his organ playing, I was more moved by his electric guitar. I would put Steve Winwood up with any rock guitarist. Jim Capaldi was very much the showman, and was in fine form, singing and on drums. Chris Wood seemed to be floundering at times during the show in 1974. Knowing that he died nine years later as a result of substance abuse, I suspect that he was having drug problems at the time. It was sad to see, and it did give me a sense that we were not seeing Traffic at their very best.

I remember having to look past obstacles to get good photos of the band. Chris Wood had a stand with electric cords that held his sax and other instruments, which blocked some of my view. Also, a couple of balloons had made it to the stage, just in front of me. I tried to blow them aside a few times, but they refused to move. Even with the obstructions, I was in a great position to get photos of the musicians. Seeing Winwood and Capaldi singing side by side is one of my favorite concert memories. I remember, too, the crush of the crowd around me, calling out for their favorite songs. Traffic certainly was able to excite an audience.















Gary: I feel lucky to have seen Traffic on three occasions, all three times at Winterland. The first time was in 1972, with Jo Jo Gunne and J.J. Cale also on the bill. Three great acts for $3.50. (Editor's Note: We only have photos of Traffic from performances in 1973 and 1974.) I was just out of high school, and everything was new. It was my first rock concert, and might be my favorite, not only because it was the first, but because it was Traffic, one of my absolutely favorite bands in the world. It was around the time of the release of The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. When Dan and I were waiting in line, someone mentioned having seen Traffic a year earlier, and that Steve Winwood played bass with his feet. (I thought it meant that he had played bass guitar with his feet, not organ bass pedals!)

At the end of that first concert, they brought out a special guest for the encore... Dave Mason. It was incredible to see all of the original group on stage together. After that encore, for a second encore they bought out Carlos Santana, dressed in black. It was amazing.

The second concert at Winterland was Traffic, Free, and John Martyn in January, 1973. Free was great (although they were about to split up at that time), and Paul Rodgers was a powerful performer. John Martyn opened with his guitar echo electronics with acoustic guitar. Very inventive and very well-made songs. A pleasure to hear.

Traffic was a big band then, which provided a solid foundation for the layers of keyboards, guitars, and vocals. They did both old and new songs. I remember that "Glad/Freedom Rider" really rocked strongly, and Jim Capaldi's "Light Up or Leave Me Alone" was great. Traffic's live sound was better than the recordings, I thought, with very strong attention to detail. I also enjoyed the shifting of the pace with "John Barleycorn," when Steve Winwood sang with simple folk acoustic guitar.

During "Dear Mr. Fantasy," Steve Winwood played an incredible guitar solo that we still talk about to this day. It built and built, with Steve Winwood moving gradually to shift the notes ever higher, with runs and chords and bent notes, until it built to an even higher plane! Without a doubt, one of the best electric guitar solos I have ever heard, before or since. Steve Winwood gets a lot of attention for his keyboard work and his singing, but he was one of the major guitarists of his time, and still is. With the great sax and flute of Chris Wood, the music was very special. No one else ever accomplished what Traffic did, back then. Jim Capaldi's great gypsy spirit added a lot to the band as well.

The third concert was in 1974. This time Traffic was a four piece, with Capaldi back on drums and a new bassist, Rosko Gee, who was a good addition to the band. KSAN had been playing "Walking in the Wind" and "Dream Gerrard" from their new album, When the Eagle Flies. A very artistic effort, perhaps a bit weaker than their previous releases, but they had been on the road a lot and were probably burned out. It was a great concert, but different from the others. Steve Winwood had shorter hair and a khaki shirt, and seemed to just want to be "one of the band," rather than a star.














Dan: I first saw Traffic in 1972, when I went with Gary to see one of his favorite bands (Traffic, on a bill with Jo Jo Gunne and J.J. Cale) at Winterland. It was my first concert ever, and to be honest, I didn't know much about Traffic, other than being aware of Steve Winwood, who I had liked in The Spencer Davis Group. I had heard some of John Barleycorn Must Die on the radio, but I didn't know the album as well as I do now. Traffic was touring on the strength of The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, which I remember hearing at Gary's house. Because it was my first concert, I didn't know what to expect. The show opened with J.J. Cale, whose music I hadn't really heard. I knew that some of the members of Jo Jo Gunne were from Spirit, a California band. They were pretty good, with upbeat songs.

When Traffic hit the stage, the crowd was quite excited to hear them. I remember seeing Chris Wood play sax on some songs, and flute on others. Rebop Kwaku Baah, in his African garb, played congas. Jim Capaldi was singing, and Steve Winwood was going between organ and guitar. The thing I remember most from that show was the encore. The band brought out Dave Mason, and the crowd went wild. Then, for the second encore, Carlos Santana came out to play with them. I thought the place was going to explode. It was a real treat, one that I'll never forget.

By January of 1973, when I saw Traffic at Winterland again, heading a bill with Free and John Martyn, I felt like a seasoned veteran. The four of us had become close friends and were going to concerts together. We also had begun to take photos at shows. Gary had taken photos at some of the earlier shows we attended, and David, the real photographer of the bunch, was starting to take photos at shows, too. I used a camera that I had borrowed from my older brother, Tim.

The concert in 1973 opened with John Martyn, a British singer who played a fairly short set with his acoustic guitar. I remember thinking that he wasn't going over very well, on a bill with Free and Traffic. Free was great, but Paul Kossoff, their first guitarist, was no longer in the band. Paul Rodgers, their singer, had great stage presence.

Traffic was outstanding. They were touring with Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory, which I didn't like as much as The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys or John Barleycorn Must Die, but I still regarded Steve Winwood as a musical genius. My future wife, Eve, attended this show, too, but we didn't know each other then. Traffic is one of her favorite bands. I can remember taking many of the photos shown here. I was really enjoying taking photographs of bands at this point.














Michael: I have been a fan of Traffic since 1967. I had enjoyed Steve Winwood's work with The Spencer Davis Group, and I was greatly pleased when I heard that he was forming a new band. I can remember purchasing the first album by Traffic as soon as it was released, and listening to the music with deep interest. I was especially impressed by the strong hints of jazz that could be heard on many of the tracks.

Several years later, when I saw Traffic perform twice at Winterland, the experience on both occasions was every bit as good as I had hoped it would be. For the first performance, in 1973, Dave Mason was gone, but the band had expanded in overall membership. Jim Capaldi had moved out from behind his drums, and was now up front, singing and shaking a tambourine. The stage seemed crowded at times, but the seven musicians appeared to be of one mind, creating a sound that was united in its moods and directions. During "Dear Mr. Fantasy," Steve Winwood stood with his head tilted down and his long hair covering his face, playing his Stratocaster with a fiery grace that was unforgettable.

When I saw a second performance by Traffic at Winterland, in 1974, it was quite different. The band had lost three members, and Jim Capaldi was back behind his drums. With fewer musicians on stage, their sound had changed, becoming spare and straightforward. I also noticed that Steve Winwood's hair was shorter. He was no longer able to hide his face behind it, as he had during the first performance.

The one thing that I remember most clearly (and with sadness) about the performance in 1974 is the shaky demeanor of Chris Wood, who appeared to be in an extremely unsteady condition. (In other words, it seemed that he was heavily drunk, or heavily stoned, or both.) It does not appear in the photos, but he was in a bad state. He swayed uncertainly at the side of the stage, sometimes looking as if he could barely stand upright, and his musicianship was ragged throughout the set.

We were at the front and therefore close to the musicians, so it was easy for us to see that something was wrong. During one song, Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi both glanced at Chris Wood, and then exchanged a look of worry with each other, showing their unhappiness at the way things were going. It was a painful moment to observe, and one that has stayed with me all these years.


More about Traffic at David's Rock Scrapbook

A review of a performance by Steve Winwood in Portland, Oregon, in 2012 here

More about British music in 1967 here

A memory of John Martyn at Winterland here

Next: Slade

4 comments:

  1. Another wonderful installment for your blog! Thank you, as always, for these amazing photographs and stories. What a great time and place to be a music fan. All the photos of Steve Winwood are sublime.

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  2. Great blog..wow...brings back memories and wonderful pictures.

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  3. WOW!!! AMAZING photos of Traffic! Not seen many photos of the band from this era.THANX so much for letting us see them.

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  4. Do you have any crowd shots from this or any of your other shows ?

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