Winterland, San Francisco
January 26, 1973/October 3, 1974
Photos 1-21 by Dan Cuny
Photos 22-62 by David Miller
Text by Michael Collins Morton
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."
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.