Traffic are a better band than they used to be. And they are going to be even better next time they appear live because Rick Grech will be on bass, giving them more definite rhythm patterns and therefore, more freedom for Steve Winwood and Chris Wood. That's the opinion of drummer Jim Capaldi and he should know. Grech is an obvious extension to Traffic. He was in Blind Faith with Winwood. Capaldi has known him since his Family days, and he, Winwood and Wood were originally involved in Airforce. So, in a way, the album released last week is something of a memorial to the Traffic trio. They won't be appearing for a month or two because of rehearsals so when they next step on stage Traffic will be a quartet.
Jim Capaldi had been listening to John Barleycorn Must Die, their new album, when I met him at Island Studios. "I'm very pleased with it, we're all very pleased with it, but to me it already sounds like something from the past. It's probably because we did some of the tracks a long time ago. I suppose we're all having a bit of a holiday at the moment but there seems to be two or three things happening. A Dutch guy named Anton is making a film and he wants us to do the music for it. We're going to Morocco soon to see if we can do it. The film's about a traveling guitarist and it stars Michael Pollard. Also we're all moving to new places at the moment and preparing for our fourth member. I've always known Rick since Family days and we've always got on well; we all get on with him well."
Jim feels that Traffic, as a trio, could still do a lot more. But he is sure they will benefit from having a 'tighter permanent rhythm section' which Rick will aid. "It will give Chris and Steve opportunity to solo more and it will be a lot easier to work together. A trio without a bass guitarist is very difficult and having Rick will certainly help me a lot. It's bound to be different because it will be four people instead of three but it will still be our feel. The thing about Chris playing organ-bass is that it is not a percussion instrument like a bass guitar, so with Rick it will be great for Chris and Steve as far as playing more guitar is concerned. Chris should play more guitar. I think he's one of the best."
Jim seems very satisfied with the flow of Traffic at the moment. He likes the variety of the material they do and it keeps him happy that they are continually getting new material. "It's good if you can keep moving with your material; our ideas are always changing. We are always getting new things together, so we don't get bored." Jim is also happy with the way their writing is going. He feels it is maturing all the time. "I don't think we'll ever write songs like George Gershwin or the Beatles, but I think we write some very good songs. Steve's writing is purely musical. He's the leader of Traffic, there's no doubt about that. He's so talented and individual."
So things look healthy for the many, many Traffic fans. In America, after only two weeks John Barleycorn Must Die is already high in the LP charts and looks a million seller. They will probably tour over there at the end of the year. As far as Britain is concerned they plan to do two or three tours a year with odd gigs in between at clubs and universities. They will be doing another album as soon as Rick Grech settles in.
And they may seek a fifth member, another multi-instrumentalist. Steve Winwood did mention the name of a Birmingham musician who plays French horn, but a Traffic quintet is only in the discussion stage so far. John Barleycorn Must Die was released last Friday. It has six tracks, and on two Winwood plays all instruments. The melodies don't seem too sensational on first hearing, but they seem to be the kind that grow on you and there is a great feel through the whole record. "Glad" is an instrumental by Winwood based upon a catchy piano riff; it's funky and soulish. Chris Wood provides some fine sax, cleverly using wah-wah. "Freedom Rider" has a solid piano rhythm and builds up with swirling organ and funky piano. Wood's flutes chase each other and Capaldi really belts out the beat. "Empty Pages" was considered, in an edited version, for a single. It's the nearest thing to a pop song, simple but catchy with a jazzy electric piano solo.
Side 2 starts with "Stranger To Himself" with Winwood doing his McCartney bit on piano, bass, drums, bongos, lead and acoustic guitars and vocals. He lets Jim Capaldi harmonize on the chorus. "John Barleycorn" is the traditional song arranged by Winwood for simple acoustic guitar and melodic flute, plus piano and vocals from SW. JC contributes tambourine and vocals and CW flute and percussion; a complete contrast to the mood of the other tracks. "Every Mother's Son" is predominantly piano and organ with strong guitar taking the lead on the arranged bits at the beginning and end. A very enjoyable album.
-- Roy Shipston