1967: Traffic were formed by Winwood, Wood, Capaldi and Mason in 1967 shortly after Winwood had left the Spencer Davis Group. He had played with Eric Clapton in a short-lived studio band called Powerhouse, which contributed some tracks to the Elektra sampler "What's Shaking". Winwood had also jammed with Wood, Capaldi and Mason in clubs around the Birmingham area prior to leaving the Spencer Davis Group. The four of them resided at a cottage in Aston Tirrold in Berkshire for six months in order to - as the saying went - get it together in the country. They introduced themselves with the single "Paper Sun", which reached No. 5 in Britain. That and its sequel, "Hole In My Shoe", encapsulated the summer of 1967 as accurately as any overt flower-power anthem. The debut album "Mr. Fantasy", was a successful vehicle of the talents of the entire group, and served notice that Traffic would be more than merely a backing band for Winwood. However, Mason's flair for light melody was straightaway at odds with the more jazz-oriented ambitions of the other members, and he departed in December of 1967.
1968: Mason returned in a matter of months to help out on the second album, "Traffic", to which he contributed "Feelin' Alright". Traffic were featured, along with the Spencer Davis Group, on the United Artists soundtrack to the film "Here we go round the mulberry bush". Later that year, Mason quit again, leaving the entire band to call it a day.
1969: "Last Exit" was their farewell album. Island Records, their British company, administering the last rites, issued a "Best Of Traffic" in 1969. Winwood meanwhile had again joined Clapton in Blind Faith and when that collapsed, temporarily enlisted in Ginger Baker's Air Force. Wood, meanwhile did sessions with Dr John.
1970: Winwood planned a solo album, tentatively entitled "Mad Shadows". He called in Wood and Capaldi to help out on the sessions, and as a result Traffic was formed as a trio, and in April released the incomparable "John Barleycorn Must Die", which showed the band's ability to merge jazz, rock and traditional folk-music and was also a magnificent tribute to Winwood's superb versatility, since he contributed the lion's share of the instrumentation. Since Winwood was handling all guitars, keyboards and vocals, the pressure on him inevitably proved too great, and in November Rick Grech was added to the line-up.
1971: Traffic expanded the personnel again with a percussionist, Reebop; and for a short British tour in the summer of 1971, ex-Domino Jim Gordon came in to bolster the rhythm section, and the errant Mason again returned to the fold. This line-up played only a few dates together, but the live recording "Welcome To The Canteen" was recommendation enough of their corporate abilities. At the end of the year "The Low Spark Of The High-Heeled Boys", was issued while the band were touring America; it went gold in the US in 1972, and was made by the line-up as before, with the inevitable exception of Mason who had left again.
1972: When the band returned from America, Grech and Gordon, too, had departed along the way. The band was now again in a state of flux, despite the excellence of their last albums. It proved an academic problem, since Winwood fell ill with peritonitis, and Capaldi adjourned to Muscle Shoals to make a solo album "Oh! How We Danced"; while there he established connections with Muscle Shoals sessioneers David Hood (bass) and Roger Hawkins (drums) who joined the band for "Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory", which was recorded in Jamaica in 1972.
1973: With Winwood recovered, the band set out on a 1973 world tour, for which they added Barry Beckett, also from Muscle Shoals, on keyboards. The vitality and strength of this line-up was fully demonstrated on the made-in-Germany live double-album, "On The Road". Traffic appeared in the movie "Glastonbury Fayre".
1974: The Muscle Shoals recruits bowed out after this tour, and for an English tour in 1974 Roscoe Gee the bass-player from Gonzales, was added; since Reebop disappeared somewhere along the way, the band completed the tour in the form which they had originally started, the last performance of the tour was held at the Reading Festival on August 31, 1974. After the final album "When The Eagle Flies", which was very good instrumentally, but marred by some over-ambitious Capaldi lyrics, the band again went into one of its regular periods of hibernation; this time it proved to be for good, since no one apparently any longer had the will-power to hold it all together.
In the beginning....
There was a time when "traffic" was no more than a loose description of innumerable assorted vehicles clogging up innumerable congested roads. Now at a time when the field of pop music is as crowded with groups as city streets are with cars, "Traffic" has come to mean something more ... a group of musicians who have emerged from pop's deafening din with a sound as refreshing and rare as an untraveled country lane.
It was just such a country lane, in fact, that lead to the remote cottage hidden in the vast seclusion of the Berkshire Downs where, early in 1967, four voluntary exiles first brought Traffic into being. When the original gathering of Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood, and Dave Mason fled London's hectic pop scene for Berkshire's peace and poppies, they took with them a combined wealth for musical heritage and experience ... and then found themselves faced with the arduous and unenviable task of sorting it all out. Sort it they did, over a six-month period of self-imposed isolation which seemed to produce nothing but vague rumors about just exactly what they were or were not doing.
What they were doing was preparing a sound which hit England and the top ten charts in rapid succession in June of that year. Then came a tour of Britain which gave everyone, at last, a chance to see as well as hear.
"Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush", the title song from the film for which Traffic wrote much of the music, was released as a single in November. And in December came "Mr Fantasy", Traffic's first album and the best reason yet for their months in the country. Traffic was destined to happen.
The streets of every major city are littered with shells of child prodigies who didn't ever grow up or fulfill their early promise. Very few do.
Steve Winwood is tall and pale, a daydreamer in another world. He was born May 12, 1948, in Birmingham, and eighteen years later he was being hailed as one of the world's musical geniuses. A great many things happened in between. He learned to play the piano at an early age ... the guitar as well, and for a while he alternated between the 2 instruments. Eventually he was faced with the need to make a choice. It was the piano, because his thoughts flow more easily onto a keyboard.
There was never anything other than music for Steve. He wanted to learn how to read and write music, so he spent a year at a music college. When he had learned, he left to play with his brother Muff's jazz band. The two of them joined forces with a young teacher named Spencer Davis, and at 15 Steve was a thoroughly professional musician. A year later, after working clubs, ballrooms and concert halls 7 nights a week, week after week, they were being described in those terms which pop musicians reserve for a few among the very best of their colleagues .... "A group's group". By the time he was 18, Steve had gotten that tag of 'musical genius'. Fortunately, Steve was smart enough to think it a huge joke, and so he was one of the few who never took it seriously.
Success with the Spencer Davis Group brought recognition, and recognition brought a greater need for freedom. And so it was that when Steve left Spencer Davis, it was to Berkshire that he went. And it was in Berkshire, of course, that Traffic was born.
For almost 2 years Steve, Dave, Jim, and Chris held the rapt attention of thousands of their contemporaries. Three major-selling albums were released by the band, innumerable sell-out concerts were played, eulogies were heaped on them. Then the band split.
Steve split because things got to be very unclear for him, and clarity of purpose is a necessity to Steve. For a few months he did very little, then teamed up with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker to form Blind Faith. The show-biz machine took over. The purpose of Blind Faith - to make music a leisure and for pleasure - was lost, and so was the faith. Another period of inactivity, of thought, then Steve joined Baker's monstrously big Air Force. Too unwieldy for a good feeling, it only served to depress Steve more.
And so when he started work on his solo album, it was inevitable that he call on 2 friends he knew he could rely on completely. And the circle was completed, and Steve Winwood came home to Traffic.
Chris Wood started life with the intention of being an artisit. Which he is now, not with paint and easel, but a dazzling range of musical instruments, all of which he plays with equal facility and equal taste.
Chris, who looks like a good-natured pixie, was born June 24, 1944, in Birmingham, and started off his musical career at the age of 5 with piano lessons. These didn't last very long and Chris, the sort of person who tends to find things out for himself, learned more from just having a go at the piano on his own. Later, he learned to play the flute in much the same way, for the man who taught him music didn't play the flute.
He went on to study painting at art college, where he joined a group which played around at pubs, weddings, and socials. It was here that he took up the tenor sax, producing nothing but terrible noises until he eventually mastered the delicate switch from flute to a reed instrument. With his time and his interest so divided between art and music, it was inevitable that he should finally have to choose between the two. He chose music, but he still hopes to hold a proper exhibition of his paintings someday.
Chris still has that original tenor sax, and has added 2 more, an alto and a soprano, to vary the group sound. He also has 2 flutes (one is a silver orchestral flute and the other, a less expensive model with a harder tone), an oboe, several pipes, and an assortment of percussion instruments. His musical tastes go through various phases, ranging from classical to folk to primitive. He has a number of favorite saxists - Charles Lloyd, Roland Kirk, and Johnny Griffen - but he feels that other instrumentalists, like folk and blues guitarists, have influenced him more basically. He has definite ideas on the best way to learn to play an instrument ... take lessons in technique, learn to recognize what you do not want to know, and then go to it by yourself.
He plays piano, organ and guitar beautifully, but it was his flute and sax work with traffic which set him in the front ranks of rock musicians and eventually led to Chris being one of the most sought-after sessions musicians in Britain or America in 1969. His visits to the States in '69 brought him into contact with a wide range of people, and at one point Chris worked on stage with Dr John, although he never recorded with that gentleman. On his return to England, Chris was invited by Ginger Baker to join his Air Force. Like Steve, Chris found the band and the ensuing organizations hassles too much to handle, and he didn't need a second invitation when Steve suggested the re-formation of Traffic.
The drummer par excellence. It's very hard to always lay down exactly the right kind of drumming, but Jim Capaldi manages it, and always has.
Originally he was the best drummer in Birmingham, which is where Steve Winwood met up with him, heard him, and asked him to become a member of the new group he was forming. Now he's one of the world's best.
Jim is the group translator, putting into words what Traffic puts into music. Born on August 24, 1944, in Evesham, Worcestershire, Jim comes from a musical family. His father is a music teacher who used to be on the stage and his mother was once a singer. So it was not purely by chance that he began to play the piano when he was 6. When he was older he formed a group with 3 friends, and set about to learn as much as he could about the business.
But Jim was an apprentice engineer, and music was still a sideline when he got together his second group. And there is still some doubt as to what really happened then ... either Jim took up the drums or the drums took up Jim. Whichever the case, the engineering took a decidedly second place to music and Jim learned to play the drums. He took no lessons. He started by playing just the way he felt, he has played that way ever since, and he cannot imagine doing anything else.
Jim also has the happy knack of being able to lay down exactly the right kind of drumming without obvious effort, and his free and very easy style has undoubtedly helped create the relaxed atmosphere that has always been synonymous with Traffic.
When the band first broke up, Jim became one quarter of mason-Capaldi-Wood and Frog. And when that band went its separate ways, he found himself in great demand on sessions. One of the sessions he was asked to do was for the new Steve Winwood solo album ....
With his beard, his dark hair, and his deep-set eyes, Jim looks not unlike a latter-day Rasputin. At which point a comparison must end. For he is as amiable as he is articulate, and he is always able to shed some sort of light on the inner workings of Traffic.
It was inevitable that Traffic should come together again in one form or another. Too many good things were created by the band in their first incarnation for reincarnation not to follow. Add the fact that in Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, and Chris Wood you have 3 very good friends who see a lot of each other socially, and the odds against their pursuing totally separate lives were too great to fight.
And so it was that in February 1970, they joined forces again, but without Mason, who made the original group a quartet; he had grown apart and into his own scenes.
The reincarnation came about because Winwood was making an album. It was to be called "Mad Shadows", and he gathered Capaldi and Wood into the studio to help, because they were friends, because they were sympathetic, because they were the best he knew. After a very short while they realized that nothing had really changed, and that the Traffic should roar again.
And back came the answering roar of approval from the world. Their first gig was like the return of the prodigal son, like a family reunion, a warm and happy occasion with smiles bouncing off the walls and ceiling of The Roundhouse, in London's Chalk Farm area. It had been more that a year since Traffic had played anywhere, and everyone present that night had felt the emptiness of those 18 months.
Sure, there had been Blind Faith and Ginger Baker's Air Force. And for a few there had been Chris Wood playing with Dr John the Night Tripper .... And Jim Capaldi's tasty drums has raised quite a few anonymous tracks from average to good or brilliant. But there had been no focal point, no direction in which the 3 could collectively aim their efforts.
"Mad Shadows" was discarded and work started on the 4th Traffic album. If we could be permitted a little sooth-saying, we think it's the best yet. Steve, Jim, and Chris think so too. They are tighter, lighter, harder, fiercer, softer than ever before. And most of it is due to Steve, who is dictating far more than he has in the past. He knows exactly what he wants now - the time spent with Blind Faith and as a sideman in the Air Force gave him the maturity and assurance.
But of course credit for results must also be shared by Jim and Chris. On their live dates and the new album, they prove conclusively that they are superior musicians, playing with such empathy and sensitivity that the results are heart-stopping.
(My thanks to Mary L for sharing this article with me.)
Page created October 4, 1997.
Last updated April 6, 1999.