Traffic Biography

Formed in 1967, this stellar UK rock band comprised Steve Winwood (Stephen Lawrence Winwood, 12 May 1948, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England; keyboards, guitar, bass, vocals), Chris Wood (b. Christopher Gordon Blandford Wood, 24 June 1944, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England, d. 12 July 1983, Birmingham, England; saxophone/flute, ex-Locomotive), Jim Capaldi (b. Nicola James Capaldi, 2 August 1944, Evesham, Worcestershire, England, d. 28 January 2005, London, England; drums/percussion/vocals) and Dave Mason (b. 10 May 1945, Worcester, England; guitar/vocals). Winwood had conceived, plotted and formed Traffic just prior to his departure from the Spencer Davis Group.

Traffic were archetypes of psychedelic Britain in 1967 in dress, attitude and music. They were the originators of the ‘getting it together in the country cottage’ syndrome, which found so many followers. Their potpourri of musical styles was innovative and daring, created in the communal atmosphere of their cottage in Berkshire. Their first single, ‘Paper Sun’, with its infectious sitar opening was an instant hit, closely followed by ‘Hole In My Shoe’ (parodied in a 1984 number 2 UK hit by Neil the hippie, from BBC Television’s The Young Ones) and the film theme ‘Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush’. Mason left at the end of an eventful year, just as the first album, Mr. Fantasy was released. From then on Traffic ceased to be a singles band, and built up a large following, especially in the USA. Their second album Traffic (1968) showed refinement and progression. Dave Mason had returned briefly and two of his songs were particularly memorable, ‘You Can All Join In’ and ‘Feelin’ Alright’ (later covered by Joe Cocker). In ‘Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring?’, Winwood sings, ‘We are not like all the rest, you can see us any day of the week, come around, sit down, take a sniff, fall asleep, baby you don’t have to speak’. This lyric perfectly encapsulated the hippie lifestyle of the late 60s. Another outstanding song, ‘Forty Thousand Headmen’ combined a lyrical tale of pure fantasy with lilting flute and jazz tempo. Last Exit (1969) was a fragmented affair and during its recording Mason departed once more. The second side comprised just two tracks recorded live with the band as a trio. Winwood bravely attempted to hold the ensemble together by singing and playing Hammond organ in addition to using the bass pedals to compensate for the lack of a bass guitar.

At this point the band disintegrated leaving Winwood to wander into Blind Faith. The others teamed up once again with Dave Mason to form the short-lived Mason, Capaldi, Wood and Frog. The Frog was Mick Weaver (aka Wynder K. Frog). Neither band lasted; the former made one highly successful album and the latter were never committed to vinyl. Following a brief spell as a member of Ginger Baker’s Airforce, Winwood embarked on a solo project, to be called Mad Shadows. He enlisted the help of Wood and Capaldi, and to the delight of the music press this became Traffic once again. The resulting album was John Barleycorn Must Die, released in 1970 to critical and commercial acclaim. Ric Grech (b. Richard Roman Grech, 1 November 1946, Bordeaux, France, d. 16 March 1990, Leicester, England), formerly of Family, Blind Faith and Airforce, also joined the band. In 1971 Welcome To The Canteen appeared with Dave Mason rejoining for a third time. This disappointing live album contained an overlong version of ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’ from Winwood’s days in the Spencer Davis Group. Ironically it was Mason who shone, with two tracks from his superb solo album, Alone Together. Drummer Jim Gordon (from Derek And The Dominos) and Reebop Kwaku Baah (b. 1944, Lagos, Nigeria; d. 1982) joined in 1971, allowing Capaldi to take the role as frontman. The excellent The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys (1971) was followed by Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory in 1973. The latter saw the substitution of David Hood and Roger Hawkins for Grech and Gordon. Both albums achieved gold status in the USA. Throughout their turbulent career Traffic were never able to reproduce their inventive arrangements on stage. Witnesses would concur that Traffic were erratic when playing live. This trait was highlighted on their penultimate album, On The Road . The final Traffic album was When The Eagle Flies in 1974, another fine collection with Rosko Gee on bass and Capaldi back behind the drum kit.

Traffic did not so much break up as fizzle out, although Capaldi and Winwood continued to work together on each other’s solo albums. Traffic had already left an indelible mark as creators of inventive and sometimes glorious music and it was a delight that 20 years after they dissolved, the name was born again with Capaldi and Winwood attempting to recreate their unique sound. The album Far From Home was warmly rather than ecstatically received and they followed it with a major tour of the USA supporting the Grateful Dead and then a short European tour. The album was a true joint effort, but the structured soul vibe of the record erred towards a Winwood solo outing rather than the wandering and ethereal beauty of Traffic. Outstanding tracks include the funky ‘Here Comes The Man’, and ‘Some Kinda Woman’ and the almost Traffic-like ‘State Of Grace’, with its spiritual feel complemented by the rousing gospel piano introduction for the glorious ‘Every Night, Every Day’. Ten years after the release of Far From Home, in March 2004, Traffic was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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