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Traffic, "Heaven Is In Your Mind."

I talk a lot of music with a lot of people, but no one ever brings up Traffic. Maybe that's because of the sheer number of great bands on the scene at the same time: the Stones, Beatles, Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Who and Led Zeppelin, to name just a very few. But Traffic's music holds up just as well as theirs, or any music from that era.

The band's front man, Steve Winwood, is my favorite rock singer ever, equally able to sing white-boy soul and traditional English ballads. On top of that, he was (and remains) a highly talented keyboard player and a vastly underrated guitarist. And a great songwriter too. Winwood is a rock giant. And he was all of 18 when Traffic formed, having burst on the scene with the Spencer Davis Group's hits "I'm a Man" and "Gimme Some Lovin'."

The early version of Traffic featured Dave Mason on guitar. Just as people overlook Traffic, they overlook Mason when they speak of guitarists from that era, but Mason had imagination, fast fingers, and a bluesy, fluid, exuberant style that makes me wonder how I missed him back in those days. Drummer Jim Capaldi's songwriting contributions shouldn't be overlooked either.

"Heaven Is In Your Mind" is just one of the band's gems from that era of hippies and flower power, but there were so many others: "Paper Sun," "Coloured Rain," "No Face, No Name, No Number," "Dear Mr. Fantasy" (a five-star song on anybody's list), "Feelin' Alright" (five more stars), ("Roamin' Thru the Gloamin' With) 40,000 Headmen," "Shanghai Noodle Factory," "Medicated Goo" — the list goes on. The songs range from dreamy to bouncy, progressive rockers, all of them delightful.

After Mason left, Traffic released "John Barleycorn Must Die," which is huge—a classic, almost-mythical record. "Glad" (with its gorgeous cascading piano at the end of the song), "Freedom Rider," "Empty Pages," the haunting, stirring title track: all must-hears. Their work after that grew increasingly spotty, and I quit paying attention after "Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory." But Traffic produced enough great music it's a shame they're not more popular today.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 3rd, 2009 12:29 pm (UTC)
no one...except me :)

when people ask me about opening acts, i tell them i have seen some ones that suck but my fav. 3 opening acts are: Steve Winwood, Levon Helm & Elvis Costello. not shabby company.

i was armed with The Very Best of Traffic and the best of Winwood as i prepared to see him open for a man whom blood doesnt run in his veins but instead "retched excess"...Tom Petty (i still love the guy though) and i was really floored by Winwood and Traffic. Like The Byrds, no one really sounds like Traffic. Live Winwood still has such a voice (one of the few that still can truly sing, see Paul Rodgers as another example)

while most of the younger folks had confused looks on their faces during his set (even during the timeless Gimme Some Lovin..the song should be taught to pre-schoolers) myself and those folks, some of whom were nearly 3 times my age were enjoying ourselves. I would gladly see Winwood again and have recommended him to all as a true treasure of music.

Seeing Dr. Mr Fantasy, literally bring 15,000 people in under the shell to their feet was something. He repeated the feat during his Blind Faith staple Cant Find My Way Home.
Apr. 3rd, 2009 08:05 pm (UTC)
no one...except me :)

I should have had a disclaimer, Music Man.
Apr. 3rd, 2009 08:14 pm (UTC)
That's really funny you should mention that because I had Steve Winwood cycle up on the iTunes shuffle last night as I was cleaning the study, and it got me to thinking about Traffic.

Like most people my age, I didn't find Winwood until his solo effort, Back in the High Life, which was EVERYWHERE when I was in high school. There's some really great stuff on that album, as overplayed as it was at the time. Most of the songs have held up over time pretty well, too, and now that I'm a little older (well, twice as old as I was then, if I'm being honest), the songs on that album have a deeper resonance now then they did back then.
Apr. 3rd, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC)
Out of curiosity, I looked up the names of the tracks on "High Life." There are eight. Four I remembered; the other four, not. And I bought that record when it was new and played it a lot.

That's not to disparage the record. Rather, by the time "High Life" came out, I'd heard so much Winwood that his brilliance no longer surprised me; thus, the memory of half of those songs didn't stick. (And that says a hell of a lot about just how good those other four songs are.)

Your use of "resonance" is spot-on. In high school, I didn't have any older siblings to guide my musical tastes, and I thought the only thing FM radio played was Montovani, so I was pretty much a victim of AM radio. As a result, there isn't a whole lot of music from those years that survives in my collection. But the albums that did survive—Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers" comes immediately to mind, or the Allman Brothers "Live at the Fillmore East," or the two live Cream albums—are among my favorite albums today because of the feelings they evoke.

Then again, there's been more than a little music from back then that I've tried to "rediscover," only to be left wondering what the hell I was thinking ...
Apr. 4th, 2009 11:05 am (UTC)
Oh, so you're saying maybe The Monkees weren't as great as I thought they were in 6th grade?

I've got to start writing down some of your highly-rated blasts from the past so I can refer to my list either while perusing the album collection upstairs or for when I finally make the mp3 player commitment.
Apr. 4th, 2009 01:11 pm (UTC)
Frank Zappa made his first national TV appearance on the Monkees' show.
Apr. 4th, 2009 01:56 pm (UTC)
So they WERE the cutting-edge way-pavers I thought they were when I plastered my walls with Tiger Beat posters.
Apr. 7th, 2009 12:22 pm (UTC)
Several years ago I ripped my vinyl Traffic albums (up thru John Barleycorn) and made my own full length "greatest hits" CD. Trivia moment - I recall an early impression 'Dear Mr. Fantasy' made on me when it was used in the 1973 made-for-TV-movie, 'Go Ask Alice' starring (among others) William Shatner. On my CD I followed 'Glad' with 'Freedom Rider' with no delay between the two songs which produced almost 13 minutes of jazz/rock bliss. Recently a co-worker was raving about Dave Mason's 'Alone Together' release. He loaned me the CD and after several faithful listens I just didn't hear the appeal.

'The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys' is high on my list of favorites.
Apr. 8th, 2009 01:14 am (UTC)
"Low Spark" is another good one. Traffic has aged well.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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