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Traffic

Though it ultimately must be considered an interim vehicle for singer/songwriter/keyboardist/guitarist Steve Winwood, Traffic was a successful group that followed its own individual course through the rock music scene of the late '60s and early '70s. Beginning in the psychedelic year of 1967 and influenced by the Beatles, the band early on turned out eclectic pop singles in its native Great Britain, though by the end of its first year of existence it had developed a pop/rock hybrid tied to its unusual instrumentation: At a time when electric guitars ruled rock, Traffic emphasized Winwood's organ and the reed instruments played by Chris Wood, especially flute. After Dave Mason, who had provided the band with an alternate folk-pop sound, departed for good, Traffic leaned toward extended songs that gave its players room to improvise in a jazz-like manner, even as the rhythms maintained a rock structure. The result was international success that ended only when Winwood finally decided he was ready to strike out on his own.

Steve Winwood (born May 12, 1948) first attracted attention when, at the age of 15, he and his older brother Muff formed a band in their native Birmingham, England, with Spencer Davis and Pete York, eventually called the Spencer Davis Group. They were signed by record executive Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, and began recording in 1964. As the band's vocalist, Winwood received the lion's share of attention. By the time he and his brother quit the group in April 1967, the Spencer Davis Group had amassed four Top Ten singles and three Top Ten albums in the U.K., two of those singles also reaching the Top Ten in the U.S.

Still not yet 19 years old, Winwood formed Traffic with three 22-year-old friends who had played in lesser-known bands - drummer/singer Jim Capaldi (August 24, 1944 - January 28, 2005), singer/guitarist Mason (born May 10, 1944), and Wood (June 24, 1944 - July 12, 1983). In the spirit of the times (and despite Winwood's prominence), the group was intended to be a cooperative, with the members living together in a country cottage in Berkshire and collaborating on their songs. Blackwell quickly signed them and released their debut single, "Paper Sun," which peaked in the U.K. Top Five in July 1967 and also spent several weeks in the lower reaches of the charts in America, where Blackwell licensed it to United Artists Records, as he had the Spencer Davis Group's recordings.

Meanwhile, as Traffic recorded material for its debut album during the summer of 1967, its communal outlook was disrupted by Mason, who, unlike Winwood (a composer who needed help with lyrics and therefore tended toward collaboration), was capable of writing songs on his own and did so. The success of "Paper Sun" encouraged Blackwell to release a follow-up single quickly, and he chose as the most likely candidate among the songs Traffic had recorded so far "Hole in My Shoe," written and sung by Mason. It became an even bigger hit than "Paper Sun," almost topping the British charts in October, but that didn't sit well with Winwood, who felt it was unrepresentative of the sound he wanted for Traffic. The group's third single was "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush," the title song from a motion picture, which became their third British Top Ten hit in December, the same month that their debut album, Mr. Fantasy, was released. It, too, earned a Top Ten ranking in January 1968, but by then Mason had left Traffic. A fourth single, "No Face, No Name, No Number," culled from the album, made the British Top 40 in March, the month that Traffic debuted as a live attraction in the U.S., where Mr. Fantasy (initially titled Heaven Is in Your Mind) reached the Top 100.

Traffic encountered two problems as a trio. First, given its unusual instrumentation, it had difficulty on-stage doing without a player like Mason, who could handle the bass guitar work. In his absence, Winwood was forced to fill in the bass sound by playing the organ's bass pedals with his feet while simultaneously playing the organ keyboards with his hands and singing. Second, without a prolific writer like Mason, the group had more difficulty coming up with enough new material to satisfy its contractual commitments. As a result, Winwood, Capaldi, and Wood reconciled with Mason, who rejoined Traffic in the spring of 1968 and contributed heavily to the band's second album, Traffic, writing half of the songs, among them "Feelin' Alright?," which went on to become a rock standard, particularly after Joe Cocker's 1969 cover version became an American Top 40 hit in 1972.

Traffic was released in October 1968, and the band went on tour in the U.S. to promote it. But just after the start of the tour, Winwood, Capaldi, and Wood fired Mason. Then, at the conclusion of the tour, Winwood withdrew, announcing the breakup of Traffic at the beginning of 1969. These events notwithstanding, the album reached the U.K. Top Ten and the U.S. Top 20. And breakup or no, Winwood was contracted to Island and United Artists for five albums, of which only two had been delivered. Thus, in April 1969, the labels released Last Exit, a collection of non-LP singles sides, outtakes, and live recordings. It was another Top 20 success in America.

Meanwhile, Capaldi and Wood rejoined Mason along with keyboardist Wynder K. Frog in the short-lived band Wooden Frog, which never recorded, and Winwood teamed with former Cream members Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker as well as former Family member Ric Grech (November 1, 1946 -- March 16, 1990) in Blind Faith. This highly touted supergroup made one album, Blind Faith, which topped the charts in the U.S. and U.K., and played one American tour before breaking up. Still owing his record labels two albums, Winwood began work on a solo record in early 1970, but quickly brought in Capaldi and Wood and turned it into a Traffic LP. John Barleycorn Must Die was released in June 1970. In the U.S., it was a gold-selling Top Ten hit; in the U.K. it reached the Top 20.

Embarking on extensive touring, Traffic expanded its lineup, adding Ric Grech on bass. In the spring of 1971, in anticipation of British and American touring, drummer Jim Gordon, formerly of Derek and the Dominos, was brought in, as was percussionist Reebop Kwaku Baah. Also joining for a handful of U.K. dates was Dave Mason, who had in the meantime become a solo star with his 1970 album Alone Together. The band was able to work off its contractual commitment with a live album from this lineup, Welcome to the Canteen, released in September. Although it failed to make the U.K. charts, it reached the Top 40 in America.

Re-signed to Island, which began releasing albums in the U.S. as well as the U.K., Traffic quickly followed in November with the studio album The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, which reached the American Top Ten and sold a million copies, though, in an indication of the group's increasingly international focus, it didn't even chart back home in Britain. A winter 1971-1972 tour was aborted by Winwood's poor health (he was later revealed to be suffering from peritonitis), and Grech and Gordon left the band, while Capaldi recorded his debut solo album, Oh How We Danced; it reached the American Top 100.

In the fall of 1972, with Winwood recovered, Traffic convened to record a new album, adding drummer Roger Hawkins and bassist David Hood, members of the studio band at the famed Muscle Shoals recording studio. (Keyboardist Barry Beckett, another Muscle Shoals alumnus, played with the band live.) Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory, released in January 1973, reached the American Top Ten and went gold. The world tour that promoted it was chronicled on Traffic - On the Road, released in October 1973. At the end of the tour, the Muscle Shoals musicians returned home and Kwaku Baah also left Traffic, which recruited bassist Rosko Gee.

Capaldi released a second solo album, Whale Meat Again, in the summer of 1974; "It's All up to You" from it reached the U.K. Top 40. With Traffic, he recorded a new album, When the Eagle Flies, released in September. It was the band's fourth consecutive studio album to reach the American Top Ten and go gold, and the group toured to support it, but at the conclusion of the tour Traffic silently disbanded.

With a headstart on a solo career, Capaldi scored a Top Five hit in the U.K. in 1975 with a cover of "Love Hurts" from his third album, Short Cut Draw Blood. (The single charted in the U.S., but lost out to a competing version by Nazareth.) Along with former Santana drummer Michael Shrieve, Winwood participated prominently in Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamashta's concept album Go, which made the Top 100 in the U.S. in 1976. In 1977, he finally made his solo bow, releasing the modestly successful album Steve Winwood.

A three-and-a-half year silence ensued, broken by the 1980 release of Arc of a Diver, which hit the American Top Five and went platinum, paced by the Top Ten single "While You See a Chance." 1982's Talking Back to the Night was a commercial disappointment, but Winwood had the greatest success of his career with 1986's Back in the High Life, a multi-million seller that threw off four Top 20 singles, among them the chart-topping "Higher Love." In 1987, "Valerie," a remixed version of a song from Talking Back to the Night, hit the Top Ten. 1988's Roll With It was another multi-platinum seller for Winwood, with both the album and the title song topping the charts. But Refugees of the Heart (1990) was less successful.

In 1994, Winwood announced a reunion with Capaldi (Wood had died of liver failure), who had continued to record solo albums with diminishing success. The two made a new album, Far From Home, and toured as Traffic during the summer. The album quickly reached the U.S. and U.K. Top 40, but did not sell well, and the tour also performed disappointingly, signaling another retirement of the Traffic name. Nevertheless, the 1967-1974-era band continued to enjoy significant status as a classic rock act, its albums earning CD reissues along with the release of compilations like Smiling Phases (1991) and Feelin' Alright: The Very Best of Traffic (2000). Capaldi's death on January 28, 2005, appeared to put an end to the band. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

Good stuff
Just fabulous.... . a l l of Traffic, Blind Faith, Clapton. Nobody like this again....sad
wpasquarelli
Bill P. I really love Traffic and Windwood's great voice
caught Steve win wood and rod Stewart at the Boston garden Steve win wood guitar solo left the sold out garden speechless
Winwood is an under appreciated giant of a talent.
Wake up dude! Traffic is unique and has a style all their own! Great band and musicians! LOL *i*
I feel Traffic is more like J. Tull than the Allman Bros !!
Great find! I've never come across this record.
Have loved traffic longer than I care to admit. Shanghai noodle factory and medicated goo are two songs that deserve more attention IMHO. An incredible body of work! Especially for an interim vehicle lol

you like!333
One of the best collaboratio n s ever! Everytime I hear Low Spark or Dear Mr. Fantasy my heart skips a beat.
wsledge556
We older guys play Low Sparks (17 Minutes) to stop the rap for a while at the bowling alley. Traffic one of the best.
claricentp91 7
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shawnnavuz71 1
This is how you can make $50 - $100 per day by answering surveys. 1st. Go to BLUDOS.COM 2nd. Click on Start Today 3rd. Create Account (It's free) 4th. Thank me = >
why can't I hear the low spark of high heeled boys
ourdoc1
Take me home!!
love this cd my brother steve use to play it when I was young traffic is the best
cnutinsky7
Saw Steve Winwood open for Santana and then play with him. OUTSTANDING seeing and hearing two legends play together.
hodgdons7
Long time since I've heard this one! Nice job Pandora!!
PHollis: Would that make it.... substance abuse? =xD~
kvons1
Superb group of the times. Hard to imagine it's been 45 yrs. already.
andy1497
Interim vehicle? Like Cream for Clapton or the Beatles for McCartney? Nothing interim about Traffic.
Gettin it downtown
talkindrum
ERROR: Light up or leave me alone has John Barleycorn lyrics
Low Spark, I love it!!!!!
I was thinkin about Mr. Fantasy the other day, and here it is, thought it was Clapton and Winwood, maybe they did a version some where along the way.
Fell in love with Steve Windwood's voice at a young age
Re living my high school yrs lol!!
jmomoo3
Think the dead hit it in giants stadium!!!
bcoffey26
Fantastic, brilliant jam-- who can touch??
nik_dangr
Talk about intimate...I saw Traffic in McDonough Gymnasium at Georgetown U. (2,500 seats) along with Cactus in 1970. Very thick smoke. Very nice.
chris wood used to stop by my flat in chelsea in 72- not to see me really but to stare at my girlfriend with the long blonde hair and green eyes- he seemed like a really down to earth guy even though traffic was a big success at the time - too bad he is gone from this dimension
cmyers3402
I should have an interim vehicle as good as Traffic. Fortunate to see them all those years ago. Enjoyable, interesting challenging music. Innovative. A good half dozen of my all-time favorites come from Traffic.
gpaschall14
This is some of the best music of the era. So many memories!
Happy Birthday Steve see on Wednesday in Detroit
I agree...Not much on the bio but thank the Lord for Giving us.......... . . . Steve Winwood
I agree. Interim vehicle? I respect Pandora and love it, but this bio missed its initial remark. This music is some of the finest that came out of that era. An unusual mix or rock, blues, folk and jazz with some great improvisatio n .
...An interim vehicle? You're clueless.
maxzx
Traffic, favorite band ever, just turning on to music as When the Eagle Flies was released so I missed the band live until 94 for the reunion. Loved it and now have the live DVD of that tour. Best memories, recall jamming with friends on fake instruments, broomstick guitar, flashlight mike, etc..to early albums... still innovative and more progressive and smooth than bands today.. truly remarkable music.
Interim vehicle? Except for Blind Faith (maybe) this was Steve Winwood's most inspired work. He's another musician who shines brightest when surrounded by other free-thinkin g musicians (Capaldi, Clapton). His other work is solid enough, but none of it approaches the brilliant blend of styles, chops and interplay of this band.
THE Trafic album is the TRAFFIC album
andycop20
The first albums of theirs I got were Shootout At The Fantasy Factory and Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys. Those are still the best alburms they recorded.
where was easttown?? around what used to be called east detroit (now eastpoint)?? ?
I saw Traffic play warm up for the Grateful dead at Buckeye Lake, it was the last time I heard Jerry live..it was heaven
SHOOT OUT!!!
nik_dangr
The music made by the "interim vehicle" (Traffic) is likely to outlast his solo stuff.

I saw the "Far From Home" version of Traffic when they toured and that great jazz/rock fusion obviously departed with Chris Wood.
jflavey
Wish you were here, wish you were there!
5775daryl
you can acually listen toa song for about ten minutes its fusiois this music the blues
Light up or leave me alone! Classic!!
@EDDY BELL - I also learned how to play guitar by listening to Traffic & Led Zeppelin when I was growing up - and @Gail YES - WE NEED MORE COWBELL!!!
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