TRAFFIC – ” Traffic “

Posted: June 25, 2021 in Classic Albums, MUSIC
Tags: ,

May be an image of 3 people and people standingThe Beatles get a lot of credit for their willingness to experiment with different instrumentation beyond the traditional guitar, bass, and drums rock trifecta, but fellow English rockers Traffic made the Fab Four look positively pedestrian by comparison when it came to infusing different styles of music. Formed in 1967 in Birmingham, Traffic started out as a psychedelic outfit but soon expanded their sound with all sorts of instrumentation, including the Mellotron, harpischord, sitar, as well as brass sections.

The effect of this was the creation of one of the best jazz-rock fusions of the era and it wasn’t just a fad either, as Traffic found a way to bring the two genres together to write catchy hooks and inspired songs. The pinnacle of the band’s experimentation came in their 1970 record “John Barleycorn Must Die” and although they earned the respect of serious music fans, they’ve never been thought of in the same league as other psychedelic groups such as Cream, even though they arguably produced better music.

Meanwhile, on trivia corner: which band’s second album contained the contributions of a member who left, rejoined and left again all within the space of nine months? The answer was Traffic, whose self-titled sophomore release charted exactly 47 years ago, having come together just in time to capture the restless spirit of Dave Mason, during the few months in which he was back in the line-up before departing again (and then rejoining once more, for another short spell a few years later).

Chris Wood, the wonderfully gifted flutist and sax player for Traffic, one of my favourite bands ever. In addition to sax and flute, Wood occasionally played keyboards, bass and added vocals. He also co-wrote several of Traffic’s best-known songs, including “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” Wood introduced the 17th century traditional song “John Barleycorn” to the band after hearing it on The Watersons album Frost and Fire. It became the title song of their 1970 album, “John Barleycorn Must Die.”

Some might argue that Wood was just a supporting player in Winwood’s brilliant orbit, and that there were plenty of others who could have played the same role. But clearly Winwood, who could have had the pick of the litter, chose Wood, and were rewarded by his wonderful flourishes of sound as well as song-writing talents. Wood died in 1983 at age 39.

After the three top ten UK singles of the band’s initial period in 1967 (with ‘Paper Sun,’ ‘Hole In My Shoe’ and ‘Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush’), Traffic had started their transition to a more mature, album-oriented sound with their first LP at the end of that year, Mr. Fantasy. The new, simply-titled set again had them working with New York producer Jimmy Miller, who was doubling up between these sessions and his initial work with The Rolling Stones, which emerged a few weeks later on the Beggars Banquet album.

Traffic was made during the brief period in which Messrs Winwood, Capaldi and Wood persuaded Mason, who had first left the group early in 1968, to return for these sessions. With his pop sensibilities somewhat at odds with the more jazz-oriented leanings of his bandmates, he was gone again by the time the album started its chart ascent.

Dave left behind four of his own songs, including the enduring ‘Feelin’ Alright,’ and a co-write with Jim Capaldi, ‘Vagabond Virgin,’ before departing for the multi-faceted career he had hinted at with his production, that same year, of Family’s first album, “Music In A Doll’s House”.

Traffic entered the UK album chart on 26th October, 1968 at No. 27, but took precisely one more week to become their first top ten LP, jumping to its No. 9 peak. Very surprisingly, it turned out to the band’s only top ten album in their home country.

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