Posts Tagged ‘Steve Winwood’

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The South London town of Croydon opened the arts, entertainment and conference center Fairfield Halls in 1962. With well over a thousand seats in the main concert hall, it quickly became a favoured venue for opera, theatre and, especially, pop and rock as it exploded during the ’60s. The Beatles, the Who, Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd and Elton John played there; Free, the Nice and Soft Machine recorded live albums in the venue.

When guitarist Dave Mason and drummer Jim Gordon stepped on stage in Croydon on June 6th, 1971, they’d already been there numerous times, including as part of Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, who recorded their On Tour with Eric Clapton album there December. 7th, 1969. Likewise, vocalist and bandleader Steve Winwood was familiar with the venue, playing there with Traffic most recently on May 31st, 1970, although the group’s line-up had changed in the interim. Mason, who had repeatedly clashed with Winwood over the years, was now back for another go, lasting only six gigs (including June 21st at the Glastonbury Fayre festival and the OZ magazine benefit in London on July 3rd).

The 1971 Fairfield Halls show was billed as “Traffic With Friends,” and the live album that resulted, “Welcome to the Canteen”, wasn’t credited to Traffic at all: the front cover listed only the names of participants with no band name. Winwood sang, played keyboards and guitar, Rick Grech (ex-Family and Blind Faith) was on bass, Traffic co-founder Jim Capaldi sang and played percussion (leaving his normal seat at the drums for Gordon), Chris Wood handled saxophone, flute and keyboards as he had from Traffic’s inception, and a newcomer, Ghanaian musician Anthony “Reebop” Kwaku Baah, added congas, timbales and bongos.

Shortly after the Croydon gig, Winwood told New Musical Express that he already knew the current line-up wasn’t permanent. “There is every possibility of getting other guys in, but I don’t know dates or specific time.” Winwood was downbeat and uncertain, and said he was “not optimistic about the future.” His crystal ball was cloudy; Mason went home to Los Angeles, but the remaining six-piece recorded a classic LP a few months later, “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”.

“Welcome to the Canteen” contains three tunes from Traffic’s early days: “Medicated Goo,” “40,000 Headmen” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy”’ two originally on Mason’s 1970 debut solo album Alone Together (“Sad and Deep As You” and “Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave”); and a nine-minute blast through the Spencer Davis Group hit “Gimme Some Lovin’,” which Winwood had sung when he was still a teenage phenom.

There is nothing from Traffic’s most recent album, John Barleycorn Must DieEngineered by Brian Humphries and mixed at Island Studios, the tapes are not of a particularly high quality, with a thin dynamic range and a bit too much “sound of the room”; some of the vocals seem to be very distant, as if we have a balcony seat instead of one in the front row.

“Medicated Goo” is far funkier than the original 1968 single. Winwood and Capaldi harmonize well, the guitar work is gritty, and the congas give it a very different flavour. The crowd recognizes “Sad And Deep as You” when Mason begins singing “Lips that are as warm could be/Lips that speak too soon.” The song benefits from Wood’s up-front flute winding around Mason’s acoustic guitar, subbing for Leon Russell’s central piano part on the original studio version.

With one of Winwood and Capaldi’s finest combinations of melody and lyrics, “40,000 Headmen” is next. Winwood’s on acoustic guitar, singing a tale that balances between psychedelic surrealism and Gulliver’s Travels: “Forty thousand headmen couldn’t make me change my mind/If I had to take the choice between the deaf man and the blind/I know just where my feet should go and that’s enough for me/I turned around and knocked them down and walked across the sea.” Winwood sings with gospel fervour, Reebop’s punctuation is well-placed and occasionally explosive, and Wood lays down some more jazzy flute lines that go well with Gordon’s light, swinging drums.

The LP side ends with Mason singing “Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave.” Gordon really shines, Winwood is strong on organ, and Mason’s vocal and guitar playing are top-notch, with echoes of his friend Jimi Hendrix especially during the long concluding solo.

The second side of the original LP contains two lengthy workouts, 10:57 of “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and 9:02 of “Gimme Some Lovin’.” The first features some spectacular Winwood/Mason electric guitar duelling, and was described by Rolling Stone’s Ed Leimbacher as “eleven swirling, blending, building, wonderous minutes…with Winwood as pensive/yearning/mournful as ever.” Reebop begins “Gimme Some Lovin’” before Gordon takes over with a driving rhythm right out of his work with Delaney and Bonnie. The whole band moves like a locomotive, from Winwood’s intense organ work to Mason’s insistent riff. Every so often in the background you can hear Wood’s saxophone struggle for some room.                                                 

Released in September 1971, Welcome to the Canteen reached #26 on the Billboard LP chart in America, but flopped in their native Britain. In the U.S. the whole incendiary performance of “Gimme Some Lovin’” was issued as a 45 rpm single (cut into A- and B-sides), credited to “Traffic, Etc.” It made it to #68 on the Billboard Hot 100, but was the last hurrah for Traffic’s association with their American label United Artists. Their long time British label Island set up its own U.S. operation, distributing music through Capitol, and that’s where the next chapter appeared in late 1971 with the studio album Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.

There were many different Traffic projects, tours and lineup changes to come. More recent history has included some really good times and some very bad ones for Winwood and co. The original four members were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, with Stephanie Wood standing in for her late brother Chris, who’d passed away in 1983 before reaching his 40th birthday. Kwaku Baah died in 1983 as well, the same year Jim Gordon, during a psychotic episode, murdered his mother. He’s still incarcerated in a state prison in Northern California.

Grech died in 1990 at the age of 44, and Jim Capaldi at the age of 60 in 2005. Now septuagenarians, Steve Winwood and Dave Mason remain active, with Winwood issuing the solid Greatest Hits Live album in 2017 and Mason releasing a terrific re-recording of his solo debut called Alone Together Again in 2020. Both expect to be on the road again as soon as the Covid-19 pandemic recedes. Maybe Fairfield Halls will be on the itinerary once again.

Traffic in 1971 : Rick Grech, Reebop Kwaku Baah, Jim Capaldi, Steve Winwood, Chris Wood, Dave Mason, Jim Gordon

Spencer Davis Group Second Album

In the week your new album comes out, it’s no bad thing if the lead single from it is in contention for the No. 1 spot. That’s why January 20th, 1966 was a very good date for the Spencer Davis Group. On the UK charts for that week, “Keep On Running” became Britain’s favourite single, helping “The Second Album”, as it was called, to debut at No.14. To make things even sweeter, they also climbed into the Top 10 with its predecessor, the equally imaginatively titled Their First LP, which had made a belated chart debut two weeks earlier, thanks to the group’s new-found popularity.

The Spencer Davis Group. had had three chart singles in 1965 and 1966, but not one of them had made the Top 40. “Keep On Running,” written by Jamaican artist Jackie Edwards, changed all that, and hit No.1 half a century ago exactly, during a four-week run in the Top 2. With that track on it, The Second Album sold steadily and, in the last chart of February, as The Beatles’ Revolver did battle for the top spot with the soundtrack of The Sound Of Music, Spencer and co peaked at No.3.

The album was a mixture of originals and R&B/blues covers. Steve Winwood contributed “Stevie’s Blues” as well as a co-write with Davis, “Hey Darling,” and “This Hammer,” which credited the whole group, also including Muff Winwood and Pete York. The remakes included Don Covay’s “Please Do Something,” Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Since I Met You Baby,” Curtis Mayfield’s “You Must Believe Me,” Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step” and Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell’s endlessly-covered “Georgia On My Mind.”

Spencer, Steve, Muff and Pete had much to thank Jackie Edwards for. After “Keep On Running,” they released a second cover of one of his songs, this time “Somebody Help Me,” which wasn’t on The Second Album. The result was the same, giving the group their second UK No.1 in less than three months.

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Steve Winwood’s hugely successful “Arc of a Diver” (released 31st december 1980) was not the first album released under his own name alone or even his first foray into solo work. His eponymous release of 1977 holds the former distinction, while the iconic Traffic album “John Barleycorn Must Die” was initially intended to be an effort apart from that group. Nevertheless, the album released on New Year’s Eve 1980 remains the effort that elevated this singular multi-instrumentalist’s name into widespread recognition beyond the fame he garnered with the aforementioned band or his prior stint with The Spencer Davis Group.

Arc of a Diver is certainly an album of its time, dominated by electric keyboards and synthesizers in lieu of the Hammond organ that had been Winwood’s signature instrument since his early days as a musical prodigy circa “I’m A Man” The sound of the B3 is present, almost as an inner lining of the arrangement of the title song, but the more brittle and antiseptic textures hold sway through most of the record, including, most conspicuously and perhaps not coincidentally, on its best-known number “When You See A Chance.”

Ever so skilled as a guitarist, Winwood might well have ascended to status as a hero of the instrument had he pursued such acclaim. But there’s nevertheless precious little of that sound here. On “Night Train,” Steve does use an electric to alternately counterpoint and amplify the syncopated rhythm at the foundation of that penultimate number, but there’s nothing flashy in his playing (though its biting tone does recall the coda of “Dear Mr. Fantasy”). Brief flashes of acoustic fretboard work also decorate the melancholy closer, “Dust” 

But it remains for the vocals to truly distinguish that performance and, in reality, Arc of a Diver as a whole. Virtually unchanged since wailing “Gimme Some Lovin’” in 1966—and remaining so even today—the sound of the man’s voice rings true as the definition of graceful, ageless soul. Steve Winwood’s singing doesn’t exactly imbue warmth all the way into the drum machines of “Spanish Dancer” but it does provide the necessary color for Will Jennings’ lyrics for “Slowdown Sundown.” Winwood played all the instruments on this record, but it is the skill of his phrasing and the very texture of his voice, humanizing each performance, that makes this LP worth coming back to.

Having built upon the foundation Paul McCartney built with his first solo album in 1970, as well as Stephen Stills’ predilection for overdubbing as on display for the eponymous Crosby, Stills and Nash debut, Winwood further refined the one-man-band approach two years later with Talking Back to the Night; there was an even greater sense of a bonafide band playing the music on that LP, which only renders Arc of A Diver more datedThe three bonus cuts on the second CD of the 2012 Deluxe Edition of the latter reaffirm that impression even as the rest of the content on that disc, devoted to a documentary on Steve’s career, spurs the notion that Winwood has never really made a record by himself that fully encapsulates his multi-faceted talent(s). 

It’s thus a most understandable irony that the man’s natural gifts stand out in greatest relief in collaboration with others. For instance, 2003’s About Time not only marked the return to his favourite keyboard, but also a rediscovery of a looser, more improvisational approach in which he was sharing camaraderie with other musicians. Meanwhile, the live appearances with old friend Eric Clapton that began in earnest in 2008, captured on Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood: Live From Madison Square Gardenmay well have provided the best setting for Winwood’s all-around abilities. Yet, even those vivid demonstrations of versatility in no way invalidate the breakthrough that was/is with Arc of A Diver.

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When Steve Winwood entered the studio in February 1970, time and technology were poised for his graduation from front man in a rock band to full-fledged solo artist. At 21, the Birmingham native was already a seasoned veteran who had played pub gigs at 8, taken center stage with the Spencer Davis Group at 15 and helped pioneer rock’s progressive wing with Traffic before joining Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker in Blind Faith. His soul-drenched vocals had reaped hits for all three groups, while his frontline prowess on organ and piano were matched by solid chops as a guitarist, bassist and percussionist. The evolution of multi-track studio recording would enable him to roll his own songs by layering instrumental performances as a one-man band.

Accompanying him to his first sessions was producer and Island Records A&R director Guy Stevens, whose confidence in Winwood was assured by the artist’s role in establishing Island as a preeminent British independent label. Founded in 1958 by Chris Blackwell, Island’s growth relied upon Blackwell’s embrace of Jamaican music, nurtured from his childhood on the island. While promoting his first major hit act, ska pioneer Millie Small, Blackwell witnessed the Spencer Davis Group at a Birmingham television taping and saw a fresh direction in its teenage lead singer and organist.

“He was really the cornerstone of Island Records,” Blackwell would later assert. “He’s a musical genius and because he was with Island all the other talent really wanted to be with Island.” Island’s founder would bankroll Winwood’s departure to form Traffic and would prove an ardent supporter for decades to come.

Blackwell and Stevens were confident that Winwood was ready to stand alone and suggested an album title, Mad Shadows. Initial studio sessions followed the original one-man band premise for the first completed song, “Stranger to Himself.” Written by Winwood with lyrics from Traffic’s Jim Capaldi, the track featured Winwood on piano, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums and percussion. His instincts as an arranger had already been honed extensively with Traffic, enabling him to craft a satisfying dialogue between guitars and keyboards, anchored by in-the-pocket bass and drums.

Next up was “Every Mother’s Son,” with Winwood again covering keyboards, guitars and bass, and Capaldi sitting in on drums and percussion. If producer Stevens was happy with the results, however, Steve Winwood chafed at the isolation of self-contained performances. With Capaldi onboard as drummer and vocal partner, Winwood invited fellow Traffic alumnus Chris Wood to join in on reeds, percussion and organ, effectively reuniting the core trio that had been Traffic’s more durable configuration during an initial two-year run in which guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Dave Mason had proven a fickle partner in his on-again, off-again ties to the band.

At this juncture, Stevens departed the project, presumably on good terms, while taking the tentative album title with him, which he would recycle for Mott the Hoople’s second album, produced and released that same year. Blackwell, meanwhile, stepped in as nominal co-producer while clearly allowing Winwood to retain a dominant role in shaping the material, which still showcased his versatility while reveling in the trio’s interplay. That focus was punctuated by “Glad,” a Winwood instrumental that would open the album with a full-throttle keyboard romp reflecting his enduring affection for jazz and R&B in a hard-driving, uptempo workout with echoes of ’60s soul jazz classics from Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff and Les McCann as Winwood traded rippling piano flourishes against textured Hammond B-3 organ. Wood’s tenor sax deepens the groove and adds a prescient funk element by using a wah-wah pedal to electronically mute his horn lines.

Apart from the saxophone and flute parts that signified Traffic’s jazz elements, Wood also brought the band vital exposure to material it might otherwise have missed. Winwood would credit the reed player with turning them on to jazz, world music and classical pieces that opened their ears to new directions, but for this album, Wood’s gift would come from deep British roots—the renascent interest in British folk music that emerged during the ’60s. Wood’s interest in the movement had led him to the Watersons’ a cappella recording of “John Barleycorn,” a ballad that can be traced to its earliest Scottish incarnations in the 16th century, its title character linked both to pagan Anglo-Saxon myths and a personification of the hardy grain used in producing whiskey.

Traffic’s arrangement of the song jettisons keyboards, electric guitars and bass in favour of a haunting lattice work of acoustic guitar, flute and spare hand percussion. Winwood’s vocal is by turns hushed and mournful as he presents the allegorical fate of its title protagonist “ploughed,” “sown” and “harrowed in” by efforts to kill him. As men continue to harvest, dry, mill and process their victim, they carry him toward reincarnation and revenge—by the song’s end, “little sir John with his nut-brown bowl proved the strongest man at last,” mortal men now dependent on its distilled  essence.

Winwood’s delicate performance was both dark and sardonic, ancient in its source yet timely in its allusion to addiction—an inevitable nod to a countercultural subculture which Traffic had once romanticized with a psychedelic palette. With its timeless minor-keyed melody, spare setting and Winwood’s pure English vocal intonation, the track is the album’s most distinctive, yet Traffic would otherwise revert to its prior jazz, blues and rock influences, leaving a deeper excavation of British folk rock for Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, the Incredible String Band and other homeland folk-rock pioneers to explore. It’s fascinating to contemplate how Traffic’s stature as a major rock act might have elevated and influenced Britain’s spin on fusing folk tradition with rock innovation had Winwood and his partners committed more fully to the style.

As Traffic’s lyricist, Capaldi alternates between emotional impressionism and oblique romantic salutes, the latter yielding the album’s lone single, “Empty Pages,” released only in the U.S. By the time of the album’s early July 1970 release, the rise of FM radio and rock’s evolving focus on albums over singles vindicated the trio’s disinterest in mainstream single hits, eventually carrying John Barleycorn Must Die to No5 on Billboard’s album chart, the highest position in the band’s career.

Critics were more divided over the album’s emphasis on loose-limbed jamming, with Robert Christgau complaining that Mason’s exit had weakened their songcraft, leaving them to depend on Winwood’s “feckless improvised rock.” Fans, however, were kinder: Beyond its album chart ranking, John Barleycorn Must Die would earn gold record status, teeing up the band for even greater success with The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys the following year.

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Between their formation in 1967 and implosion seven years later, Traffic was as mercurial as their music was mesmerizing, thanks to the members’ unstable chemistry. What had begun as an on-trend exercise in post-Sgt. Pepper psychedelia turned toward a darker, more idiosyncratic synthesis of jazz, blues, world music and English folk elements as the band’s founders—Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood and Dave Mason—fluctuated from quartet to trio and back. Mason quit and then rejoined (twice) in revolt over his partners’ more esoteric instincts. Winwood, meanwhile, scuttled the band in late ’68 to join Blind Faith, the short-lived supergroup he fronted with Eric Clapton.

Traffic’s subsequent return was less conscious relaunch than casual reunion. At 21, Winwood was already a veteran of three successful bands, a precocious multi-instrumentalist who landed as the de facto star of the Spencer Davis Group in his mid-teens. He began work on a solo debut in February 1970, but after tracking two songs as a virtual one-man band, he longed to interact with other players, enlisting Capaldi (drums, percussion, vocals) and Wood (reeds). The resulting album, John Barleycorn Must Die, pared the group’s ensemble sound to a sturdy spine of Winwood’s keyboards and guitar, and added a more pronounced British accent in its title song, a traditional English ballad that moved the band toward British folk-rock spearheaded by Pentangle, Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span.

On their fifth full-length studio album, “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”Traffic cast aside commercial wisdom to build the album around an epic title track that looms as their creative apogee. At just under 12 minutes, the tune draws from the full range of the British band’s influences and then steps beyond them with an exploratory intensity that nearly eclipses the set’s other originals, yet its power was sufficient to bring them the strongest sales of their career without a competitive single hit.

That reconciliation reaped Traffic’s highest U.S. album chart performance ever, along with a gold record, as they reinforced the line-up with bassist Ric Grech (Family, Blind Faith), drummer Jim Gordon (Derek and the Dominos) and Ghanaian percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah. Entering Island’s London studios in September 1971, the newly aligned sextet leaned into its more layered rhythm section as it tracked new songs.

Where Traffic’s earlier albums teed up with radio-ready singles candidates, The Low Spark of High Heeled Boyopened quietly. “Hidden Treasure” points back to “John Barleycorn” in its modal melody and spacious acoustic arrangement, interweaving Winwood’s acoustic guitar with Wood’s delicate flute lines. Punctuated with spare percussion, the song is one degree removed from Pentangle’s intersection of folk and jazz, with Capaldi’s pensive lyrics invoking water imagery and evoking a pastoral atmosphere.

That song’s languid close leaves the listener in a silence that lingers beyond the usual between-tracks interval, as the title song doesn’t so much begin as lay in ambush. After 13 seconds, a faint pulse begins to surface, distant percussion setting a glacial pace as a five-note piano figure anchors the arrangement in D minor. Hand percussion and tolling piano march slowly forward, as if moving from darkness into a half light. At 1:21, a vibraslap strikes, ominous as a rattlesnake’s lunge, jolting us fully awake.

Having taken so slow and deliberate a path to capture the listener, “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” has us in its grip as soon as Winwood begins crooning Jim Capaldi’s feverish lyrics:

If you see something that looks like a star, and it’s shooting up out of the ground
And your head is spinning from a loud guitar
And you just can’t escape from the sound
Don’t worry too much, it will happen to you
We were children once, playing with toys…

The lyrics’ sense of dislocation and distraction, set against the hypnotic languor of the rhythm section’s deliberate pace, suggests nothing so much as a drugged torpor that quickens as Winwood’s piano and Wood’s saxophone shift into double-time figures between the sung lines.

The gauzy euphoria teased in early Traffic songs from the late ’60s was by now a distant memory; Winwood and Capaldi would be all too familiar with the harder drugs clouding rock’s early ’70s demi-monde, while Wood would struggle with drugs and alcohol for much of his adult life. Capaldi’s wistful allusion to childhood reveries leads inevitably to a sense of lost innocence and even betrayal as the song swells into the chorus, modulating to D major:

The percentage you’re paying is too high a price, while you’re living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car with the profits he’s made on your dreams…
And the sound that you’re hearing is only the sound of the low spark of high heeled boys

Who those “boys” are remains a mystery beyond the certainty that they’re no longer children. (Capaldi reportedly took the phrase from a casual remark by a friend, actor Michael J. Pollard.)

With the band members stretching out on solos, clocking in at 11:41, “Low Spark” can stand favourably beside those fusion standard-bearers. Winwood adds keening synthesizer lines that diverge from more familiar chordal and arpeggiated synth voicings of the era. Instead, he shapes monophonic riffs answering Wood’s sax, moving Traffic’s ensemble sound closer to the contemporary fusion of Miles Davis’ electric bands and Weather Report’s next jazz-rock wave.

From that point onward, Traffic lightens the tone with “Light Up or Leave Me Alone,” an atypically uptempo rocker featuring a lead vocal from Capaldi, who has sole writer credit. Usually content to add baritone harmonies below Winwood’s soulful tenor, Capaldi offers a good-humoured takedown of a lover that teases the title’s easy implication of something other than tobacco, aided by Winwood’s mocking electric guitar figures. That the track would find FM airplay more easily than the album’s title song is no surprise.

“Rock & Roll Stew” likewise hews to more familiar rock tropes as a mid-tempo ode to life on the road, written by new members Grech and Gordon, with Capaldi’s lead vocal and Winwood’s electric guitar again grounding the band in foursquare rock in another track more readily added to radio playlists. The album’s two remaining songs, “Many a Mile to Freedom” and “Rainmaker,” were deep cuts that worked within the atmospheric terrain familiar to fans, yet, on balance, Low Spark would ultimately remain defined by its risk-taking title track. With FM rock radio stations still on the cusp of more freewheeling playlists, “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” would earn significant airplay from savvy stations despite its extended length.

Even as the November 1971 release went gold, personnel changes once more roiled Traffic as Grech and Gordon left and Winwood was sidelined with peritonitis. Capaldi recruited Muscle Shoals Sound house band aces Roger Hawkins (drums) and David Hood (bass) to the line-up that tracked their next studio album and a live set captured during the band’s 1973 tour before a final studio album, When the Eagle Flies, was recorded by Winwood, Capaldi (back on the drum stool), Wood and bassist Rosko Gee. The original trio’s core sound survived, yet none of those later recordings would surpass the high bar set by Low Spark on its defining performance.

Traffic Sessions: The Low Spark of High Heeled 1971 Recorded at Olympic Studios, London

00:00 The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys – Alternate Take – 2/9/71 11.46 11:41 Rock And Roll Stew – Different Take – 5/19/71 3.20 14:57 Rainmaker – Different Take – 5/19/71 7.29 22:22 Rock And Roll Stew – Different Mix – 8/25/71 6.19 28:35 Light Up Or Leave Me Alone – Different Mix – 8/25/71 5.03 33:34 Command Performance – Traffic Jam #1 Take 2 5.04 38:26 Crispy Duck – Traffic Jam #2 W/ Muscle Shoals Horns 3.34 41:55 Steal From A King – Traffic Jam #3 W/ Muscle Shoals Horns 5.19 47:10 It’s So Hard – Demo #1 – Capaldi And Gordon 7.41 54:48 It’s So Hard – Demo #2 – Capaldi And Gordon 9.42 1:04:26 Easter Weekend – Demo #1 – Capaldi 3.26 1:07:55 Easter Weekend – Demo #2 – Capaldi 3.46

Buy Online Blind Faith - Hyde Park '69 Red

Blind Faith, live set from Hyde Park, London 1969 was THE year of the festival – a stellar year by which all others have been judged. Across North America and the UK there seemed to be a festival happening somewhere, almost every weekend of the summer. The Blind Faith concert was the first of four concerts scheduled for 1969. Opening the show was the Third Ear Band along with Richie Havens, Donovan and the Edgar Broughton Band (no UK festival seemed to be complete without them). The stage they all played on was somewhat makeshift in appearance and was only about a meter or so high.

Blind Faith’s debut was the most hotly anticipated gig of its time, and took place in front of 100,000 people on a sweltering Saturday afternoon. Although they were nervous and under-prepared, they turned in a frequently superb set spanning originals and covers. London Calling presents the incredible performance at Hyde Park, London on June 7th 1969, broadcast by BBC2. It is presented in its entirety here, together with background notes and rare images.

It was on Saturday 7th June that Blind Faith headlined the free concert that was organized by Blackhill Enterprises. Peter Jenner and Andrew King who were stalwarts of the London underground scene, having helped start the UFO club in Tottenham Court Road, ran Blackhill. Jenner had been a lecturer at the London school of Economics, and Blackhill ran their five-person business out of a converted shop just off Ladbroke Grove. Blackhill were principally agents, and it was their acts that gained most from the Hyde Park concerts, which gave them a higher profile than they would have expected from gigging around Britain laying low-key gigs. During 1968, when Blackhill first approached the UK’s Ministry of Public Building and Works about the possibility of staging concerts in Hyde Park they were met with a resounding ‘no’. However, their persistence paid off, and on 29th June 1968 Pink Floyd headlined, supported by Tyrannosaurus Rex, Jethro Tull and Roy Harper. Among the crowd were Mick Jagger and his girlfriend Marianne Faithfull. Having watched Blind Faith perform, soaked in the vibe and seen how many people there were watching, Mick decided that a free concert in Hyde Park to promote The Rolling Stones’ new single and get them back in the public eye would be just the thing for the band that had been through something of a low period. As a nod to Mick, who stood watching from the side stage, Blind Faith played ‘Under My Thumb’.

Blind Faith took to the stage about 5pm and began their set with ‘Well All Right’ before going on to perform most of their debut album. It was a more bluesy set, closer to the kind of thingsTraffic had been playing than toCream. According to Ginger Baker, “Eric had been doing amazing stuff, but at Hyde Park I kept on wondering when he was going to start playing. ” According to Clapton, “I came off stage shaking like a leaf because I felt that, once again, I’d let people down.”

Blind Faith’s first show, a free one in Hyde Park! , Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech.

Tracklisting:
SIDE ONE:
1. Intro 1:25,2. Well Alright 6:27, 3. Sea Of Joy 6:13, 4. Under My Thumb 6:06, 5. Can’t Find My Way Home 6:13
SIDE TWO:
1. I’d Rather See You Sleeping In The Ground 4:41, 2. Do What You Like 5:30, 3. Presence Of The Lord 6:28, 4. Means To An End 4:21, 5. Had To Cry Today 6:56, 6. Outro 0:43

 A DELUXE 4 DISC CLAMSHELL BOXED SET FEATURING ALL OF JIM CAPALDI’S SOLO RECORDINGS FOR ISLAND RECORDS ISSUED BETWEEN 1972 & 1976
• NEWLY REMASTERED FROM THE ORIGINAL MASTER TAPES
• MATERIAL FEATURES GUEST APPEARANCES BY STEVE WINWOOD, CHRIS WOOD, DAVE MASON, PAUL KOSSOFF & THE MUSCLE SHOALS RHYTHM SECTION
• WITH 6 BONUS TRACKS DRAWN FROM SINGLES & A DVD FEATURING JIM CAPALDI’S APPEARANCES ON BBC TV OLD GREY WHISTLE TEST FROM NOVEMBER 1975 (featuring STEVE WINWOOD) AND A 50 MINUTE OLD GREY WHISTLE TEST TV CONCERT FROM MARCH 1976 – All Previously Unreleased.

Esoteric Recordings is pleased to announce the release of Open Your Heart – The Island Recordings 1972 – 1976, a new re-mastered four-disc clamshell boxed set (comprising 3 CDs and a DVD) by the legendary Jim Capaldi.

Aside from his work as a founder member with the acclaimed band Traffic (a group for which Jim co-wrote most of their classic songs with Steve Winwood), Jim Capaldi was also a successful solo artist, enjoying a series of hit albums and singles in his own right. His solo career began with the album Oh How We Danced, recorded whilst Traffic was on hiatus whilst Steve Winwood was recovering from peritonitis. Mainly recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, the album featured the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section of Roger Hawkins (drums), David Hood (bass) and Barry Beckett (keyboards), along with a host of guests such as Steve Winwood, Chris Wood, Paul Kossoff, Dave Mason, Ric Grech, Jim Gordon, Mike Kellie (Spooky Tooth) & Trevor Burton (The Move / Steve Gibbons Band). Featuring tracks such as Eve, Don’t Be A Hero and Open Your Heart, Oh How We Danced was a superb debut solo release.

Jim’s second solo album was the 1974 release Whale Meat Again, an album that tackled a variety of lyrical subjects, including environmental issues. Once more he utilised the services of Roger Hawkins, David Hood and Barry Beckett, along with Steve Winwood. Featuring tracks such as It’s Alright, Whale Meat Again and Summer is Fading, the album was another classic.

With the disbanding of Traffic in 1974, following a troubled US tour, Jim embarked on his next solo project (and final album for Island Records of the 1970s), Short Cut Draw Blood. The album would prove to be one of his most successful, featuring the singles It’s All Up to You and Love Hurts (a cover of the Everly Brothers hit), both of which enjoyed chart success. Aside from these tracks the album also featured the emotive Boy with a Problem, featuring Paul Kossoff on guitar, and other classics such as the album title track, Goodbye Love and Seagull. Once again Jim Capaldi assembled a stellar cast of musicians to contribute to the album such as Steve Winwood, Chris Spedding, Roger Hawkins, David Hood and Barry Beckett and Chris Wood.

This boxed set has been newly re-mastered from the original master tapes and features an additional 6 bonus tracks, (four previously unreleased on CD), all drawn from single releases and also includes a bonus DVD (NTSTC / Region Free) featuring previously unreleased live appearances by Jim Capaldi on BBC TV’s “Old Grey Whistle Test”; a session from November 1975 (featuring Steve Winwood on piano) and a 50 minute concert by Jim Capaldi & the Space Cadets at the BBC TV Theatre in March 1976. The boxed set also includes an illustrated booklet with a new essay. Open Your Heart – The Island Recordings 1972 – 1976 is a fitting tribute to a fine and much missed musician.

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Two stunning BBC sessions from the heyday of the british band fronted by Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi. One shot recorded before the release of the debut album on Island Mr. Fantasy, the second – December the 11th – right after. Facing the beginning of a new groove revolution after the blues explosion.

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Things are getting more sophisticated down here. The band just released his debut album and is ready to roll. Second self-titled album is almost there, so a number of key tracks like Pearly Queen,Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring and Feeling Alright. Three different radio sessions from winter and the hot summer of ’68.

Classic Radio Broadcasts: On their formation in April 1967 Traffic experienced instant success and rapidly expanding popularity. That they accomplished so much in such a short space of time attests to the talent of the band s particular blend of creative forces, but also might explain why the first few years were so tumultuous. Although Steve Winwood was already a widely respected figure due to his time with The Spencer Davis Group, the strength of Traffic’s debut single, Paper Sun, took many observers by surprise. A number 5 hit in the UK, the song signaled that Winwood had matured into one of the most significant figures in British music and, as further material appeared over the course of 67, that Traffic were a major arrival on the scene – Dave Mason’s Hole In My Shoe gave the band a UK number 2 in August and November s Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush their third successive top ten hit. When the group s debut album, Mr. Fantasy, arrived in December, it was to rapturous acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic; but trouble lay ahead. In early 68 Dave Mason quit, citing artistic differences. Although he briefly re-joined the band during sessions for their second album, Traffic, he left again shortly after and Traffic never really recovered. Winwood exited in early 69 (to the shock and surprise of Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood) and formed Blind Faith alongside Eric Clapton & Ginger Baker.

Despite their eventual reformation in 1970 (minus Mason), 67- 68 thus stands alone as the original pure era in Traffic s history. With the impact that the band made on British music at the time, they fast became fixtures of radio programming, on John Peel s Top Gear show in particular. Collected here are the complete BBC performances by Traffic from across 1967-68, a fascinating journey that traces the evolution of the band over the course of its quintessential period, from Paper Sun in September 67 to Feelin Alright in July 68, Dave Mason’s last great gift before he walked.

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In celebration of the life and lyrics of Traffic’s drummer, poet and founder – the late Jim Capaldi over 70 of his handwritten lyrics are illustrated with images of Traffic, and illuminated with the recollections of 40 legendary contributors.

Mr Fantasy is a limited edition of only 900 copies. Signed by Steve Winwood, Aninha Capaldi and Robert Plant.

Traffic’s songs and the imagery of Jim Capaldi’s lyrics brought us adventures and characters that vibrated through the psychedelic underground.’ quoted Robert Plant

‘The Sixties to me were the most important years in humankind! Traffic became a reality in 1966. I’d already started writing songs in the previous bands so I naturally took the role of lyricist.’ Jim Capaldi

Read all about the making of this classic album in the limited edition book and record set, Mr Fantasy, which explores the lyrics and music of Jim Capaldi . Jim was the lyricist behind Traffic’s 11 albums, including the hit songs ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy’, ‘40,000 Headmen’ and ‘Paper Sun’. Originally inspired by The Beatles, Jim also wrote for the Eagles and played alongside George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix

His handwritten lyrics have been reproduced in facsimile, complete with doodles, typos and alterations to reveal the process behind the words that changed the face of music. ‘As you read these lyrics, ask yourself if anyone in rock ever wrote better. The pirate poet indeed. Jim was a real rough diamond… I loved him.’ Tom Petty

Jim began work on this book before his death in 2005. He provided us with text, giving insight into his inspiration and describing his prolific 40-year song writing partnership with Steve Winwood.

‘I’d had this idea for a lyric and that evening while half asleep I managed to finish it off in my head. I got up, wrote it down and went and woke up Steve; it must have been around 4.30 or 5.00 in the morning. Then we went in to the little living room where there was an old upright piano and finished it. It was the first song we wrote together.’ Jim Capaldi

‘All these bits of paper would be knocking about and while we were jamming, if I could find a way to sing something that was written down I would just sing it. That’s how we created our songs… He was a life-long brother-musician to me and we spent a lot of time together, had a great affection for each other, and understood each other and the way we worked. It’s slightly sad, but, for me, Traffic can never be without Jim.’ Steve Winwood

Jim was one of the most influential songwriters, not only of his generation but in the history of popular music culture. He attacked life with an energy and passion and left a rich legacy. He leaves a benchmark for today’s writers and musicians to emulate.’

This Dynamic broadcast recording from the band Traffic in 1972 featured Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason, and Chris Wood who met at a nightclub the Opposite Lock in Aston, Birmingham in the mid-1960s. At the time Winwood was still performing with The Spencer Davis Group, but when he quit in April 1967, the quartet formed Traffic.

Traffic signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, and their debut single “Paper Sun” became a UK hit in the summer of 1967. Further hit singles followed and their debut album, “Mr. Fantasy”, was successful in the UK. Dave Mason left the group by the time Mr. Fantasy was released, but re-joined for a few months in 1968, long enough to contribute to their second, eponymous album. The band however was discontinued following Winwood’s departure in early 69. He then formed the supergroup Blind Faith, which lasted less than a year, recording one album and undertaking one US tour. After the break-up of Blind Faith, Winwood began working on a solo recording, bringing in Wood and Capaldi to contribute, and the project eventually turned into a new Traffic album, “John Barleycorn Must Die”, their most successful record of all.

In 1971 the group released The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (1971), a Top 10 American album but one which did not chart in the UK. They toured America in early 1972 to promote the LP, during which they performed an extraordinary concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on 21st February, which was broadcast across FM radio along the West Coast, and is featured in its entirety . The quite superb performance includes cuts from their two finest albums.

recorded at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1972, this concert seems to kick off with a somewhat spacey, mildly exploratory version of the title tune of the band’s then-current LP, “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”; Steve Winwood and Chris Wood get to stretch out nicely on this one, on piano and electric sax, respectively. “Light Up or Leave Me Alone” comes next, on which former drummer Jim Capaldi gets to do his white Sammy Davis, Jr. thing while Stevie offers up some wicked guitar licks. (Until his recent collaborations with Eric Clapton, many seemed to have forgotten what a fantastic guitarist he’s always been!) A straightforward yet tasty as can be rendition of “John Barleycorn” follows, featuring some terrific work by Chris on flute; “Rainmaker” makes for a perfect segueway after this one, highlighted by more lovely flute work from Chris and a rousing percussion interlude from Reebop Kwakubaah. The classic Traffic diptych of “Glad”/”Freedom Rider” comes next, accompanied by some psychedelic light FX, and then Stevie sings effortlessly and beautifully on “40,000 Headmen.” “Dear Mr. Fantasy” closes out this set in rousing fashion, featuring some more staggering guitar work from Winwood.