Posts Tagged ‘The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys’

Traffic / The Studio Albums 1967-1974

This 6LP vinyl box set due in May, Universal Music are set to release a new Traffic vinyl box set, the snazzily titled, The Studio Albums 1967–1974.
The six-LP set collects together the Island-released Mr Fantasy, Traffic, John Barleycorn Must Die, Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory, The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys and When The Eagle Flies. 1969 odds ‘n’ sods compilation Last Exit isn’t included.

Traffic were originally formed in 1967 when Steve Winwood fled the Spencer Davis Group at the ripe old age of 18, and joined drummer/singer Jim Capaldi, singer/guitarist Dave Mason and reed player Chris Wood. The quartet soon rented a cottage out in rural Berkshire to ‘get their heads together in the country’.

While the group were quickly successful with the singles ‘Paper Sun’ and ‘Hole In My Shoe’, they were more at home on the album format, and also enjoyed considerable success within the U.S., scoring four consecutive top ten albums from 1970 to 1974.

The Studio Albums 1967-1974 is released 17th May 2019.

The LPs have been remastered from the original tapes and presented in their original and highly collectable ‘first’ Island pressing form (gatefold sleeves, pink eye labels etc). The set also includes a related and rare facsimile promo poster for each album.

After exploring English folk on the 1970’s album John Barleycorn , Traffic continued broadening their sound to incorporate other musical ideas on the follow-up. Released in November 1971, “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” saw them move more towards progressive rock, featuring extended tracks and off-kilter rhythms inspired by other genres. Recorded in the September of 1971 at Island Studios. All of those different sounds would go into “Rock & Roll Stew,” aided by some recent hired hands to bolster the triumvirate of Stevie Winwood (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Jim Capaldi (drums, vocals) and Chris Wood (woodwinds, keyboards). These additions included ex Blind Faith bassist Ric Grech, Ghanaian percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah and the Derek and the Dominoes drummer Jim Gordon (who was brought in to allow Capaldi to focus on his songwriting and taking lead vocal, which he did on two of album’s six tracks).

Of all styles, jazz rock seemed to come to the forefront on The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, especially on the nearly 12-minute title track. The song was conjured out of studio experimentation, with Capaldi even writing the lyrics to the third verse just before Winwood sang them.

“What would happen is that Jim would jot some words down on a piece of paper – some lines, maybe, and not too many, and certainly not arranged in a verse – chorus kind of way,” Winwood said. “He would just jot a few phrases or ideas down, and then we would go and jam. I would stand the piece of paper on top of the piano or organ, then during the jam when I felt it was right and appropriate, I’d sing what he’d written down and it always came out of a jam. It was born out of the fact that we were players rather than writers.”

As for the bizarre, but memorable title, Capaldi got the phrase from actor Michael J. Pollard (Bonnie and Clyde) with whom he was working on a film project. Pollard wrote “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” in Capaldi’s book and it fired his imagination.

The meandering song, although never released as a single, became a staple of ’70s FM radio, famous for its length, hazy mood and electronic saxophone solo played by Wood. Winwood recalled how Wood came to create the nasal, Eastern-tinged sound on “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.”

“He used a lot of gadgetry on his saxophone,” Winwood said. “He bought a thing called a Maestro, which is a machine for electrifying a saxophone, a reed instrument.”

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys , The LP remains the band’s lone platinum release in the U.S., known for its mind-altering sounds, in addition to its famous die-cut album cover, which created an optical illusion.

The group would continue on for a few more years, releasing two more albums before breaking up in 1974. Wood died in 1983, but Capaldi and Winwood reunited for a new Traffic record and tour in the ’90s, but Low Spark is considered by many fans and critics to be Traffic’s high point.

low spark

Traffic performed most of “The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys” plus songs from the “John Barleycorn” album at a concert in Santa Monica in 1972. It was released on VHS, however never on DVD. All the songs from it can be seen as separate videos or the entire concert downloaded by going to YouTube and entering: Traffic Santa Monica Civic Center ’72.ve

Traffic released The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (1971), which was a Top 10 American album but did not chart in the UK the vinyl sleeve for the album is also notable for its die-cut cover. It sold over half a million copies in 1972.  Once again, however, personnel problems split the band as Grech and Gordon left the band in December 1971 and the month after, Stevie Winwood’s struggles with Illness brought Traffic to a standstill. At This Time Jim Capaldi used this hiatus to record a solo album tiltled “Oh How we Danced”  which would prove to be the beginning of a long and successful solo career. The album included a surplus recording from The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys, “Open Your Heart”, and the new tracks featured members of the Muscle Shoals studio house band. The new Traffic  line-up of Stevie Winwood Jim Capaldi Chris Wood, plus additional members Rebop Kwaku Baah Hawkins, Hood) toured America in early 1972 to promote the Album, and their concert at the Civic Center in 1972 was recorded and captured on colour videotape with multiple cameras. The 64-minute performance is thought to be the only extended live footage of the group.

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