Sunday, March 23, 2008

Traffic: Freedom Rider

Last month I wrote about Traffic, the band Steve Winwood formed after he left the Spencer Davis Group as a veteran of 18 with two number 1 hits behind him.

Here they are on stage in Santa Monica in 1972. Traffic had a complicated history: Winwood had already temporarily ended the group in 1969 so that he could join Blind Faith, the short-lived supergroup, with Eric Clapton. Dave Mason the guitarist came and went, but it seems that Jim Capaldi and Winwood could never quite forgive him for writing "Hole in My Shoe".

At one time Traffic were a trio: here there are half a dozen of them on stage, including the African percussionist Anthony "Rebop" Kwaku Baah.

I chose this song chiefly because it shows the importance to Traffic's sound of the flautist and saxophone player Chris Wood. As a teenager I loved Jethro Tull, but I suspect Ian Anderson had listened to a lot of Wood and Traffic before he took up the flute.

Wood, who died from liver failure before he was 40, was also the chief influence on the idiosyncratic outlook that made Traffic more then just another rock band. In an interview published in 1994, Steve Winwood said:
"He was probably the greatest influence on Traffic, in that in many ways he had the spirit more than Jim or I ... He had a way of identifying certain unnoticed elements and touching on them, both musically and in his other interests. He was interested in, you know, geological make-up, earth's crust, astronomy, he'd learn about different constellations, ornithology, he was a keen bird-watcher. And then at the same time he played sax in a soul band. So he had a mixture of not only musical elements but also a way of life which really profoundly influenced Traffic."
Enjoy too this promotional film for Traffic's wonderful first single "Paper Sun". They are just about the only band you can imagine going round a museum for pleasure.

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