Tag Archives: Steve Winwood

Rock and Roll Saturday – Blind Faith

Bland Faith Band

The Sixties—just the words bring to mind a wide variance of emotion and music. It was a period of change, of color, fashion and hallucinogenic. The music industry was very much like the old west town of Dodge City and supergroups were lining up as the big sheriff of the concert halls.

Blind Faith is one of those lineups, a cross between genius and disaster; a marriage of fantastic and fiasco. They were like a star that went super-nova, burned brightly for a few white-hot moments, and then they were gone.

The roots of Blind Faith trace back to late 60s England where arguably the first “Supergroup” Cream was selling records by the boat load and filling concert halls where ever they played.

Cream was an overnight international success bringing fame and fortune to the trio, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker. In their short career they recorded four studio albums and sold 35 million albums worldwide. In the end Clapton’s easy-going demeanor was not enough to calm the conflict between Bruce and Baker and after three years Cream was no more.

In the meantime, Steve Winwood was having similar conflict with his bandmates at  The Spencer Davis Group. He left to form Traffic and in the meantime began jamming in Clapton’s Surrey basement studio. Winwood had met Clapton and worked briefly on the short-lived Powerhouse project with him and Jack Bruce in 1966.

Shortly after Cream folded, Clapton and Ginger Baker joined forces with Winwood and another Powerhouse alumnus, Ric Grech on bass, to form Blind Faith. The band debuted for a free concert on June 7, 1969 in London’s Hyde Park. Although well received by everyone privy to the show, Clapton was disappointed believing the group had not practiced enough to be a solid musical unit. Also, their repertoire was somewhat limited with barely enough original music to fill an hour. They ended up playing Cream and Traffic music to fill out the set.

Blind Faith BandWorking on a setlist for recording the quartet put in time in London’s Olympic & Morgan Studios recording their untitled debut album. Between late February and June 24 they worked on six tracks that would make it to the album.

In August of 1969 the self-titled album, Blind Faith, released to a wide audience and appeal with two tracks, Winwood’s Can’t Find My Way Home and Clapton’s Presence of the Lord climbing quickly onto the UK and US charts.

Blind FaithThe cover for the initial release brought with it a fervor of controversy. The topless pubescent 11 year-old model holding a hood ornament from a 1956 Chevrolet proved to be too much for the label and they moved to immediately to release a second package with a photo of the band. The initial album cover is to this day a coveted collectors item.

The cover art was created by photographer Bob Seidemann, a personal friend and former flatmate of Clapton’s known primarily for his photos of Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead.

In an interview regarding his original Blind Faith photo Seidemann said,

“I could not get my hands on the image until out of the mist a concept began to emerge. To symbolize the achievement of human creativity and its expression through technology a space ship was the material object. To carry this new spore into the universe, innocence would be the ideal bearer, a young girl, a girl as young as Shakespeare’s Juliet. The space ship would be the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the girl, the fruit of the tree of life.”

Blind Faith BandSeidemann named his famous photograph Blind Faith. The group embraced the image name for the group and the a tiny span of rock and roll history was forever locked to the image. Not wanting to deface the image the band elected to have their name inked into the plastic jacket sleeve to disappear once the album was opened.

The promise of new music and future tours went away as quickly as Bind Faith took the stage. After the album release and the end of their US Tour rumors of breakup ran like wildfire through the fan base and respective labels. Blind Faith didn’t last a year but left a lifetime of great music. Their only album occasionally finds its way to my digital jukebox even today.

After Blind Faith, Baker, Winwood, and Ric Grech, joined with former Moody Blues frontman, Denny Laine, and formed Ginger Baker’s Air Force.

Eric Clapton toured with Delaney and Bonnie and spun another collaboration with friends, Derek and the Dominoes.  He followed the supergroup musical chairs with a successful solo career of his own. Grammies and and platinum records line the Clapton walls.

Steve Winwood returned to Traffic taking Ric Grech with him to record The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys in 1971. In 1986, Winwood enlisted some friends in a project and released Back in the High Life in the US. He topped the Billboard Hot 100 with “Higher Love”, and earned two Grammy Awards: for Record of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. On High Life you will find contributions by James Taylor, Chaka Kahn, Joe Walsh and many others.

Ric Grech made a short career of doing sessions work with the likes of George Harrison, Gram Parsons, and Rod Stewart. He even did a short stint with The Crickets in the mid-seventies. He retired from the music business and returned to England in 1977. Grech succumbed to alcoholism in 1990 at the age of 43.

It’s better to burn-out than to fade away – Neil Young

Really?

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Rock & Roll Saturday – Traffic

Mr FantasyTraffic might go down in rock history as the best unheralded rock band of the era. As good as they were, releasing multiple studio in the late 60s, early 70s, this eclectic group of musicians never fully reached their potential. That’s not saying they weren’t a great band. For the period there were few other bands playing their style and playing at that level. I’m just saying you have to wonder what music was still in the creative box when Traffic went their separate ways.

Early in 1967 a quartet of musicians jammed for the first time at the Elbow Room in Birmingham, U.K. Keyboardist and singer Steve Winwood, of the Spencer Davis Group, drummer Jim Capaldi, enigmatic guitarist Dave Mason, and woodwinds genius Chris Wood, together founded Traffic immediately after the impromptu jam session.

Traffic

Traffic album cover

Their debut album, Mr. Fantasy, released in December of 1967, became a big hit in England but barely blipped the charts in the U.S. By the time Fantasy released, Mason had already left the band in what would become a revolving door for the Traffic guitarist.

He returned a few months later to contribute to the second album, Traffic. Mason’s  Feelin’ Alright would become one of Traffic’s most successful hits and was successfully covered by Joe Cocker, Three Dog Night, Grand Funk Railroad, Widespread Panic, The Black Crowes, and many others.

Following the Traffic album creative differences began to unfold as Winwood, Wood, and Capaldi, wanted to take the group in a different direction, opting for more of a folk/blues style rather than their earlier psychedelic/eclectic rock sound, while Mason remained firmly rooted in psychedelic pop.

Traffic’s next album was appropriately titled, Last Exit. Around this same time Steve Winwood abruptly left the band without explanation to the rest of his collaborators. Island Records released Exit as a hodge-podge of studio work still in the vault. Although Mason is pictured on the album cover he actually performed on very little of this album.

“Because of the way I ended the Spencer Davis Group, I saw no reason why I shouldn’t leave Traffic and move on. It seemed to me a normal thing to do.”
— Steve Winwood

After his departure from Traffic, Winwood formed the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith with friend Eric Clapton, former Cream drummer, Ginger Baker, and bassist Ric Grech. As quickly as the group formed to release its iconic self-titled album, Blind Faith went their separate ways after only six months.

John Barleycorn Must DieWinwood went in the studio to record a solo album reportedly to be titled, Mad Shadows. With only two tracks in the can Winwood longed for the creative companionship of his former bandmates.  He recruited Capaldi and Wood to assist. The session turned into a Traffic reunion and their most commercially successful release to date —John Barleycorn Must Die. The album launched in July of 1970 without Dave Mason.

As did most of their sessions, Barleycorn featured heavy influences from jazz and blues, but the version of the traditional English folk tune “John Barleycorn” showed strong roots in folk baroque and electric folk music.

That same year Traffic began expanding its lineup with former  Derek and the Dominos drummer Jim Gordon and percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah. Dave Mason also returned in 1971 for his third and a short, final stint with the group.

The Low Spark of High Heeled BoysAfter Mason’s final departure Traffic released its fifth studio album, The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. The album reached the top ten in the U.S. but failed to chart in the U.K.

John Barleycorn is my favorite of all the Traffic albums with Low Spark coming in a close second.

It took nearly another two years for another Traffic album to hit the streets. Shootout at the Fantasy Factory was released in February of 1973. In general, Shootout received an abundance of critical reviews from Rolling Stone, Billboard, and many others, but still managed to achieve six on the album charts.

The following year Traffic released their (thought to be) final album, When The Eagle Flies. The release became another Top Ten album in the US (#9), and moderately successful in the UK (#31).

A subsequent tour of the USA, while successful in terms of ticket sales, took its toll on the band. At the Chicago show Winwood left the stage in the middle of the performance and did not return. The next day he left the tour without telling a soul. The band was left waiting for him prior to that evening’s performance. Feeling Winwood had been integral to Traffic’s music, the remaining members opted not to continue the band without him. And that was the end of Traffic.

“Rosko Gee and I were the only ones in anything like normal shape.
Steve was having recurrent problems with the peritonitis,
and Chris’ body was suffering from chemical warfare.”
— Jim Capaldi on the Eagle Flies tour

Steve Winwood embarked on a solo career. Chris Wood died  in 1983, from pneumonia.

Fast-forward to 1994. The remaining members of Traffic regrouped to do a summer tour with The Grateful Dead. Later that same year Winwood and Capaldi released Far From Home, roughly 20 years after what was thought to be Traffic’s final album. The release reached #33 on the US Billboard charts.

Traffic was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 15 March 2004.

Tentative plans for another Traffic project were cut short by Jim Capaldi’s death at age 60 in January 2005, ending the songwriting partnership with Winwood that had fueled Traffic from its beginning.

Traffic music continues to get extensive air play on album rock stations and satellite radio. Their music lives on in a new generation of artist pointing to the inspirational style of this great rock band.

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