Though it ultimately must be considered an interim vehicle for singer/songwriter/keyboardist/guitarist Steve Winwood, Traffic was a successful group that followed its own individual course through the rock music scene of the late ’60s and early ’70s. The band’s origins were in 1967, a psychedelic year. They were influenced by the Beatles and produced a variety of pop singles in Great Britain. However, by the end its first year, Traffic had developed a unique pop/rock mix due to its unusual instrumentation. At a time where electric guitars dominated rock, Traffic placed emphasis on Winwood’s organ, and the reed instruments, particularly the flute, played by Chris Wood. Traffic began to focus on longer songs, which allowed its musicians the freedom to express themselves in a jazz-like way while still maintaining a rock-structure. It was an international success story that ended when Winwood decided to go it alone. Steve Winwood, born May 12, 1948, was first noticed when he formed a band with Spencer Davis and Pete York in Birmingham, England at age 15. Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records signed them and they began recording in 1964. Winwood was the vocalist of the group and received the most attention. The Spencer Davis Group had four Top Ten singles, three Top Ten albums and two Top Ten singles in the U.K. by the time his brother and he left the group in April 1967. Two of those singles reached the Top Ten in America. Winwood, still not yet 19 years of age, formed Traffic with three 22 year-old friends. They were drummer/singer Jim Capaldi (August 24, 1945 – January 28, 2005), Mason (May 10, 1944), Wood (June 24, 44 – July 12, 1983) and Mason (May 10, 1944 – July 12, 1993). The group was created in the spirit of the time, despite Winwood’s fame. It consisted of three friends aged 22 and 22, who were all musicians. Mason (born May 10, 1944), Mason (born May 10, 1944), and Wood (June 24, 1944 – July 12, 1983). Blackwell signed them quickly and released their debut single “Paper Sun” in July 1967. It also reached the top five in the U.K. and spent several weeks at the bottom of the charts in America. Blackwell then licensed the song to United Artists Records as he already had the Spencer Davis Group’s recordings. Traffic was recording material for its debut album in 1967. However, Traffic’s communal outlook was disturbed by Mason. Mason was able to write songs independently, which was unlike Winwood, who was a composer who preferred collaboration. Blackwell was inspired by the success of “Paper Sun”, to quickly release a second single. He chose “Hole in My Shoe”, written and sung entirely by Mason, as the most likely candidate. Although it became a bigger hit than “Paper Sun”, it didn’t go down well with Winwood who thought it wasn’t representative of Traffic’s sound. Their third single was “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”, the title song to a motion picture. It was their third British Top Ten hit in December. This was the month their debut album, Mr. Fantasy was released. The song also earned a Top Ten ranking on January 1968, although Mason had already left Traffic. The fourth single, “No Face, No Name, No Number”, was taken from the album and reached the British Top 40 in March 1968. This month Traffic became a live attraction in the U.S., where Mr. Fantasy, originally titled Heaven is in Your Mind, reached the Top 100. As a trio, Traffic faced two challenges. The first was that Traffic’s unusual instrumentation meant it struggled to perform on stage without Mason, who could play the bass guitar. Winwood had to take over the bass sound in his absence by using his feet to play the organ’s pedals and simultaneously singing and playing the keyboards. The group also struggled to find enough material to fulfill its contractual obligations without Mason as a prolific writer. Mason was able to reconcile with Winwood, Capaldi and Wood in 1968. He wrote half of Traffic’s songs and helped to record the second album. Traffic was released on October 1968 and the band went on tour across the U.S. in support of it. After the tour began, Winwood, Capaldi and Wood fired Mason. Winwood quit the tour at the end of it, and announced the dissolution of Traffic at the start of 1969. The album made it to the U.K. Top Ten, and the U.S. Top 20. Despite the breakup, Winwood was signed to Island and United Artists for five albums. Only two of them had been shipped. In April 1969, the labels published Last Exit, an album of singles and outtakes that included live recordings. Another Top 20 hit in America was it. Wood and Capaldi joined Mason, along with Wynder K. Frog as keyboardists in Wooden Frog. The band never recorded and Winwood teamed up with Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton, as well as Ric Grech, a former Family member (November 1, 1946 – March 16, 1990) to create Blind Faith. The highly acclaimed supergroup released one album, Blind Faith. It topped the charts in the U.S.A and U.K. and was followed by one American tour. Winwood, still owing two albums to his record labels, began work on a solo album in 1970. But he quickly added Capaldi, Wood, and made it a Traffic record. John Barleycorn Must Die came out in June 1970. It was a Top Ten hit in the United States, and it reached the Top 20 in the UK. Traffic embarked on extensive touring and added Ric Grech to its bass line. In anticipation of American and British touring, Jim Gordon, the drummer, was hired. Reebop Kwaku baah, the percussionist, was also brought in. Dave Mason joined the band for a few U.K. shows. Mason had previously been a solo star and released Alone Together in 1970. With the release of Welcome to the Canteen, a live album featuring this band, the band was able to fulfill its contractual obligations. It reached the Top 40 in America, despite not making it to the U.K. charts. Island signed the band and began releasing albums in America. Traffic followed with The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys in November. It reached the American Top Ten, sold over a million copies. However, this was a sign of the group’s increasing international focus. Winwood’s ill health meant that a winter 1971-1972 tour was cancelled. He was later diagnosed with peritonitis. Grech and Gordon also left the band while Capaldi released Oh How We Danced, his first solo album. It reached the American Top 100. Traffic gathered to record a new album in the fall 1972 after Winwood was well. They also added Roger Hawkins, a drummer, and David Hood, a member of the Muscle Shoals studio band. (Keyboardist Barry Beckett was another Muscle Shoals alumnus who performed live with the band. In January 1973, Shoot Out at The Fantasy Factory reached the American Top Ten, and was certified gold. Traffic – On the Road was released in October 1973 and chronicled the world tour that promoted it. The Muscle Shoals musicians returned to their homes after the tour. Kwaku Baah left Traffic as well, who recruited Rosko Gee, bassist. Capaldi recorded a second solo album called Whale Meat Again in 1974. The single “It’s all up to You” reached the top 40 in the U.K. He recorded the new album When the Eagle Flys with Traffic in September. The band reached the American Top Ten with this album, making it their fourth consecutive studio album. They toured to promote the album, but Traffic quietly disbanded after the tour. Capaldi had a good start to a solo career and scored a Top Five hit in Britain in 1975 with “Love Hurts”, a cover from his third album, Short Cut Draw Blood. The single reached the top spot in the U.S. but was lost to a Nazareth version. Winwood was a prominent participant in Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamashta’s concept album Go. It reached the Top 100 in the U.S. in 1976. He released the modestly successful Steve Winwood album in 1977. After a three-and-a half year silence, Arc of a Diver was released in 1980. It reached the American Top Five and went Platinum. The Top Ten single “While You See a Chance” was the highlight of the album. Talking Back to the Night in 1982 was a disappointment. But Winwood’s 1986 album Back in the High Life was a multimillion-selling record that sold four Top 20 singles. One of them was the chart-topping “Higher Love.” “Valerie,” a remixed song from Talking Back to the Night that reached the Top Ten in 1987, was also a hit. Winwood’s 1988 album, Roll With It, was another multi-platinum success. Both the album and its title song topped the charts. Refugees of the Heart (1990), however, was less successful. Winwood announced in 1994 that he would be reunited with Capaldi, who had suffered from liver failure and had continued to release solo albums with decreasing success. They released Far From Home and toured the summer as Traffic. Although the album reached the U.S. Top 40 and U.K. Top 40 quickly, it did not sell well and the tour performed poorly, which led to another Traffic retirement. The 1967-1974-era band maintained its status as a classic rock group, with CD reissues of their albums and compilations such as Feelin’ Alright (2000) and Smiling Phases (1991). The band was ended by Capaldi’s sudden death on January 28, 2005. Allmusic

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