Few people are likely to skip a heart beat, cream their pants and hail Dave Mason as a rock idol. In that irrelevant context he's a non-starter. Nevertheless, if there is one musician who engenders respect and demands thoughtful attention, he's the guy. Until recently it was true to believe he was musically itinerant; in many ways the modern rock concept of a wandering minstrel. Who had played alongside such people as Winwood, Clapton and Hendrix. And had his compositions interpretated by many, including Cocker and Delaney and Bonnie.
There is no contrived dazzle of exaggerated expectancy or hype enshrouding him, but a pleasant glow of warmth. Stemming from his own character and ability, which does compel admiration. And he's established this remarkable reputation - which could not be stronger in the music business - in five years. Since he first attained public recognition with Traffic.
Born in Worcester on May 10, 1946, Dave first showed signs of his musical interests at 14, when he persuaded his father to buy him a £24 guitar. Which came as a surprise to the not too musically inclined family, because Dave had refused to play recorder at school.
Yet he'd shown artistic streaks, and it wasn't long before he was stealing licks from Shadows records and diligently practising. Taking influence from the blues and Elmore James. Eventually he got his first group the Jaguars together and a Fender from his old man. Then followed the Hellions which included the notable talents of Jim Capaldi, Gordon Jackson and Luther Grosvenor. Together they had a fine reputation locally, and reached the famed stage of Hamburg's Starclub.
But Dave's first real contact with professional music proper came as roadie to the Spencer Davis Group. When, in between tuning guitars and changing strings, he grabbed a few jams with Steve Winwood. And later was unceremoniously booted out. But playing tambourine, he with Capaldi and Chris Wood lent a hand beefing up the rhythm section for SDG "I'm A Man" session.
Only six months later those three and Steve Winwood secluded themselves in a Berkshire cottage to create Traffic. Because Steve had been considered the backbone of the Davis Group, many presumed it'd be just the same in this outfit. But no way. When they first appeared live in Oslo during September 1967, and then on their British debut at London's Saville Theatre, Dave was also picked out for his obvious virtuosity on sitar, vocals and guitar.
At the outset, he was an integral facet. He had a sharp sense for commercialism in music, as well as maintaining a high level of competency. Though in the summer of '67, he showed signs of being influenced by the all beautiful, flowers-to-the-people bit, and wrote "Hole In My Shoe". But it did provide a number two placing in the British charts, even if the lyrics relied on a child-like nursery rhyme theme.
However on Traffic's first album, "Mr. Fantasy", Dave Mason's whimsical melodies and goodtime feel, incorporating simple yet not banal lyrics, ensured a delightful contrast. His vocals adding a mellower texture to Winwood's, and an extra interest. His three tracks. "Utterly Simple", "House For Everyone" and "Hope I Never Find Me There" having instant appeal. The latter relating more closely to the group's contributions.
Artistically Mason had started the process of establishing himself. Like Winwood he was a musical perfectionist, but their approaches were different. Rather than follow his ideals which would estrange him from the band, he decided to quit in December 1967. And so prevented himself from being swallowed up by circumstances he no longer felt at ease with.
Shortly afterwards he produced Family's first album, "Music In A Doll's House" making a fine job of it. But a solo career had never been far from his mind, and sure enough on February 23, 1968 Island released "Little Woman" by Dave. The cut was a pastiche of the unusual, utilising violin, cello, acoustic guitar and a few Indian instruments. Reviewers plumped for the flip, "Just For You." And it didn't go unnoticed it was Traffic behind him. How many people were shaken when it subsequently appeared as the opening track to "Last Exit"?
The general buzz was Mason's departure from the group was irrevocable. He'd upped to the States - an environment which has proved particularly conducive for his creative talents - but when Traffic arrived there for their first tour in March along he went to New York with a handful of new songs, and was welcomed back into the band.
With the release of their second album "Traffic" in September, Dave's material had reached a standard and quality only partly indicated previously. "You Can All Join In" is akin to the "Mr. Fantasy" pieces; pliable with a light exuberance. Though in the other three there was more depth and perception. "Feelin' Alright?" was now becoming a standard. As well as being recorded by Dave and his band on "Headkeeper" it sold a million for Grand Funk Railroad and Three Dog Night. Cocker saw fit to include it on three albums, including "Mad Dogs And Englishmen". The version included here however is interesting, being the very first attempt by Traffic at recording the song. It was shelved, finally rearranged and recorded again before being accepted on the "Traffic" album.
Mason showed he'd integrated more completely with the others, though not forsaking his commercial approach. There being a so memorable chorus on "Cryin' To Be Heard", with the oozing, moody sax. And a melodic guitar pattern on "Don't Be Sad" leading into the catchy 3/4 sequence. He'd also seeded a writing association with the lyrical aptitudes of Jim Capaldi.
Not quite a month after the release of "Feelin' Alright?" as a Traffic single, he left the band again. Saying that he was too individual to continue as a part is an understatement. Traffic's days were soon finished - at least for 16 months - and they wound up in December. Dave was soon recalled from LA to form a group with Capaldi and Wood. Ironically enough, Wynder K. Frogg, the organist who'd shared the bill on Traffic's first British gig, completed the line-up. Needless to say this satellite group failed to fulfill any great promise. After a handful of concerts, one with Hendrix at the Royal Albert Hall, they called it a day and Mason returned again to the States.
Unperturbed (and why should he be, as some of the material they used later came upon "Alone Together"), he found himself up and sparring with some formidable musicians. Around the middle of 1969 he joined the Delaney and Bonnie and Friends Tour with Eric Clapton, making acquaintance with some of Steve's past associates.
At the end of the year, the material he'd been writing over an 18 month period was taken into Sunset Sound and Elektra Studios. With some assistance by friends, including Delaney & Bonnie, Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon and Capaldi his first solo set, "Alone Together" was recorded.
When released in Britain during October 1970 - sadly without the coloured record America had - it received critical acclaim. Certainly there can be no denying the musical perspicaciousness of each number. It's a series of moods from all out rock'n'roll to gently contemplative. Again he showed that astuteness in writing musicians' music, but also his guitar style had developed, equalling Leslie West for the sense of melody and harmonics.
It'd be an exercise to count up how many times D & B recorded "Only You Know And I Know"; as well as it making a single this year for Lou and Laura Poole. "Just A Song", "Can't Stop Worrying" and "World In Changes" all appear on the live side of "Headkeeper". The latter also being carried on Yvonne Elliman's first album, along with the Mason/Capaldi "Look At You Look At Me". Both "Sad And Deep As You" and "Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave" appeared on the live recording "Welcome To The Canteen" - the result of a brief re-unification of Dave and Traffic in 1971.
"Alone Together" was artistically and to a degree commercially successful, hitting the top bracket of the San Francisco charts. Following that Dave in and outed Clapton's Derek and the Dominoes during June/July of '70. Then early the next year hit up with Mama Cass and a three piece group. They played a few dates in California and recorded an album. The concept was contrived and the lot fizzled out. Far superior versions of "To Be Free" and "Here We Go Again" are rejuvenated on "Head keeper". The former vocally embellished by Graham Nash and Rita Coolidge.
At Fairfield Hall, Croydon on Sunday June 6, Mason started out on a series of gigs with Traffic. Who had by then been augmented by Rick Grech, Jim Gordon and Reebop Kwaaku Baah. That concert and one for the Oz benefit, were recorded for "Welcome to the Canteen", A beauty of an album.
In the three years of his colourful career, since saying a final good-bye as a permanent Traffic member, Dave has savoured remarkable experiences and furthered his musical knowledge, which was always selftaught. To enable a settling down he needed to concentrate solely on this, and that demanded attention towards his business life. Things were falling into place in that area in September, and was probably one of the reasons he could get a band together.
He'd had some plans to join up with Jim Gordon but these didn't materialize. But in 'Frisco he met up with keyboard player Mark Jordon, a drummer Rick Jaeger and bassist Lonnie Turner. Mason wanted to call them Destiny, but they wouldn't have it. After five weeks rehearsal they had a stint at LA's Troubador and recorded the show. Soon they were into Sunset Sound and laid down some tracks, which when edited all came down to "Headkeeper".
The band has a dynamic force with stirring interactions between instruments. Originally planned as a double set, even with the material put out it shows Dave is following a direction not unsimilar to that started with "Alone Together". Tracks like "In My Mind" reveal his consistent flair for rocking and enjoyment, further established with the show which had a few heads cocked and feet stamping in many a concert hall.
By no quirk of the imagination could his career be described as finished. Really he's just shaping up for a consolidation and further extensions. Just listen to that surefire polish and intensity of his guitar style on Jim Capaldi's solo set, or Nash and Crosby's album. Even so his appreciation for music doesn't have room for egotistical rituals. If you listen you'll believe. He said to me while waiting for a flight at Heathrow Airport, what just about measures him up: "I've never felt the desire to be a pop star up on stage. You know there's no great thing I see myself as. Only just as a musician."
"Utterly Simple" taken from the film "Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush"
"Sad And Deep As You" recorded live
"Only You Know And I Know", "Can't Stop Worrying, Can't Stop Loving", "World In Changes", "To Be Free", "Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave", "In My Mind" & "Just A Song" courtesy of Blue Thumb Records Inc.
Printed and made by MacNeill Press Ltd, London SE1
(P) 1972 Island Records Ltd