by Jeff Niesel
Traffic keyboardist Steve Winwood reportedly once complained that guitarist Dave Mason thought of the group as his backing band and would bring the guys finished songs and then expect them to play them exactly as they were written. Now, Mason has his chance to take ownership of the classic rock band’s music. For his current tour, which launched earlier this year and comes to the Ohio Theatre on Friday, Jan. 31, he’s playing material from the first two Traffic albums.
“It’s [part of my legacy that I haven’t done before,” he says via phone. “There is no one else doing it. There is no Traffic anymore. There’s some great material. I didn’t know what the response would be but it’s being received better than I thought.”
The band initially came together in 1966. At the time, Mason and Jim Capaldi had bands. They met and befriended Winwood and would play up in Birmingham occasionally. That’s where the Spencer Davis Group was from and that’s where they got to meet Steve [Winwood] and [woodwinds player] Chris Wood. "It was just four guys hanging out together," Mason says. "Steve wanted to do something different so it turned into Traffic."
In two short years, the band delivered a slew of hits, including songs such as “Dear Mr. Fantasy," “Paper Sun” and “Hole in My Shoe,” the latter of which was penned by Mason. Mason also wrote “Feelin’ Alright,” a tune that Joe Cocker would turn into a huge hit. He would leave Traffic in 1968 to pursue a solo career. A close friend of Jimi Hendrix’s, he has continually found work as a session man, even as the rock world has gone through huge changes over the years.
“You have to understand you’re coming out of a time when rock ’n’ roll first started,” he says when asked about why the ‘60s were such a fertile time for rock n’ roll. “You’re talking a matter of a few years after the second World War. The changes were a little more dramatic and it was fueled by psychedelics the rest of it. We were kids really. At that age, you’re invincible. There’s nothing you can’t do. Good music lasts. It doesn’t go anywhere. To me, there isn’t any old music. It’s either good or it isn’t. I think there’s a lot of relevant stuff there and the audiences seem to agree.”