Hall of Fame singer-songwriter and guitarist Dave Mason will bring his Traffic Jam Tour to the Englert Theatre in Iowa City on Sunday, February 8, 2015. As co-founder of the band Traffic in the late 1960s, Mason played for a few years with childhood friend Jim Capaldi, Stevie Winwood, and Chris Wood before going solo. For the past 45 years he has toured extensively worldwide, and his website (davemasonmusic.com) shows the Traffic Jam Tour with dates from 1967 to 2014.
For those who know Mason, nothing needs to be written. But for the younger crowd who may not know him so well, I want to provide some encouragement to discover and explore Mason’s music.
In 1966, Jimi Hendrix befriended Mason in London, and together they listened to Bob Dylan’s song “All Along the Watchtower.” As the story goes, Hendrix decided to record his own version of the song with Mason accompanying him on 12-string guitar. This is the version on Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland LP. These days, Mason includes his own version of the song at live concerts, often as an encore.
Traffic was formed in 1967 by the four lads from West Midlands, England. The band wrote music collaboratively while living in a stone cottage in Berkshire, England. Initially, their music was mostly psychedelic, as heard on tracks such as “Paper Sun,” “Hole in My Shoe,” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” On later albums (The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys and John Barleycorn Must Die), they moved more toward folk ballads enhanced by slower-tempo jazz improvisations. Although Mason was not involved in the Low Spark LP, he now performs a “slowed-down, blues-up” version of the title track.
Normally, Mason plays Traffic music in the first half of his concerts and then his solo compositions in the second half. Dave’s critically acclaimed band now consists of Johnne Sambataro on guitar, Alvino Bennett on drums, and Tony Patler on keyboards. All three have distinguished music histories. Sambataro has collaborated with Stephen Still, Eric Clapton, and Peter Frampton. Bennett has credits with Koko Taylor and Muddy Waters. Patler has laid down tracks with the likes of Chaka Khan, the Temptations, and Michael Jackson. Over the years, Mason has shared creative juices with many notable musicians, including George Harrison, Derek and the Dominos, Graham Nash, David Crosby, and Paul McCartney.
But in my opinion, his solo work shines brightest.
My favorite album is Mason’s first solo effort, Alone Together (1970), with three highly recommended tracks:
• “Sad and Deep as You” tells a story while deftly surrounded by acoustic guitar and piano.
• “Look At You Look At Me” features extended electric guitar. Here’s a sample of the lyrics:
Looking all around me what do I see
Lots of changing faces and lots of things to be
But I’m happy just to be a part of all I see
As I turn round to look at you
And you look back at me.
• “Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave” is the song that reinforces Dave’s Hall of Fame place in classic rock. It’s a story about broken love and melancholy . . . and, oh yes, it features one of the finest electric guitar solos ever recorded. Even after all these years, Mason’s guitar haunts me on walks along the ridgeline of my daughter’s farm in Vermont.
Although there was a 21-year hiatus from the recording studio between Some Assembly Required (1987) and 26 Letters, 12 Notes (2008), Dave consistently performed nearly 100 concerts annually, which probably explains the high marks reviewers give the Traffic Jam Tour today.
A number of us from Fairfield have tickets for the February 8 performance of Dave Mason at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City. Maybe we’ll see you somewhere along the watchtower sharing a vital piece of American music history.
In any case, do yourself a favor and check out or revisit the music of Dave Mason.
Join Andy on Fringe Toast every Wednesday, 8-10 p.m., Central Standard Time, on KRUU FM 100.1 in Fairfield, Iowa.