New Musical Express, March 16, 1968
It was, we agreed, an unearthly hour to attempt an interview. There sat Stevie Winwood, hunched in a chair, all ghostly, pale, and drawn, tinted specs masking his tired eyes. After playing with Traffic at the Speakeasy until the early hours and then tripping through London by night to watch Spooky Tooth recording a Bob Dylan song, Stevie had managed to catch only a few hours sleep at a time when all good men and true are rising to a new day's work. And here he was at 11 on a Monday morning, trying to answer questions as intelligently as he could.
Anyway, it's a nice day," said Stevie, peering sleepily through the windows of Island Records on to Oxford-street below and sipping a cup of machine-made hot chocolate to soothe his battered nerve ends.
Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi, whom he had left at Jim's flat, were on their way to join us, but, Stevie explained, they were hampered by the fact that they only had one car between them. "Chris has a jinx with cars. He only has to drive one for 5 minutes and it's sure to break down," said Stevie, bravely mustering a smile. Apparently the jinx had struck Chris last week while on his way home to London. He was forced to abandon his car halfway down the A40 and hitch the rest of the way into town. "I expect the fuzz have got it by now," said Stevie.
Traffic are now back amid the seclusion of their cottage in Berkshire whenever they have the time, but in the charts they are not as yet moving too well with the Winwood soul-buster "No Face, No Name, No Number." This fact doesn't perturb Stevie overmuch. "It is a track from our already-issued Mr Fantasy album and I don't think it's as commercial as our other singles," he opined. "Anyway we're not too bothered about singles because in the future we'd like to concentrate more on LPs. In the past, a lot of things have relied on our singles being in the charts and we want to get over that. In some ways popularity can rely on the charts, and I don't think it is a good thing. It is for some people maybe, but it isn't for us."
Stevie is of the opinion that a rock 'n' roll revival is now a fact. But he says: "I don't think any group has really been so far from rock 'n' roll. It's never been that far away."
As a member of one of the leading progressive groups, did he feel that progress had reached a stalemate as some rock revivalists are saying? "No, not really, because this rock thing is progression itself in its own way. There is still room to go ahead. There are lots of ways to go ahead and some of the ways can involve rock 'n' roll. We might do some rock, but I think we are on our own road."
What then are the influences affecting Traffic? "They have been based on each other rather than through other groups and musicians. When we started and were living in the cottage we began by talking together and getting to know each other's ideas on music before we actually did anything. What we really wanted to do was to take things that were going on around us and just express them in musical terms. Not necessarily political things, just things that were happening around us. We have reached some of these achievements but there is still a lot we have to do."
Traffic have recently been involved in a sudden glut of performances but they have set aside time to work on the title song for a new film "The Touchables" to be released in a month or two. The song, which will run over the title tracks and at the end of the film, will have the same name and could be released as a single. As composers, Traffic have no clear-cut roles, but roughly they work as Stevie, the musician; Jim, the lyricist, and Chris, the one concerned with the overall sound.
As the NME was going to press, Traffic were on their way to America for their first US tour, which will take in an appearance at San Francisco's famed Fillmore Stadium. The finish in New York where they will be going into the Record Plant studios to record tracks for their new album.
I asked Stevie how much of Traffic's act was improvised on stage. "We work on basic structures. Practically every number is improvised from there. And we've found that since there's only 3 of us, since Dave left, it has been easier for us to do it that way. We can get a lot more spontaneity on stage. But because so much of it is improvisation, you must have bad nights as well as good nights. At the Speakeasy we thought we weren't much good, but afterwards, friends were coming up and saying we'd been the best they'd seen us for ages. You can easily get all screwed up thinking about it and probably the best thing to do is just go out and play. You can think too deeply about it at times. Unfortunately we have got this thing in America where everybody has heard of us and everybody is going to be there watching. And if we thought about that too much it could screw us up. I suppose really it is a matter of nerves and you should just go out there and do it."
There was still no sign of Chris and Jim, who were probably still at home in bed, so with Stevie regaining his alertness and getting quite deep at times, we chatted on about a number of things including rock, progression, the Beatles' new single, Spencer Davis, and Bob Dylan.
Stevie is an ardent Bob Dylan fan and tells a story of a time 2 years ago when he met Dylan in England and they went to visit some haunted ruins somewhere in the countryside. Later in the day, back in London, Dylan sat down and started talking about everything and anything that came into his head. "It all began with him talking about his mother," Stevie said, "and he went on for about 3 or 4 hours before ending up talking about his mother again. Perhaps he was just trying to baffle people. It would be nice to meet up with him again in America." Stevie said Traffic would love to record a Dylan song and in fact there were 7 or 8 demo discs by Dylan floating around in London. These included "Mighty Quinn" and "Too Much of Nothing", the song Spooky Tooth had been cutting the night before.
The talk turned back to progression. "In a way, progress is always backward-looking, one step forward, two steps back," said Stevie. "The Who and the Small Faces have gone back. This rock 'n' roll thing is going back to the roots and starting again from there, maybe out on a different limb this time."
As long as there are groups like Traffic around with their eyes always on new horizons, I don't think there is any danger of music reaching a dead end.