"Traffic Becomes a Big Band"
Rolling Stone, July 8, 1971
Spring, and all the bands in England began to get restless rumblings.
The first meaningful noises came from Derek and the Dominoes who were recording their second album when they hit a split. Jim Gordon apparently had a few disagreements with Clapton, and the boisterous Bobby Whitlock put in a few words himself. Jim Gordon went to play drums with Traffic; Whitlock returned to Los Angeles to finish a solo album with an expected cast of thousands (including the Los Angeles Philharmonic). Carl Radle, who had played with Leon Russell during his English tour, has joined Leon more or less permanently again, just in time to get into sessions that Russell and Bob Dylan were holding in New York. Word was that Dylan had entered the studios without a song, so the bunch of them started jamming. When they got to something that sounded like something, Dylan stopped and wrote a few words. "Of course," says Radle, "they were all masterpieces." Meanwhile Clapton has gone into semi-retirement until his basement studios are finished. The album he produced for Buddy Guy and Junior Wells is also in a state of limbo since Eric, although happy when making it, is now unhappy with the tapes. The matter is now up to Atlantic Records and the bluesmen's managers. The original Dominoes had recorded five tracks before the break and then Clapton recorded four more with Steve Winwood and Jim Keltner.
"Eric asked me to do a set of sessions with him," says Winwood, "but the time just wasn't right, you know? We're just getting this band [Traffic] together like this and I can't miss it."
Traffic is now the latest group to break out into Big Band status. Ric Grech has long been added as a bassist, and with Jim Gordon replacing Capaldi on drums, the latter moves up to fulltime singer. Chris Wood remains, but the most startling addition is Rebop, a Ghanian congoist who was once sideman to Dizzy Gillespie, among others. Winwood met Rebop through Wynder K. Frog two years ago in a dingy Hungarian nightclub. And now Rebop fits. Also getting in on the action is Dave Mason, signed up for a brief tour before he joins Ginger Baker. Traffic is now a more substantial band. Gone are the sneaky little figures and fugues that the threesome would get into and it has a different "swing." It seems stronger, steadier.
At their Croydon debut, Capaldi hadn't yet entirely come to grips with the role of singer. "I'm just growing as a singer-songwriter," says the band's lyricist. Still, it was interesting to see Mason and Winwood battling each other on guitars or Winwood playing his five different instruments (piano, organ, bass, acoustic and electric guitar) in the first five numbers. Traffic encored with a rousing 20-minute version of Winwood's old Spencer Davis hit, "Gimme Some Lovin'." Traffic, a rock band.
The studio half of their next album has already been recorded, with the rest to be from this tour. Winwood is also having a studio built in his country cottage. "I'll do these gigs," he says, "but after that I'm just stopping. It's been a long, long time since I've had nothing to do in the summertime. You know, nuh-thing. Like, really let your collar down, man."
Dave Mason, on the other hand, began to miss his water by playing with Traffic again and is rip-ready to begin touring. "Personally, I think we ought to do a bunch more concerts, go to America, do some recording, then tour here. People in America have never seen Traffic buzzing like last night. It's nice to get people involved like that. But it's Stevie's band, so it's up to him. Every time I've seen them for the last couple of years. I've asked them if they'd like to reform the original group, but their personalities were never receptive. This time he said yeah."
Mason, as is his wont, has a lot of things going at once, "I've got to do an American tour this September and want to do a solo album now. Jim Gordon said he'd do the tour with me but now he's with Traffic. So I might do it with Ginger. It's all these different types of music in different places. Like, I've played with Ginger three time now, and it sounds good. When you're playing and you get into a guitar thing, you find him there following you, then find him there following you, then find yourself playing his drum patter, and the vice versa. It's incredible. Ginger's, you know, the last person in the world I would have thought of, but we did get some good things. I tell you, what I'd really like to find a good bass player and keyboard man. Yeah, put that in, make it a free advertisement. 'Rhythm section urgently needed.'"
Traffic's album, parts of which are very free, some very rehearsed, should be out by September to coincide with their American tour for October-November. (Fairport Covention will also be on the tour with them.) And Eric Clapton, according to representative, would like to play as little as possible in public and just use selected people on his sessions. Steve reports that Eric is handling bass himself, Rosetta Hightower reports that Eric was just dying to play on her session the other day. To complete the news of the original trio: Jack Bruce has just recorded a new solo album, this time with Chris Spedding and John Marshall of Nucleus. It will be called Harmony Row, after a nearby street to Jack's old Glasgow home. And, you know, they're all so far from home.