"I'm gonna do an album a week!":
New Musical Express, May 17, 1973
By Chris WelchIt's been many a long year since Stevie Winwood has made impact as an individual on the English rock scene.
Once a fledgling solo star, he tended to slip more and more from the limelight after he quit the Spencer Davis group in 1967 and formed Traffic. Not that Steve was any less the musician he had been.
But gradually there was an erosion of his personal status, that began symbolically with his switch from guitar to the Hammond organ, behind which he literally sank from view.
The voice and the talent have all been there, but especially since his involvement with the short-lived Blind Faith and later Ginger Baker's Airforce, Steve seemed to wander, without any real direction. Finally he stopped working altogether.
And part of the reason lay in an illness that had worried and dogged him for months. It could not be diagnosed, and made the life of a touring musician even more of a strain.
Steve had always been quiet and unaffected and sometimes at a loss to explain himself or his beliefs. But despite this, he has firm ideas about what should be done musically, and the way he wants to do it.
Today, six years on from the era when he was making hit singles and attracting the interest of rock society from the Beatles downwards, Steve can see the past with greater clarity, and views the future with renewed enthusiasm.
He's excited about the newest version of Traffic, that is to tour here soon. He plans to cut a solo album. A live Traffic album. Half a dozen albums, if he can pack it all in.
The first sign that Steve was making a comeback came when he appeared on the historic concert with Eric Clapton at The Rainbow Theatre, London, last month.
Says Winwood: "Yeah - that was really nice to do. There was a lot of unnecessary rehearsal going on beforehand! Well, not unnecessary, but I knew most of the tunes. Pete Townshend rang me up and asked me to help and I said I'd go down to the rehearsal on the first day. But actually, I didn't. Pete rang up again and got quite heavy. 'Well, are you going to help or not!' So I went - and it was great. I've been working on a lot of songs, and I'm going to put down a solo album in May. I've got a lot of things going in fact. I've been writing a lot at home in Gloucestershire."
Steve had moved long ago from the old cottage of Mr Fantasy fame. "Yes, about 3 years ago. What's it like now? Oh, a bigger cottage. It's got a lot of buildings around it, outhouses and stables."
But how had it been, these last 3 years? "The first 2 years were a bit dismal. I was kind of frustrated, not knowing what to do. I wanted to write and I wanted to play on stage, but the two things are completely different. Blind Faith came up and that was a nice idea, but it was rushed off its feet. Then Eric started working with Delaney and Bonnie and I started on the John Barleycorn album. Then there were a few problems with my band. We did a tour and the playing just wasn't happening. On top of that there were a lot of other things going on, and I'd had enough of Traffic. I decided to finish with Traffic but was persuaded to do one more tour, when we met up with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section. They wanted to get into something new, and I was looking for sympathetic guys to play with. Remember, I haven't worked with that many people outside of Traffic. That's how this band came together. People will ask me how permanent it will be,but I don't want to play with anybody of the whole of my life. All this time I was ill with something, and didn't know what it was. I had 3 doctors in the States and 1 in England, and they all said different things. One of them said it was bronchitis. In fact, it was appendicitis, which is, apparently, very difficult to diagnose. It gave me stomach ache, and I just thought it was something I had eaten. Eventually, I went into hospital, around February last year, and it took me until June to get better. But I wasn't properly better, even then. I wrote and read a lot while I was in hospital, and learned some things. The first thing I did on getting better, was Viv Stanshall's solo album. It's quite a serious album. I wouldn't describe it as comedy, more wit. I found that getting a band together for myself more of a problem. Musicians now are moving in many different ways. But I don't want to stop - I really want to play with anyone. I've been striving to get Traffic to sound as good as possible, and now I really want to do some gigs. A lot of it is jamming, but that makes it different every night, and jamming for me, is music."
Did Steve feel that he had been wasting a lot of time in recent years?
"I always lose time. Everybody does. But it's not wasted, it can prove valuable. I've had lots of time to think, about music and how to play. We worked very hard in the first years with Traffic, and were very grateful for a month off." Steve smiled.
"I remember we used to spend hours in the studio - arguing with Spencer. I was doing something I wasn't too aware of, I mean, it was all off the top of my head. Somebody says 'yeah, that's great' and before you know where you are, well, it goes on and on, then you think ... what am I doing? Times change, people's attitudes to music changes as well."
Did Steve feel the need to write or work with a partner?
"Well, I'm not writing lyrics. I just have different ideas of my own I want to get down on a solo album. On the last album, Jim Capaldi wrote all the lyrics beforehand and we put the music to them. It's not particularly the best way to work. I often have difficulties with a writing relationship - it takes a long time to get relaxed. As far as writing music is concerned, I prefer to work on my own. But I like to play with people. Yes, yes! I wasn't playing organ on the last tour by the way. We had a keyboard player in and I was playing piano and guitar. It allows me a lot more freedom and I can move about the stage a bit."
Had he firm ideas about where he'll be in the future?
"Actually - no, not at all. I can't see at all clearly except that I know I want to bring people together to make music and contribute our lives to what we play. That's what playing is all about - relationships between people. And I am interested in the politics of running a band. I organize the rehearsals and what we are going to play in what order, but I don't dictate. If I hadn't written a song, I'm not going to dictate how it should be played. I find things don't influence me so much now, because the things I admire in people are blends of traditional sources that are very much a personal thing and are created from the artist's environment. If you listen to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, you can hear what I mean. I admire John McLaughlin but he can't influence me - because I can't play as fast, aside from anything else. I think you absorb most influences when you are a kid. Right now, I'm doing an LP with Remi Kabaka and Lofty Amao from Osibisa - playing and producing it up at the house. I'm going to do an LP a week from now on. Put 'exaggeration' in brackets. But I am getting excited - about the band, and all the albums I want to do!"
-- Chris Welch