Steve Winwood is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and keyboard player from Birmingham, England. He began his professional career at a very young age, joining The Spencer Davis Group with his brother Muff when he was fourteen years old. Winwood’s voice drew early comparisons to Ray Charles.
Steve Winwood (b. 1948), singer, songwriter, keyboards, guitar
Spencer Davis Group
A Rapid Journey From Blues Band To Progressive Rock
Here is The Spencer Davis Group on a Polish TV program in 1966, singing their hit songs “Gimme Some Lovin'” and “I’m A Man”:
The Winwood brothers left The Spencer Davis Group in 1967. Brother Muff became a lifelong record executive. In an effort to move to less commercial, more challenging music, Steve assembled his own band, Traffic, with drummer Jim Capaldi, guitarist Dave Mason and woodwind player Chris Wood. Traffic performed and recorded together until 1975, though the band disbanded in 1969 for about a year. During that time, Winwood joined Blind Faith, a successful collaboration that ended as soon as it had begun, long enough to create the rock standard “Can’t Find My Way Home”. The next video shows Blind Faith performing “Had To Cry Today” from that album.
I started listening to Traffic when I was in high school. I probably heard the album The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys first. Traffic was unusual for its time; Chris Wood’s saxophone and flute gave the music a mellow, jazzy sound, which distinguished them from other bands in my music repertoire. By the time I had finished high school in 1975, I had worked backward through their catalog to find the fine contributions by guitarist Dave Mason, the author of “Feelin’ Alright”.
Traffic wrote the vast majority of their own music. A notable exception is their fine interpretation of the English folk song “John Barleycorn”:
Great Sounding, Not Very Meaningful
Winwood’s lyrics are often vague and nonsensical, common in the psychedelic era in which they were written. His poetry and lyricism is not particularly memorable. A notable exception is “The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys”, which stands up well as an anti-establishment song. The hypnotic “Low Spark” is the rare song over 10 minutes worth listening to every now and then.
The percentage you’re paying is too high priced,
While you’re living beyond all your means,
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car,
From the profit he’s made on your dreams.
But today you just read that the man was shot dead,
By a gun that didn’t make any noise,
But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest,
Was the low spark of high-heeled boys.
One of Traffic’s best psychedelic songs is “Dear Mr. Fantasy”, one of two Traffic songs (“Feelin’ Alright”) that are considered pop standards.
I saw Traffic once, with high school friends in San Francisco in 1975. We dropped a light dose of acid before the show, if I recall correctly. We had seats behind the stage, and though we were close, the sound was substandard. During the encore, we walked down onto the floor, and the sounds coming from Winwood’s guitar exploded while he played the classic “Dear Mr. Fantasy”. It was an exciting moment.
After Traffic disbanded, Winwood embarked on a commercially successful solo career, with several big hits in the eighties. I have included my four favorites from Winwood’s solo career. Dave Mason went on to a successful solo career after leaving Traffic; his songs are included as an addendum.
Steve Winwood Songs:
With the Spencer Davis Group:
Gimme Some Lovin’, The Spencer Davis Group ✭✭✭
I’m A Man, The Spencer Davis Group ✭✭✭
Hey Darling, The Spencer Davis Group ✭✭
Keep On Running, The Spencer Davis Group ✭✭
Don’t Want You No More (Live), The Spencer Davis Group ✭✭
With Blind Faith:
Can’t Find My Way Home, Blind Faith ✭✭✭✭
Presence Of The Lord, Blind Faith ✭✭
Dear Mr. Fantasy, Traffic ✭✭✭✭
Feelin’ Alright, Traffic ✭✭✭
Glad, Traffic ✭✭✭
Medicated Goo, Traffic ✭✭✭
The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys, Traffic ✭✭✭
John Barleycorn (Must Die), Traffic ✭✭✭
Forty Thousand Headmen, Traffic ✭✭
Shanghai Noodle Factory, Traffic ✭✭
Freedom Rider, Traffic ✭✭
Empty Pages, Traffic ✭✭
Light Up Or Leave Me Alone, Traffic ✭✭
Walking In the Wind, Traffic ✭✭
Forty Thousand Headmen (Live), Traffic ✭✭
Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring, Traffic ✭
Heaven Is In Your Mind, Traffic ✭
Many A Mile To Freedom, Traffic ✭
Rainmaker, Traffic ✭
As Steve Winwood:
Arc Of A Diver, Steve Winwood ✭✭
When You See A Chance, Steve Winwood ✭✭
Roll With It, Steve Winwood ✭✭
The Finer Things, Steve Winwood ✭
Presence Of The Lord, The Blind Boys Of Alabama ✭✭
Presence Of The Lord (Live), Eric Clapton ✭
Feelin’ Alright, Joe Cocker ✭✭✭✭
I’m A Man, Chicago ✭✭
Don’t Want You No More, The Allman Brothers Band ✭✭
Dave Mason Songs:
Only You Know And I Know, Dave Mason ✭✭✭
All Along The Watchtower, Dave Mason ✭✭
Look At You, Look At Me, Dave Mason ✭✭
Just A Song, Dave Mason ✭✭
Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving, Dave Mason ✭