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Traffic the band Biography

Home > Music > T > Traffic the band > Biography

Birth Place: Birmingham, England
Years Active: 1967-1969, 1970-1974, 1994
Genres: Progressive Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Folk Rock, Jazz Fusion

Traffic was an English rock band whose members came from the West Midlands. The group formed in April 1967 by Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood and Dave Mason. After disbanding in 1969, during which time Winwood joined Blind Faith, Traffic reunited in 1970 and the band's line-up varied from this point until they disbanded again in 1975, although a partial reunion, with Winwood and Capaldi, took place in 1994.

Traffic's singer, keyboardist and sometimes guitarist Steve Winwood was the frontman of the Spencer Davis Group at age 15. The Spencer Davis Group released four Top 10 singles and three Top 10 albums in the United Kingdom, as well as two Top 10 singles in the United States. Drummer/vocalist/lyricist Jim Capaldi and guitarist Dave Mason had both been in the Hellions and Deep Feeling, while woodwinds player Chris Wood came out of Locomotive.

Winwood, Capaldi, Mason, and Wood met when they jammed together at The Elbow Room, a club in Aston, Birmingham. After Winwood left the Spencer Davis Group in April 1967, the quartet formed Traffic. Capaldi came up with the name of the group while the four of them were waiting to cross the street in Dorchester. Soon thereafter, they rented a cottage near the rural village of Aston Tirrold, Berkshire to write and rehearse new music. The use of this cottage would prove to be important in the development of the band.

Traffic signed to Chris Blackwell's Island Records label and their debut single “Paper Sun” became a U.K. hit in mid-1967. Their second single, Mason's psych-pop “Hole in My Shoe,” was an even bigger hit, and it became one of their best-known tracks. The band's third single, “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush,” was made for the soundtrack of the 1967 British feature film of the same name. Their debut album was “Mr. Fantasy,” produced by Jimmy Miller, was a hit in the U.K. reaching #16, but not as big elsewhere, although it did reach #88 in the U.S.

Mason had already quit the group by the time “Mr. Fantasy” was released, but rejoined for a few months of 1968, long enough to contribute to a slim majority of the songs on their second album, “Traffic.” Winwood, Wood, and Capaldi wanted to take the group in a different direction, opting for a folk/blues style rather than their earlier psychedelic/eclectic rock sound, while Mason was oriented towards psychedelic pop. Mason also cited discomfort with the Traffic lifestyle.

Released in 1968, “Traffic” included the original version of Mason's “Feelin' Alright,” which was later recorded with great success by Joe Cocker and Three Dog Night. The band toured the U.S. as a trio in late 1968, which led to the following year's release of Traffic's next album, “Last Exit,” one side of which was recorded live. During 1968 Winwood and Wood often played with Jimi Hendrix, and they both appear on The Jimi Hendrix Experience's 1968 double album “Electric Ladyland,” as did an uncredited Dave Mason.

The band was dissolved by Winwood's leaving in early 1969. Winwood then formed the supergroup Blind Faith, which lasted less than a year, recording one album and undertaking one U.S. tour. The remaining members of Traffic began a project with Mick Weaver, the short-lived Mason, Capaldi, Wood and Frog (later shortened to Wooden Frog), which played a few live dates and recorded some BBC sessions, but broke up before releasing any formal recordings.

After the break-up of Blind Faith in 1969, Winwood began working on a solo recording, bringing in Wood and Capaldi to contribute, and the project eventually turned into a new Traffic album, “John Barleycorn Must Die.” Their most successful album yet, it peaked at #5 on the Billboard 200, their highest charting album in the U.S., and was certified gold by the RIAA. In addition, the single "”Empty Pages” spent eight weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #74. The album was marginally less successful in the U.K., reaching #11 on the U.K. Albums chart.

Traffic went on to expand its lineup late in 1970, adding Ric Grech on bass. The group further expanded in 1971 with drummer Jim Gordon of Derek and the Dominos and percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah. The live album “Welcome to the Canteen” was released in September and marked the band's break with United Artists Records. It did not bear the “Traffic” name on the cover, and instead was credited to the band's individual members including Mason, who returned for his third and final spell with the band. The album ended with a version of The Spencer Davis Group song “Gimme Some Loving,” which became a minor hit.

Following the departure of Mason, in 1971 Traffic released “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” which was a Top 10 American album but did not chart in the U.K. The LP was also notable for its striking die-cut cover. It sold over half a million copies in 1972 when it received a gold disc, and was awarded a R.I.A.A. platinum disc in March 1976 for over a million total sales.

Once again, however, personnel problems wracked the band as Grech and Gordon left in December 1971, and the month after, Winwood's struggles with peritonitis brought Traffic to a standstill. Capaldi used this hiatus to record a solo album, “Oh How We Danced,” which would prove to be the beginning of a long and successful solo career. The album included a surplus recording from “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys,” “Open Your Heart,” and the new tracks featured drummer Roger Hawkins and bassist David Hood, from the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio house band. Capaldi soon brought them on board to replace Grech and Gordon.

The new lineup of Winwood, Capaldi, Wood, Kwaku Baah, Hawkins and Hood toured America in early 1972 to promote the LP, and their concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on February 21 was recorded in multitrack audio and captured on color videotape with multiple cameras. The 64-minute performance is thought to be the only extended live footage of the group. It was evidently not broadcast on television at the time, but was later released on home video and DVD.

Following Winwood's recovery from peritonitis, Traffic's sixth studio album, “Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory,” released in 1973, met with a cold critical reception but in sales, it was another major hit. It was shortly followed by a major world tour, from which the double live album, “On the Road,” was drawn. It broke the band's string of British flops by reaching #40 on the U.K. Albums chart. However, these successes were soured by the departure of Hawkins, Hood, and Kwaku Baah at the end of the world tour, and by Wood's increasing problems with drug use and depression.

Bassist Rosko Gee replaced David Hood, while Capaldi switched back to drums. “When the Eagle Flies,” released in 1974, was yet another Top 10 album in the U.S., and moderately successful in the U.K. However, a subsequent tour of the U.S., while successful in terms of ticket sales, was emotionally exhausting for the band. Winwood ultimately passed his boiling point, walking off the stage in the middle of what would prove the band's final show, in Chicago. The following day he left the tour without a word to anyone, leaving the rest of the band waiting for him at the venue for that night's scheduled performance. Feeling Winwood had been integral to Traffic's music, the remaining members opted not to continue the band without him.

Traffic's break-up was followed in 1975 by two compilations from United Artists, “Heavy Traffic” in and “More Heavy Traffic” both of which only drew from the first half of their output.

Winwood embarked on a solo career, while Gee and Kwaku Baah joined German band Can. Kwaku Baah died in 1983, and Chris Wood died later in 1983, from pneumonia.

All the still living members of Traffic's most recent lineup reunited in 1994 for a one-off tour, after a fan left a voice mail message at Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir's hotel in Chicago during the 1992 “Scaring the Children” tour, and suggested it would be cool if Traffic toured with Grateful Dead. Traffic opened for Grateful Dead during their summer tour. The flute/sax role on the tour was played by Randall Bramblett, who had worked extensively with Winwood. Michael McEvoy joined the line up playing keyboards, guitar and viola, and Walfredo Reyes Jr. played drums and percussion. Winwood and Capaldi recorded and released a new Traffic album, “Far From Home,” with no involvement from the other four members. It broke the Top 40 in both the U.K. and U.S.

The four original members of Traffic were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2004. Winwood, Capaldi, Mason, and Stephannie Wood (standing in for her late brother Chris) all attended the ceremony, though only Winwood and Capaldi took part in the induction performance. The induction lineup was completed by Bramblett on organ and bass pedals, even though he was not one of the members inducted.

Tentative plans for another Traffic project were cut short by Capaldi's death at age 60 in January 2005, ending the songwriting partnership with Winwood that had fueled Traffic from its beginning.