Dave Mason is not only one of the founding members of the heralded 60s psychedelic rock band Traffic (along with Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, and Chris Wood), all of whom were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 15, 2004. His illustrious music career has brought him into recording and performing collaborations with a long list of rock legends, from George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Mama Cass, The Rolling Stones, and Fleetwood Mac, to Michael Jackson, Graham Nash, David Crosby, and the electric guitar rock god Jimi Hendrix. Mason’s amazing talent and dedication to his craft, coupled with being a part of a history-making music community that spanned formative years in the London music scene as the British invasion was making waves, earned him a permanent place in the annals of British and American rock history.
Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam Comes to OPAC
Dave Mason will be gracing the Oxford Performing Arts Center (OPAC) for a highly-anticipated performance as part of his spring 2024 tour. The show – ‘Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam’ – will be a classic rock extravaganza featuring hits he penned as part of Traffic like “Feelin’ Alright” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” to solo hits like “Only You Know and I Know” and “We Just Disagree.” His band will include Mark Stein on Hammond B3, Johnne Sambataro on Guitar and Vocals, Ray Cardwell on Bass and Vocals, and Marty Fera on Percussion. The band will deliver its soulfully energized performance on Saturday, March 2 at 7:30.
Mason relayed, “There’s other things thrown in. Mark Stein from the Vanilla Fudge is now playing keyboards with me. We do ‘You Keep Me Hanging On.’ My guitar player does a killer version of ‘Can’t Find My Way Home.’ So it’s a mix. It’s good and it’s for real.”
When asked about other features of the show, he joked, “There’s no dancing girls and there’s no smoke machines,” but fans can expect some repartee and accompanying visual media.
A Look Back at Mason’s Beginnings
Dave Mason graciously agreed to a phone interview with me. With his famous hit song “We Just Disagree” echoing in the recesses of my mind (one of those life-long “I love that song!” tracks that you never forget) I wanted to hear about how his foray into music began. He got into music while in school growing up in Worcester, England. He was a self-taught guitar player from the age of 14, picking up technique from 78 records by bands like Hank Marvin and the Shadows. By age 15, he had founded two different bands –The Deep Feeling and The Hellions.
Several years later, he met Chris Woods in Birmingham and jammed with him, along with Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi. The foursome formed the band Traffic in 1967. “We moved into a cottage in the middle of Berkshire Downs. Steve and Jim would write – we were all writing.”
Mason was responsible for a number of tracks on their debut album Mr. Fantasy as well as the follow-up Traffic, from whence came Mason’s most famous rock anthem “Feelin’ Alright,” later recorded by artists like Joe Cocker.
I was curious as to why he didn’t remain exclusively with Traffic. Was there a clash in musical tastes, or did he feel the band was holding him back from bigger things?
“No, no, it was a great unit. The difference is…somebody said in a quote, ‘The differences combine to form beauty, light and shade. It was a great mix of people, but it just didn’t work out.”
A fun fact: The band’s name was the result of waiting to cross a traffic-ridden street on foot in Dorchester. Mason related, “Our band was just ‘Traffic.’ There’s no ‘the.’ We invariably had to point that out to interviewers then, because everyone had names like ‘The Beatles,’ ‘The Stones,’ it was all that. We wanted to be a little different so were always just ‘Traffic.’”
The London Music Scene and Jimi Hendrix
While Dave Mason was working with Traffic, he was also a member of the fast-paced cultural London scene, networking and collaborating with other musicians at the height of the British Invasion.
“London was the center of everything. You just ran across everybody – in a club, in a studio. It was all centered in one place, in London, invariably. You could run into anybody. It was the community, is what was happening, along with the fashion industry, the movie industry, the art industry. It was that time period in the 60s.”
I asked him if he was formally employed as a session player by recording studios, where they could have paired him with famous artists like George Harrison, Paul McCartney, or The Rolling Stones. He responded that the collaborations were more organic in nature.
“Everybody knew everybody. It wasn’t like somebody called and said, ‘Hey, come on down and do a session.’ We were just there. Somebody may say, ‘Hey, stop by, check out what we’re doing in the studio.’ That’s how most of it happened. George (Harrison) was a request – he wanted me to come down and play on some of his songs, and I knew him anyway. It was the community.”
From this rich collaborative atmosphere sprung a unique friendship between Mason and Jimi Hendrix, who’d been invited to the U.K. by manager Chas Chandler to play London clubs and gain the attention of music lovers as well as industry execs. Mason stumbled upon Hendrix one night in a London club. As he shared in a live interview on ALL EXCE$$, “ I was in there one night and Chaz Chandler came in with this tall, skinny black guy with this frizzed-out hair. He was in a Levi’s jacket. And he got up on stage with the band. He started playing, and I was like, ‘Sh$!, I should look for another instrument.’”
At some point, Mason approached Hendrix at one of those clubs and initiated a conversation that evolved into a friendship, as Hendrix was already a fan of Traffic. That connection led to Mason playing the 12-string guitar on Jimi Hendrix’s legendary version of “All Along the Watchtower” on the album Electric Ladyland.
I asked Mason about his visit to an apartment gathering with Hendrix where they both listened to another version of the song. Was there a conversation that sparked the decision for Hendrix to record that particular song himself? Mason couldn’t remember that particular detail, but regardless, he was part of the creation of one of the most famous rock music classics of all time.
On Coming to America, Songwriting and Current Ventures
While the British Invasion was at its height in the mid-60s, Dave Mason was one of countless British artists who had their sights and aspirations set on the United States. But as he shared, a lot of it stemmed from practicality.
“Every British band, to really make it, their eyes were always on the U.S…because it was a bigger market. I just moved here when Traffic was done, after the second album…in 1969. I moved here because this is where all music comes from. We just learned from all the American music. Everybody – Clapton, Stones, me, everybody. We just learned to put our own spin on it. But the music–jazz, blues, gospel–you name it, it’s all American. It all comes from here, so that’s why I moved here. I had a guitar and a carry-on bag.”
Dave Mason’s songwriting legacy took off within the band Traffic. On his contributions to the first and second albums, “The first album was trying to figure it out – what am I writing about here? The second album is a little more where I needed to be going. It’s all about life. It’s life experiences. And most all of my songs are love songs–even the hate songs are love songs.”
He also reminisced about his initial and ongoing passion for music and songwriting. “I wrote most of my stuff on my own. But then I was young. I was 19, 20, 21 – I was trying to figure out what it is I could do and not do. For me, everything has been an exploration. It’s a journey. And the journey is not over yet.”
Nowadays, Mason divides his time between touring, recording, and supporting organizations like Little Kids Rock, Yoga Blue, and Rock Our Vets. He recently upgraded his home studio, which he referred to as his ‘toy room.’ He joked, “ Put the food under the door and go away.”
Undoubtedly, he’ll also be busy promoting his new book Only You Know & I Know, written along with help from Chris Epting. The book takes a deep dive into Mason’s life-long career, revealing the details behind his innumerable collaborations, the legal battles he fought with record companies, his relationship with Traffic, his struggles with addiction, and losing a child. Only You Know & I Know is available for pre-order now.
There are a limited number of tickets still available to catch the unforgettable rock show “Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam” at OPAC, so be sure to buy now before they sell out.