Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam World Tour 1967-2014
Wentz Hall - Naperville, Illinois
April 26, 2014
I went into this show with limited knowledge of Mason’s recent activity other than seeing an abbreviated set a couple years back when he was the opening act for Paul Rodgers. I remember being impressed with Mason’s band as well as his vocals that evening, and this set would prove to be even more satisfying.
Dave Mason spent only a couple of his formative years in the Hall Of Fame band Traffic, and spent the rest of his career honing his skills as a solo artist. His first solo release came in 1970. Alone Together proved that Mason had what it took to be successful. With songs like “Only You Know And I Know,” “World In Changes” and “Just A Song” from that debut popping up on his current setlist for this Traffic Jam World Tour, it’s evident that Mason still believes in his early work, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t.
Mason took the humungous stage of Wentz Hall in Naperville, Illinois dressed in khakis and a Hawaiian shirt, looking like the grandpa you look so forward to seeing around Christmas time. The 67-year old Hall Of Famer brought with him a drummer, a keyboard player, and another guitar player. Bass sounds for the evening would be handled by the keyboard. I do like to see a bass guitar actually being played, but the effect was achieved by the keyboard with no loss of sonic integrity.
Mason would play a set of Traffic songs for the first half of the show, and then play his solo material in closing. By hitting the stage with the widely unknown “Roamin’ Thro’ The Gloamin with 40,000 Headmen” from Traffic’s self-titled second release, it was clear that Mason was going to play without any fear, and he was going to play what he wanted to play. The barn dance vibe of “You Can All Join In” and the raw rock of “Pearly Queen” kept the set moving at a great pace. The band in tow here was quite impressive, too. His guitar player impressed on every solo, and his keyboardist not only came with nimble fingers but also a booming voice which he lent to a few songs.
Mason’s voice is in great form - strong and clear - and his guitar playing is still as great as it ever was. He showed off his skillful tone and his finger dexterity time and time again, with “Rock And Roll Stew” being the climax of it all. The Traffic half of the set included some of the more popular songs of his tenure, but it also included a slowed down, blues-ed up rendition of “Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys,” which was not part of Mason’s stint with the band. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the evening. Mason made it a point to say that he was not in the band and was not involved with this song, and for that reason I found the addition of the tune to be quite an admiring glance from Mason to Traffic’s later years without him.
Much of the Traffic half turned into a “storytellers”-type of performance as Mason explained some of the images that were projected onto a film screen with great humor and candor. The best of the stories came as he told of the old rehearsal cottage where much of the Traffic songs were written and a lot of “research” was done (of course “research” eluding to the band’s drug use). This really made the show worth the price of admission for me. I felt a warmth and closeness to not only Mason, but to the Traffic music itself after hearing stories from the period.
The second half opened with the biggest hit of Mason’s career, “We Just Disagree”. The fact that he opened the set with this song sent a strong message that he has a lot of faith and confidence in all of his other solo material. One of the songs he put his confidence in was a song he received from Jim Capaldi’s wife just after Capaldi’s death. He changed the melody a bit and added a verse, but you could almost feel his friend and old bandmate on the stage with him as he performed “How Do I Get To Heaven,” which appears on Mason’s latest release Future’s Past. “Good 2 U” is another track from Future’s Past that impressed on the evening, but for me it was “Let It Go, Let It Flow” that really captured the free spirit of Mason’s solo stuff.
The set wrapped up with Mason introducing his greatest “mailbox song.” He calls it a “mailbox song” because it’s the song that leaves gifts in his mailbox in the form of royalty checks. He also pointed out that there was a question mark at the end of the song’s title and the song was intended to ask “Feelin’ Alright?” It made you think about the song’s intentions a little bit. As the simple song ended and the small crowd called for one more, Mason delivered with the likes of “All Along The Watchtower”. His version definitely leans more toward the Hendrix jam than the Dylan yarn, but it also has a personality all its own. Many people are not aware that Mason played 12-string guitar on the Hendrix recording of the song, but that knowledge makes this set closing tribute even more of a gem.
Dave Mason is a singer - songwriter - guitarist - Hall Of Famer. This Traffic Jam show puts all of those things and more on full display and makes no apologies.
Navigating Through Traffic -
The Dave Mason Interview
Dr. Music talks with the former Traffic guitarist about his latest tour, working with Michael Jackson, and the top spot on his bucket list.
Hear the entire conversation by clicking the play button below!!!
Dave Mason: Well, it’s just hard to get it exposed, is the problem. That’s the biggest thing. But I still work in my studio when I’m home and I had stuff, and I figure I’m just going to basically do it out of my own website.
Dr. Music: Now you’re out on the road on the Traffic Jam Tour. How is that going, and can we expect to hear anything from the new CD?
Dave Mason: The Traffic Jam Tour has been doing really well. It’s opened up a little bigger of an audience. The show is basically in two parts, with a 15 or 20 minute break in the middle. The first part is from the Traffic era, from those first two albums - then we take a break and come back and we do Dave. They get everything.
Dr. Music: Which is more satisfying for you, being a solo artist or being part of a band like you were with Traffic and Fleetwood Mac?
Dave Mason: Oh yeah, those things are so long ago. In the years of my career, those are actually small parts. Traffic was a couple of years and so was Fleetwood Mac, and most of it has all been solo. So you’re talking over 35 years of pretty much doing my own thing. It’s all cool. I mean, it’s making music, it’s what I do, and it’s a little late to change jobs now.
Dr. Music: I wanted to ask you about the cover art for the new CD, Future’s Past. It’s a painting of you done by Graham Nash. How did you come to choose that piece for the cover?
Dave Mason: Well, Graham and I know each other from back when he was with The Hollies. It’s a picture he had of me, it’s gotta be 25 or 30 years ago, from his house in Kauai. He’s actually out doing some shows in San Francisco and New York of his art, in which he takes these photographs and then sort of paints on them to create new photographic paintings. So he happened to send me what he was doing, and he says “I got one of you.” So I just said “Man, that’s kinda cool! It almost fits what I’m trying to do here. So, can I use it?” He said, “Yeah, absolutely. Go ahead.”
Dr. Music: I’m actually about to begin reading Graham’s book, Wild Tales. Have you ever thought about writing a book and telling some of your tales?
Dave Mason: If I had a dollar for everyone that’s asked me that, there’d be no need to write it. (laughs) You know what, I don’t know. Everybody and their grandmother is doing one. I think some other different way of doing it might be cool.
Dr. Music: It’s been rumored that you stopped playing guitar and making music in the 21 year period between the albums Some Assembly Required and 26 Letters 12 Notes. Explain how you came to find music again.
Dave Mason: That’s all I’ve been doing; touring and on the road, most of it.
Dr.Music: So you were active in that time and didn’t stop playing altogether.
Dave Mason: No, I just didn’t make any records.
Dr. Music: How has your approach to writing or performing changed over the years?
Dave Mason: It’s nothing that’s really changed. It’s still the same approach for me. I’ve been playing live for 45 years or more. I mean live, as much as anything else, is my bread and butter.
Dr. Music: So you perform and write the same way you did when you were 18 years old in Traffic.
Dave Mason: Yeah, I approach it the same way, I’m just 45 years older. (laughs)
Dr. Music: You’ve recorded with so many legendary artists, two of which are Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson. What was it like working with Jimi Hendrix? And tell me how the collaboration with Michael Jackson came about.
Dave Mason: I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I mean, Hendrix was great. Hendrix was an innovator; just had it all going on. So, yeah, I was fortunate and I got to work with him.
Michael Jackson.... I was just doing an album in the same studio he was cutting Thriller in, and he was taking a break and I needed somebody to sing a high part on the song that I was doing. I figured, you know what, I’ll go ask Michael if he would come and do this. He was standing in the doorway on the break. I said “Hi Michael. Dave Mason. How you doing today? Say, I got this track I’m doing. I need somebody to sing a high part, and I thought maybe I’d ask if you would drop it in there for me.” He looked at me, he’s like “You know what, I’m 12 years old, I did this TV special with Diana Ross, and at the end of the show we sang ‘Feelin’ Alright’. So, yeah, absolutely I’ll do it.”
Dr. Music: So he was a good person to work with.
Dave Mason: He just came in and sang the part! He danced around the microphone and did more than I asked for and went back to his session.
Dr. Music: Over the years, you’ve written so many great songs. What do you feel is the greatest song you’ve ever written? Is there one that defines Dave Mason?
Dave Mason: I like ‘em all. Some are more successful than others, but I like them all.
Dr. Music: Do you feel a distance with “We Just Disagree,” not having written that one?
Dave Mason: I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. A great song is a great song.
Dr. Music: I have two young kids that I try to expose to all kinds of music. I wanted to expose them to you and the music of Traffic. What’s the first song I should play for them?
Dave Mason: Well, I was only there for the first two albums, so they went on with all kinds of stuff afterwards. I don’t know, I guess “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” or you could take something from when I wasn’t there, like “Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys” or something. I guess, just give them the music and let them listen to the whole thing. (laughs)
Dr. Music: Speaking of the Traffic music that you were not involved with... What are your thoughts about it, and is there any regret not being involved with it?
Dave Mason: No. It’s too bad we didn’t do something, all of us, after the induction ceremony at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but I’ve ran enough lives.
Dr. Music: Is there any specific reason that nothing came together after the induction?
Dave Mason: Well, it just doesn’t ever work out with Winwood and me for some reason. But you’d have to ask him about it. I’m up for anything if it’s fun, at this point.
Dr. Music: Is there any one band or artist that you’d like to work with?
Dave Mason: I don’t know... (long pause) It’d be fun to do something with Bonnie Raitt.
Dr. Music: Do you listen to any current music?
Dave Mason: Not really, no. Unless I hear something that’s on, I have to admit I don’t.
Dr. Music: Most people have a “bucket list” of things they want to do before they pass on. What would be at the top of Dave Mason’s bucket list?
Dave Mason: (long pause) I don’t know. I guess I’d want to go places and stuff, I don’t know. I’m not sure. Maybe sittin’ on a beach on some Carribean island somewhere would just be fine. (laughs)
Dr. Music: You’re involved with a few different charities, one of them being Little Kids Rock, which supports school music programs in some of the most economically disadvantaged communities in the nation, and another is called Work Vessels For Veterans. Tell me about those.
Dave Mason: Well, they asked me to be on the board of Little Kids Rock, and I’m all for music education, and it should not have been taken out of the school curriculum, frankly. But that’s not anything I have anything to do with, so...
Right now, I am actively involved in what I do for the vets. What we do is we help them start their own businesses. There are two or three people doing great; one’s a blueberry farm, one’s a cleaning service. We pair up a lot of laptop computers to people who need them for education or just to continue in their business or something - just to help them get standing on their own. Our motto, or at least the motto I’ve got for it, is “We’re into giving a hand up, but not into giving handouts.”
Dr. Music: There’s one thing I’ve always been curious about. On the U.S. version of the first Traffic release, Mr. Fantasy, all of the band members appear on the cover except for you. Why aren’t you on there?
Dave Mason: They took me off because I wasn’t with the band. I mean, they could’ve left me on since I was on the album. But, no, they decided to take me off.
Dr. Music: Did you ever feel like you were going in a different direction?
Dave Mason: I was just doing what I was doing. The things that I wrote, which were just my first attempts with Traffic, one of them was the biggest hit single they had at the time, and the others (my songs) were being picked as singles. I guess that finished clashing with other people’s ideas of what the band was or wasn’t. Frankly, I thought all the differences is what made it interesting, but....
Dr. Music: Definitely.
Dave, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.
Dave Mason: No, thank you. I appreciate it. Thanks a lot.
You can visit Dave Mason on the web and purchase his latest release, Future's Past, at: www.davemasonmusic.com