"I Was Pissed Off After Blind Faith"
Rolling Stone, May 28, 1970
"I knew it was hype as soon as it was called Blind Faith," Stevie Winwood remarked about what is now No Faith. "It was just a rush," said Stevie, "and as soon as Robert Stigwood got a hold of it, we sort of played where he put us. I didn't have control over it. And what was worse was that everyone in the group felt different about it. I didn't want to play coliseums. What's that building in L.A. that look's like a chocolate cream cake? I was really fed up with playing in those places and to those audiences. It was very false. We could play terrible one night and get exactly the same reaction as if we really played fucking good. I was pissed off after Blind Faith. And when I got back, I started working on a solo album and Jim backed me up and then Chris came back from Air Force. . . . Have you heard Air Force? Things have to be under control, and Ginger knows how to get people under control. But it's what you do with those people."
Eighteen months ago Traffic broke up. Stevie went off to Blind Faith; Chris Wood played with Dr. John and Air Force; and Jim Capaldi worked with ex-Traffic member Dave Mason (whose just released his song "World in Changes" on Harvest records) and, for a short time, with Heavy Jelly, a group composed of some ex-Ansley Dunbar Retaliation musicians.
"We needed to play to play in different situations," Chris said.
"We all tried to do things," Stevie said, "Really tried. And all of us found out how important it is to work with people who are more in sympathy than, say, certain people in Blind Faith."
"Does it seem like a long time to you?" How did that gap strike you?" Jim asked about eighteen months fertile void. And three days before their first public appearance at the Roundhouse in April, Traffic gave a dress rehearsal in the Island Records Studio, having brought themselves and their music back together.
"It's good to have an audience," Stevie says to his enthusiastic admirers - an assistant who was taping the proceedings, Stevie's brother Muff ("just listening") and myself. "It's amazing how people sitting here make the songs speed up. It affects your playing. We rush into things and record something immediately after writing it, and it's great. But we forget how it sounds to the perspective of the relaxed listener."
Traffic's new music has been pared down to the most basic structure. Rhythm, bass, and melody functions are meted out among the three. In a new song suite "Freedom Rider," for example, Jim starts out with an orgy of drums, accompanied by Chris on bongos. Chris then begins a bass riff on sax, Stevie entering on organ with melodic patterns spinning out and back into bass riffs while Chris solos. Stevie takes over with a lonesome, crafty, wrong-note blues and floating suspensions backed by Chris on bass organ. Then Stevie sings "like a hurricane around your heart," as Chris goes from flute to sax and back again, Jim rhythms binding everything.
"The basics are all there," Stevie says, as he comes over to talk. "It's just a matter of getting it all off."
Muff, smoking a pipe, smiling, big-brotherly pride: "You seem to have lost your cliches."
Stevie: "Well, you've got to keep moving."
Me: "Do you miss not being four musicians?" (In fact, they often sound like six.)
Stevie: "We're looking for fourth person because there are some things we can't do, like 'Heaven is in Your Mind.'"
I mention that Steve Stills is in London. "When you get to the reality of the thing," Stevie says, "I don't think Steve Stills wants to play with us. We'd like playing with him and George Harrison, too. We want to play with other people. On an album or a tour, with time to get it together. But we'd better get the three of us off the ground. We've got to get ourselves first and finsh our album off in May and then we'll look out."
Stevie talks of his new house "up on the other side of Oxford" as if he were really talking about the reformed Traffic. "We're going through the bit of find-out which is our land and which isn't. We're getting the surveyor's report. Yeh, I've been getting myself together. I even went off to the dentist."
I notice his right thumb is bandaged. "Some people blame the guy who slammed the door, but what was my hand doing there? I don't remember. It's no good having your hands insured without your head."
Jim is striking maracas against a mike to test it. Chris and Steve adjust their sound equipment. "We want people to listen to us," Chris says, "which is why we're going to perform with only 100 watts for each of us."
Never before has Traffic sounded so much like a chamber music ensemble with its small intensities. Chris plays organ and Stevie begins singing a beautiful new Traffic song: "Once again I'm northward bound . . . We traveled on searching for the end." And the words and that special poppyfield-widening-to-infinity sound that defines Traffic gather the room into the music. They fall happily into older songs like "No Time To Live," "Medicated Goo," and "Pearly Queen." And they do "John Barleycorn," a 14th century folk song "about corn and the earth and what it goes through." Then Richie Haven's "Parable of Ramone," performed almost as a folk ballad ("One day we did it with acoustic guitar, flute, and triangle; another day with two guitars") and Neil Young's "I've Been Waiting On You."
Jim went out to pick up some refreshments, and came back quickly. "I smashed the car up," Jim says. "Coming out of the alleyway where I was parked."
Stevie: "What did you hit?"
Jim: "Some chick came screaming down the street as we came out and pushed me into Glyn John's Rolls - [crashing sound]. The chick's screaming at me. Everyone's giving me motoring lectures, man. It was one of those things. Wherever the chick was today, she and I were going to meet on that fucking corner. She didn't have much time to see me. She was really close. She'd just picked up her car from the garage, it had just been mended. And she hit mine. My immediate reaction is like . . . nothing! Everybody's like flipping and I can't flip. Let's do a number now. [Announcer's voice]: This is a new record called 'Body Damage'!"
Chris play bass riff on sax: Stevie plays long sustained organ chords under a melodic line of what sounds like hundreds of repeating car horns, Jim lays the rhythms down: crash, crash.
Time is getting late and just about stops. Jim in his red number 64 football shirt, introduces himself and you to the "Cavalcade," deep lacquered American accent: "And here is a young lady who comes all the way from Portobello Road to sing you a song."
Jim in drag with a scarf around his head, looking like the wolf in granny's bonnet and singing like Florence Foster Jenkins: "I'm the wanderer, I get around."
Stevie's on drums. Fanfare snares. Jim on tambourine, dancing: "Bootch-y-outch-ah-bouth-y-outch . . . She wanted a medley of oldies," Jim croons, imitating Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey- Kiss Him Goodbye":
Caterwauling, growling, Stevie rocking on drums.
Jim, Tony Bennett croon: "Shucks!"