Tour puts Steve Winwood 'back in the high life'
BY PHIL ROURA
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Sunday, January 11th 2009
Steve Winwood plays Foxwoods this week.
The grounds around Steve Winwood's 300-year-old manor house in Gloucestershire, England, are covered with a glistening coat of ice that has turned the area into a winter postcard scene.
"It's called hoar's frost - that is h-o-a-r, so you won't be making a mistake," Winwood explains with a mischievous laugh over the phone. "It is actually quite nice."
Soon, however, he will be defrosting in Hawaii with a couple of concerts before starting a tour of the Eastern Colonies in support of his hit CD, "Nine Lives."
One of his biggest gigs will be at the MGM Grand At Foxwoods on Saturday in the Grand Theater. It's one of the area's most-awaited concerts. Winwood also plays the United Palace in upper Manhattan on Thursday and Friday and the Wellmont in Montclair, NJ, on the 20th.
But on this day it is about relaxing.
"The [four] children are home from school, so it's been a good holiday," says Winwood as the family dog barks for attention. "We've just returned from visiting some friends down the road. It is bitterly cold outside, but I have a roaring fire going and everything is toasty warm. I love this place. My wife and I have lived here for the past 40 years."
Some people have wondered about the new album's title. Could this possibly be a swan song?
"You mean that maybe I've used up all of my nine lives?" he asks. "No, not at all. I still have a lot to say. It's just that this is my ninth studio album and it has nine songs on it."
The focus? "I like to look at it as a collection of fairly unrelated songs that are a bit like a book of short stories."
The common thread? "It is the music, I think - rock, folk, jazz, R&B and world music. They are things I have been comfortable with since I first started."
That was at 15, when he and his brother Muff joined the Spencer Davis Group, co-writing "Gimme Some Lovin' " and "I'm a Man." He left to form Traffic, and in 1969, he met Eric Clapton and a connection clicked. They formed the supergroup Blind Faith, and the bond has endured to this day, with Clapton appearing on the compelling "Dirty City" track on "Nine Lives."
"I wanted to address urban problems - you know, crime and teenage hooliganism," he explains.
Such as what sometimes breaks out at a soccer game?
"That's a good example. England is a very tribal country and English football is particularly tribal," he explains. "For example, just 20 miles down the road you can find people whose looks and accents are different. They embrace their teams and follow them with tremendous passion."
Asked if he thinks music can bring social changes, Winwood says, "That's a very interesting question. Neil Young says he doesn't think music can change the world anymore, and I kind of agree with him. Maybe it did in the '50s, '60s and '70s, but I'm not actually convinced of that. I mean, recycling our garbage helps more than writing a song about recycling our garbage, doesn't it?"
But writing a song about a social condition "can also highlight it" so it can be improved. And that's what Winwood says he tries to do with "Raging Sea" and "Hungry Man," through which he looks at Africa with a heavy heart. "Here is this beautiful land with such a massive, rich culture, and it is so ironic that it is also so troubled," says Winwood with a sigh. "So much poverty. So many conflicts."
"Nine Lives" debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard 200 last May. The Daily News' music critic, Jim Farber, wrote that "Winwood's voice retains its choirboy resonance and spiraling wind power throughout the disk. An amiable and engaging example of a master back in his element."
Still, Winwood frowns on being labeled. "So much nowadays is about putting people in pigeonholes," he says. "I always like to take a mixture of ingredients and make some kind of rich soup out of them. I'm just lucky enough to still be around to do it."
On a cold winter's night, that's not a bad thing.