Winwood's Singing Leads All Britons
April 15th, 1968
By Pete Johnson, LA Times
Steve Winwood will be 20 on May 12. Five years ago, he and his brother, Muff Winwood, formed a rock group with Spencer Davis, a young teacher, and drummer Peter York. Within two years, the Spencer Davis Group was one of the most popular performing units in England, accounting for such hits as "Keep on Running," "Gimme Some Lovin'," and "I'm a Man." Steve Winwood sang leadå on each record, helped write most of the quartet's material, played organ, piano, guitar and harmonica.
His Playing was very good, but his voice set him beyond comparison with any other British singer and most commercial American vocalists (with the exception of Ray Charles and a few of the most popular pure blues singers). It is a powerful, hoarse, 50-years-of-agony voice whih never should have issued from a lean pale English adolescent. "Gimme Some Lovin'" was so deceptive that it became a pick hit on a California rhythm and blues station which programs only records by Negro artists. The Next week, when the station discovered the group's origin and identity, the record was dropped from the playlist. The Spencer Davis Group's first album was issued when Steve was on the brink of 18, an LP titled "Gimme Some Lovon'" (United Arritst) which contained Steve's version of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out." That song with its stark piano background spotlighted Winwood's astounding capacity for blues creation and phrasing. It could have been part of any early Ray Charles album: the feeling and the sound were perfect, down to Steve's moody piano playing underpinning the gritty strength of his voice.
Hometown Friends Enlisted
Last year, Winwood split Spencer Davis to form his own group, Traffic, enlisting three friends from his hometown of Birmingham: Chris Wood (flute, sax, organ, and percussion), Jim Capaldi (drums and percussion) and Dave Mason, who worked with the group for several months before deciding not to remain. Their first records were smashes in England, as was their first album, issued in the United States under the title "Heaven Is In Your Mind." The album shows a shift away from the relatively simple blues and rhythm and blues orientation of the Spencer Davis Group into a looser, but more complex, kind of music which heavily emphasizes improvisation. Some of the tracks are a bit too freewheeling, but the group's fresh musical approach succeeds admirably on songs such as the title track, "Dear Mr. Fantasy," "Colored Rain," "No Name" and "Smiling Phases."
Winwood's voice has developed into an unearthly, unfettered area which still draws strength from his blues background. The trio is as musically adept as the two most prominent British rock trios, the Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but it similar to neither. It is interesting that all three are blues-based but that none is similar to the others. The Cream consists of three rock soloists whose combined output is on the edge of jazz, the Experience is a showcase for the creative use for the creative use of distortion and Traffic is the vehicle for a first-rate vocalist who is finding new music in which to develop his voice and playing. Winwood and Traffic are still experimenting with their sound, but the results so far are better than those of many groups whose music has had several years to ripen. They proved themselves superior to their records in recent appearances at the Shrine Auditorium for a Pinnacle concert and at the Whisky a GoGo.