August in Milwaukee and Dave Mason is opening a concert for Steve Miller.
"People keep asking why I keep playing that Joe Cocker song," Mason says, before launching into "Feelin' Alright."
"I have to remind them that I wrote it."
Maui Arts & Cultural Center photo
A founding member of the seminal British band Traffic, Mason has not only composed many great songs over the years, he has also recorded with many leading artists from the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix to Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac.
"I'd go down to the studio when the Beatles were cutting 'Sergeant Pepper,'" Mason recalls. "George (Harrison) gave me my first sitar and I'd hang with him. And I sang on a version of (John Lennon's) 'Across the Universe.' People from every top band were in London, and we were all using the same studios. It was a very small world. So that's how I hung with Hendrix one night. He loved Traffic. You got to learn from the best."
And that's how Mason was invited to play the 12-string acoustic guitar heard prominently on the opening of Jimi Hendrix's version of "All Along The Watchtower," and how he played with George Harrison on "All Things Must Pass," and some years later contributed lead guitar to Paul McCartney's "Listen To What The Man Said."
* The Steve Miller Band and Dave Mason perform at 7 p.m. Sunday at the MACC's Yokouchi Pavilion/Amphitheater. Tickets are $55, $65, $85, and $125 (plus applicable fees), available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
First joining Traffic in 1967, Mason helped forge the sound of one of the most innovative groups of the time, blending elements from rock, blues, folk, jazz and R&B. More commercially minded than his band mates - Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood - Mason created classic songs like "Feelin' Alright" that were instantly appealing, though they generated envy in the band.
"I wrote almost half of the first album and then left the group," Mason notes. "I love blues and gospel and that was the kind of music I wanted to make. I left because I was too young. It was all too much, I was overwhelmed. Our first big hit was (Mason's) 'Hole in my Shoe.' And that was the first big problem. The band was so eclectic, which made it interesting, and I have a pop sensibility. I didn't care who wrote the hits, but on the second album my song 'Feelin' Alright' got picked as the single. It got to a point where I was told, 'We don't want you in the band anymore.' And it's been that way ever since."
In 1969, Mason headed to Los Angeles, where he hooked up with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends (which would soon include Eric Clapton), who had a hit with his song "Only You Know and I Know."
"I played with them on the Blind Faith tour and that's how Eric got involved," he explains. And later Mason briefly played with Clapton in Derek and The Dominos.
With help from Delaney and Bonnie, Leon Russell and Rita Coolidge, Mason's critically acclaimed "Alone Together" debut album found instant success, remaining on the charts for six months. Subsequent albums such as "Headkeeper," "It's Like You Never Left" and "Let it Flow" were also popularly received.
In 1980, his "Old Crest in a New Way" album included a rather surprising duet with Michael Jackson on the song "Save Me."
"He was cutting 'Thriller' in the studio next door," Mason recalls. "I needed somebody to sing a high part so I asked him. "He said, 'When I was 12 years of age, Diana Ross and I did a TV special and at the end we did 'Feelin' Alright.'"
More recently he teamed with fellow British musicians Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Christine McVie, joining a remodeled Fleetwood Mac between 1993 and 1995, playing and singing on the album "Time."
And a couple of years later he reunited with Traffic's original drummer Jim Capaldi to tour together and collaborate on some new songs.
Mason's great, latest CD, "26 Letters - 12 Notes," features a collaboration with the drummer, the beautiful reminiscence "How Do I Get To Heaven."
"He had starting writing a song with those words, and after he passed away I was given a tape of it," Mason explains. "I kept the words to the first verse and chorus and rewrote it. It's a good song."
Still touring today, like many venerable rock artists, Mason finds young fans drawn to his classic sound. "We get new kids, it's really cool," he says. "I can't believe it after all these years."
Revered rock icon Steve Miller has also benefited from young fans embracing his music.
"It's the songs - they're fun to sing and they sound good," says Miller. "It's pretty hard not to sing the chorus of 'The Joker.' In the '90s it was shocking, 85 percent were between the ages of 10 and 20."
One of rock music's all-time greats, Steve Miller has sold more than 30 million records in a career spanning more than 40 years.
The leader of one of the most prominent, critically acclaimed bands to arise out of San Francisco's psychedelic music scene, Miller achieved phenomenal commercial success with a series of hit singles and albums, including "The Joker," "Fly Like an Eagle," "Rock'n Me" and "Abracadabra."
During his early career, Miller had been immersed in the blues, jamming with some of the greats while living in Chicago.
"T-Bone Walker taught me how to play guitar when I was 9 years old," he notes. "When I got to Chicago, I was one of handful of people in that scene. I saw Muddy Waters play about 150 times in a room the size of my living room, and James Cotton would stay at my house."
Subsequently moving to San Francisco, he soon became prominent in the underground music scene and released some seminal recordings.
"I showed up with a tight little band," he recalls. "It was a good spot for us. When we went to London in '67 to record 'Children of the Future,' we were kind of ahead of the curve with blues."
The release of "The Joker" in 1973 heralded a major shift. Suddenly the Gangster of Love went from playing theaters to stadiums.
"We were kings of the underground, but we couldn't get on television and AM radio wouldn't touch us," he explains. "I was pretty much at the end of the line. I remember finishing the album and when I got done with a tour it was number one and there was a check in the mail box, and I was no longer poor. Everything changed, but it was a very long, slow, hard slog."
At 68, Miller is still ably rocking the world with a hits-packed show. Age has not diminished his smooth vocals or guitar prowess, and he's surrounded by a superb band including Sonny Charles, the former lead singer of the soul group the Checkmates.
In the last few years he has returned to his blues and R&B roots, releasing "Bingo!" in 2010, followed by "Let Your Hair Down." His first studio album in 17 years, "Bingo!" featured covers of vintage tunes by B.B. King, Otis Rush, Earl King and Jimmie Vaughan. On "Let Your Hair Down," Miller and the band interpreted songs like Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago," Junior Wells' "Snatch It Back And Hold It" and Bo Diddley's "Pretty Thing."
"I wanted to go into the studio and have some fun," says Miller. "And with Sonny Charles, it's like Otis Redding joined the band. It adds an authenticity to everything we're doing. For me this is the best band and best sound we've ever had. I love what I'm doing."
The most successful R&B group of all time, Boyz II Men, bring their "Twenty" anniversary tour to the Castle Theater on Saturday. With more than 60 million albums sold worldwide, these multiple Grammy Award winners found instant fame with their 1991 debut "Cooleyhighharmony," including the classic hits "Motownphilly" and "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday."
Their star kept soaring with "II," featuring megahits like "I'll Make Love To You" and "On Bended Knee;" and their platinum-selling third album, "Evolution."
In October they celebrated their 20th anniversary with the aptly-titled "Twenty," a double disc featuring founding members Nate Morris, Wanya Morris and Shawn Stockman singing 10 new songs, plus reworkings of greatest hits like "On Bended Knee" and "MotownPhilly."
* Boyz ll Men perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Castle Theater at the MACC. The show was soldout at press time, but tickets, if available, are $45, $60, and $75 (plus applicable fees), available as above.
Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro returns to the MACC's McCoy Studio Theater for a Solo Sessions show at 7:30 tonight.
Jake has a new song, "Ukulele Five-0," on the recently released soundtrack to the "Hawaii Five-0" TV series, which also features tunes by John Cruz, Train, Ziggy Marley and a previously unreleased song by Bob Dylan, the reggae-flavored "Don't Ever Take Yourself Away."
And as a result of a BoingBoing.net poll to see to which popular song Jake should cover, he's released a cool video of his unique take on Journey's classic "Don't Stop Believin'."
"I've always loved the tune," says Jake. "It's a great song to play on ukulele."
* Tickets are $25 standard, $45 for VIP (plus applicable fees), available from the MACC as above.
Innovative Haitian-American violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain makes his Maui debut at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Castle Theater, accompanied by Elan Vytal, aka DJ Scientific. Classically trained, Roumain is inspired by jazz, rock and hip-hop. He calls his style "dred violin."
"The notion of what the violin represents and its history has nothing to do with what I represent," Roumain says. The dred violin, "means more than black and white; it means a mixing - a mixture, literally."
He has collaborated with artists such as Philip Glass, Ryuichi Sakamoto, DJ Spooky, Cassandra Wilson and with Lady Gaga on "American Idol" in 2009. His most recent album, "Woodbox Beats & Balladry," blends classical and hip-hop elements.
* Tickets are $12, $30 and $40 (plus applicable fees), available from the MACC as above.
Finally, Stella Blues Cafe celebrates its 20th anniversary with a host of entertainers from 8 p.m. to midnight Friday, all for $5 cover. Opening with Dr. Nat, the lineup includes Ahumanu, Rand Coon & Randall Rospond, Cyrus Clarke, Tom Cherry, Danyel Alana, and Kathy Collins.