Brings his very best to the MACC
Afounding member of the seminal British band Traffic, Dave Mason has recorded with many leading artists, from Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison to Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac. And now, he is set to release a six-song EP.
Besides some remixed tunes from his 2008 album, “26 Letters — 12 Notes,” and a new ballad, the upcoming EP features a brilliant interpretation of the Traffic classic “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys,” highlighting Mason’s remarkable guitar playing.
“It’s a great live blues version of ‘Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys,’ “ he explains.
An immensely talented guitarist and gifted songwriter, Mason received the following praise in a recent Allmusic review: “His guitar playing has continued to develop and grow. He is a far more interesting player than his peer, Eric Clapton, is at this stage of the game.”
Recently making Maui a home base, Mason explains, “I came over to play Shep’s (Gordon) benefit, and Winifred (his partner) wanted to be near the ocean. We looked around and found a house.”
Known for memorable hits like “Feelin’ Alright,” “Only You Know and I Know” and “We Disagree” from his last album, “Future’s Past,” the British-born musician tweaked some of his best-known songs.
“My songs are so adaptable,” Mason notes. “Over 50 different artists have cut ‘Feelin’ Alright.’ I’ve recut all of “Alone Together’ (his 1970 album), and there are a couple of things that are way better than the original. I try to write stuff that is timeless.”
In 1967, at the age of 18, Mason helped form Traffic with Steve Winwood. One of the most innovative groups of the time, Traffic blended elements from rock, blues, folk, jazz and R&B.
“We would try anything,” Mason recalls. “And we drew from everything.”
More commercially minded than his bandmates, he created classic songs like “Feelin’ Alright” that were instantly appealing and helped secure Traffic a popular base.
After the release of Traffic’s debut, “Mr. Fantasy,” Mason left the band.
“I couldn’t deal with the success. I had zero street smarts, and I needed some life experiences,” Mason remembers. “I went back because I had five songs, one of them being ‘Feelin’ Alright.’ So OK, you’re back in the fold. My stuff got picked for the singles again, which finally led to the real breakup.”
In between Traffic albums, Mason performed as part of a freewheeling community of London-based musicians, working on albums by Jimi Hendrix (“Electric Ladyland”), the Rolling Stones (“Beggars Banquet”) and George Harrison (“All Things Must Pass”).
Mason had befriended Hendrix and been invited to play guitar on the rock icon’s remarkable version of Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower.” He played the 12-string acoustic guitar heard prominently on the song’s opening and sang backup on “Crosstown Traffic” on the “Electric Ladyland” album.
“Jimi was a fan of Traffic, and I got to know him,” Mason says. “I was actually going to join Hendrix and take Noel’s (Redding) place on bass. We were at an apartment, and someone had an advance copy of Dylan’s ‘John Wesley Harding.’ Something caught Jimi’s ear with ‘Watchtower,’ and in a matter of days, me and Jimi on acoustic guitars and Mitch (drummer Mitchell) laid down the basic track.”
After Cream broke up, Mason almost formed a group with drummer Ginger Baker. “But the last thing I wanted was to be compared with Clapton,” he says.
Mason was also friends with the Stones’ Brian Jones, which led to Mason playing on “Street Fighting Man” with the band during the recording of their transformative “Beggars Banquet” album.
In 1969, he moved to Los Angeles where he hooked up with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, which would soon include fellow British guitarist Eric Clapton. Mason later briefly played with Clapton in Derek and The Dominos.
Launching his first solo album with help from Delaney and Bonnie, Leon Russell and Rita Coolidge, Mason’s critically acclaimed “Alone Together” found instant success, remaining in the charts for six months. One of the album’s highlights, “Look at You Look at Me,” included a mind-blowing guitar solo at the end.
Guests on his follow-up album included George Harrison and Stevie Wonder. Having known Harrison from attending “Sergeant Pepper” sessions, it was Mason who taught the Beatles’ guitarist how to play slide guitar.
“Delaney and Bonnie were playing the Fairfield Hall in Croydon (in the UK), and Eric and George came down,” he explains. “I had played guitar on a Delaney & Bonnie single called ‘Coming Home.’ I actually replaced Clapton’s solo on it. There was a slide part on the tune, and I showed George the part before going on (stage). He did an article later where he said, ‘Mason got me into playing slide.’ I had no idea.”
After releasing a series of well-received albums such as “Headkeeper,” “It’s Like You Never Left” and “Let it Flow,” Mason eventually teamed with Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Christine McVie, joining a remodeled Fleetwood Mac in 1993. He played with the band for two years including on the album “Time.”
After touring with his own band for many years, Mason is planning to collaborate with guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T. & the MG’s and the Blues Brothers Band fame later this year for a “Feelin’ Alright Rock & Soul Revue” tour. The two musicians were part of the star-studded New Year’s Eve event at Wailea Beach Resort–Marriott.
Michael McDonald, who also played in Wailea and with Mason at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center Blues Fest, might join the future collaboration. And Maui’s Gretchen Rhodes has been invited to join the tour.
“This was all part of doing Traffic with (Steve) Winwood,” Mason explains. “There’s a huge demand for me and Winwood to do Traffic. He won’t do it, so I said, ‘Let’s go out and do Traffic Jam,’ which I was doing for three years. Steve Cropper is interested in joining us (as well as) Michael McDonald. We’ll put together a group of cool guys. Everyone picks a Traffic tune, and we have all these other songs — one great song after another.
“I didn’t want to wait around, so I said to Steve (Cropper), ‘Why don’t you and I start this, hopefully in May or June. It will be fun,’ “ Mason explains. “I’m hoping Michael (McDonald) will jump on board to sing the Stax songs. He wants to do it. We will take Gretchen Rhodes with us. I’m going to take her out on the road on my next (tour) run. In May, we’ll start rehearsing in Nashville.”
For his Maui show, we can expect a few guests. “Willie K’s going to come down, and we’re finally going to do ‘Watchtower’ together. And Gretchen will probably join in. We’ll blow it up.”
While Willie K has announced he will be limiting his live performances for a while to enable time to focus on healing and recovery from lung cancer, he is still eager to play the Dave Mason show. “I’m optimistic that we will beat this and be back on stage in no time,” he announced.
Amy Hanaiali’i has agreed to fill in for Willie’s previously booked gigs at Oahu’s Blue Note on Feb. 20 and March 20. In a statement, Amy said, “It is a time for pulling strength from akua, our kupuna and aumakua. He is a strong Hawaiian. We have a lot more songs to write together.”
Fundraisers are planned across the state to help raise funds for Willie K’s mounting medical expenses. Let’s all send prayers to Willie for his successful healing.
Composed in 1741, J.S. Bach’s iconic “Goldberg Variations” has been performed and recorded many times, including by celebrated pianist Glenn Gould and Keith Jarrett on harpsichord.
In 2011, jazz pianist Dan Tepfer released his own acclaimed interpretation “Goldberg Variations/Variations.” New York Magazine praised the interpretation as “elegant, thoughtful and thrilling” and the New York Times called it, “riveting and inspired.”
* Tepfer will debut his unique version of “Goldberg Variations” in a benefit concert for Adaptations Dance Theater at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the MACC’s Castle Theater.
Tickets are $20, $45 and $65 (plus applicable fees). A $125 VIP ticket includes a post-show reception with refreshments. For tickets and information, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or go to www.mauiarts.org.
* Tepfer, a student of astrophysics at Edinburgh University, also presents “Listening To Planetary Orbits: Finding Music in the Solar System and Beyond” at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy Advanced Technology Research Center in Pukalani. The public is invited. Call 573-9500 for more information.
The MauiLotus duo of multi-instrumentalist Marilyn Allysum, who studied bansuri flute with G.S. Sachdev, and bassist Charles Fletcher present a concert Friday. Their repertoire includes original compositions blending Western and Eastern influences and several songs sung by Allysum in Hindi and Punjabi.
* MauiLotus performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Makawao Union Church. Tickets are $20 in advance at www.mauilotus.com/store or cash at the door. Call 879-5776 for more information.