The original Traffic had two phases. At first it was a winsomely psychedelic pop band that blended blues, folk, rock, and R&B and was fronted by Steve Winwood and Dave Mason. This group recorded such FM-radio favorites as "Paper Sun" and "You Can All Join In." After Mason left, the band became Steve Winwood's vehicle for longer, moodier excursions that leaned closer to jazz and soul. This group was responsible for "Glad," "Freedom Rider," "Empty Pages," and "Rock & Roll Stew." Traffic was popular in both incarnations.
When the band formed in 1967, Steve Winwood was its best-known member because of his lead vocals with the Spencer Davis Group. Winwood left that band to found Traffic. He and his friends Chris Wood, Jim Capaldi, and Dave Mason wrote and rehearsed in a cottage in the English countryside. Traffic's debut LP, Mr. Fantasy, contained two British hits, "Paper Sun" and "Hole in My Shoe." But conflicts between Mason's pop style and Winwood's jazz ambitions flared up and in late 1967 Mason split, first joining up with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett before pursuing a solo career. A 1968 film called Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush contained some of Traffic's music, and the theme song was a minor hit.
Despite differences with Winwood, Mason helped cut Traffic, contributing the oft-covered "Feelin' Alright." But by 1968 he had left again. It looked like Traffic was finished in 1969, when Winwood joined Blind Faith with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Rick Grech. However, Blind Faith proved short-lived, and after a stint in Ginger Baker's Air Force in 1970 Winwood began recording his first solo album, the working title of which was Mad Shadows. Capaldi and Wood sat in on some sessions, and the LP became Traffic's fifth and most commercially successful album, John Barleycorn Must Die (Number Five, 1970), a gold album and a staple of "progressive" FM radio. The group then added Grech. The next year, before recording Welcome to the Canteen, Reebop Kwaku Baah was added on percussion. In addition, that live album featured Jim Gordon augmenting Capaldi on drums and a guest appearance by Mason. Despite the success of the gold album The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys (Number Seven, 1971), Gordon and Grech departed.
Winwood was then stricken with peritonitis, and so the band was temporarily sidelined. Capaldi cut a solo album (Oh! How We Danced) in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and in the process he recruited session players bassist David Hood and drummer Roger Hawkins into the band. They appeared on Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory (Number Six, 1973) and with another Muscle Shoals musician, keyboardist Barry Beckett, on the live Traffic on the Road (Number 29, 1973). By the sessions for When the Eagle Flies (Number Nine, 1974), only the original trio of Winwood, Wood, and Capaldi plus bassist Rosco Gee were left. After that album's release, Winwood and Capaldi started their solo careers in earnest. Gee and Kwaku Baah joined Can. Wood died in 1983 in his London apartment after a long illness; Grech died seven years later of kidney and liver failure precipitated by a hemorrhage. Kwaku Baah died of a brain hemorrhage.
Winwood enjoyed the most successful solo career of any of his former band mates. In 1994 he and Capaldi joined forces for what was termed a Traffic reunion (Gee performed in the touring band), and under the group name released the critically well received Far From Home (Number 33, 1994). Shortly thereafter, they returned to their solo endeavors.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
After a run as a key member in Traffic, Blind Faith and the Spencer David Group, 29-year-old Steve Winwood grows on his own with his first solo album
'I don't want anybody to be hung-up . . . especially over me, or anything I do'