LONDON – After an extended period of getting together whatever one gets together in the English countryside, Stevie Winwood, 29, has emerged with his first solo album, Steve Winwood (American release date is June 20th). It has been three years since Traffic's swan song, When the Eagle Flies, and Winwood's only major LP appearance since he was on Stomu Yamash'ta's Go project. It was during the recording of that album that this Birmingham-bred veteran of the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith decided to make his own LP.
"I knew then that I wanted to go back into the studio myself," Winwood says in a top-floor conference room in Island Records' St. Peter's Square offices. "Go was so much of a collaboration. I was playing a sideman role with Yamash'ta and Mike Shrieve. When that was finished I wanted to do an album where I didn't have to argue with anyone over what songs to do and how to have it done."
To assist him in his long-awaited return to recording, Winwood enlisted two old friends, producer Chris Blackwell and fellow Traffic veteran Jim Capaldi. "Chris has given me spiritual guidance, though it sounds like a cliché. When Jim and I write and work together we often manage to reach a conclusive agreement. He depends very much on impulse and feel. I won't say I'm the opposite – I'm not coldly calculating – but I have more of that than Jim has." Lyricist Capaldi and composer Winwood collaborated on four of the new album's six tracks.
Winwood's comeback effectively showcases his distinctive emotional voice, frequently overlaid with relentless rhythm track. On one number, "Time Is Running Out," Willie Weeks triple-tracked a bass part that so excited Winwood he let the number approach seven minutes in length.
But he wants to make it clear that by doing so he wasn't catering to the disco movement. "Disco is something that doesn't appeal to me because it's a movement – but I've always loved dance music. To me, this track is a dance track."
Winwood gazes at the spectacular spring blossoms in St. Peter's Square and speaks about how the countryside has altered his interests. "Before, I was very much submerged and just carrying on. I always found that when I lived in the city there was nothing else I could really get into when I wasn't working.
"Out in the country, when one does get a chance to relax, you can be a person and do real things. I run a small livery stable. I take a lot of walks and spend time with my dogs. I'm not a great gardener, though. I like wild gardens, that's my excuse. Generally things can look after themselves, anyway."
Life as an adolescent star might have had its difficulties, but Winwood does not regret the days with the Spencer Davis Group. "I sometimes think now I missed out on certain things. I missed out on a certain amount of pub action. But my personal friends were people I'd known before the hits, so it didn't really make much difference.
"I had no regrets at all about what was done in that group. I was doing something I very much wanted to do and was being appreciated. I don't think I knew what the hell was going on, but I didn't really care. It was perfect . . . but as time went on, I didn't think it was perfect anymore." Winwood has far unhappier memories of Blind Faith.
"I was most upset about breaking up because it had a lot of potential. For the first album, it would have been nice to put together 60 or 80 minutes and weed out what we thought was the worst. But when we had 40 minutes it was 'Print it.' It was that way live as well. Because we were forced into it, we were all unhappy."
After all the tours, Winwood has grown to dislike traveling. In fact, he is completing a fully equipped studio in his home. "All studios are pretty uncomfortable," he explained. "They don't have any windows. My studio is at the moment a shell with the wind whistling through; it's not finished.
"In the old days, a three-hour session went well when you cut a lot of tracks. 'Gimme Some Lovin' was a first or second take. Even now it's limiting to be in the studio. You can get hyperaware and nervous that studio time is costing money and time is running out. I refuse to get that way."
Inspired by a guest appearance at a Fania All-Stars salsa concert in London and by working on his new album with musicians such as drummer Andy Newmark, guitarist Junior Marvin, percussionist Brother James and old conga-playing friend Rebop, Winwood plans to cut another album immediately. "After that I'll get some form of band together. I don't know the form or who, but I plan to go on the road. [Island Records reports Winwood has tentative plans to tour at the start of 1978.] There is still some development left in me as an artist, but I'm satisfied with the way my singing is going. I can't put a tag to it – say I want to sing like Dolly Parton or James Brown – but there was a time I didn't know what the hell I was doing or why I was doing it. Now I feel much more sure."
This story is from the June 16th, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone.