Traffic: The Rolling Stone Interview
The interview took place at Traffic’s Berkshire cottage three weeks before the break-up. Everyone was waking up when we arrived one early golden-leaved afternoon, and we all listened to tapes of Hugh Masekela, Steve Stills, and the second Supersession playing “Mr. Fantasy,” followed by a selection of beautiful Swan Silvertones performances.
Everyone sat around the living and listening room —— quiet and high-day vibrations. The interview was interrupted by interruptions — —but then the interview itself was an interruption— — and by a mad, cold, sliding in the mud drive (Stevie Winwood and Chris Wood sort of in control of the wheel) in a jeep up to Roman Fields, where you find not only pure uncomplicated air but also a 360 degree view of what seems like the world.
After the interview, we jammed in the instrument room— — Stevie on drums, Jim Capaldi on one organ, and your interviewer on another. (Everyone’s a musician in the Traffic cottage). Then Jim, Chris, and Stevie took over and went on with their fantastic music until dawn, as they did most days and nights they were together.
Could we talk about some of your musical beginnings. Were the three of you in the group Deep Feeling back in Birmingham?
Jim: Just me. And Dave [Mason] was for awhile. Actually, he left before we changed the name of the group to Deep Feeling. It was group in Evesham, which is near Birmingham. We were doing most of our own things. We did a Davy Graham number which was actually a Leadbelly piece called “Leavin’ Blues.” Davy had come back from Tangiers and made this folk blues LP and did this version which was influenced by the music he heard in Tangiers. We did the same kind of set that we did in Birmingham in British Railway Workmen’s Clubs. It was totally out of place.
Chris: I was in a group called Locomotive, on and off while I was at college, and then I left college. There were four of us in the group, and we were playing what I then thought was jazz but now know was 12 bar sequences on piano, bass, and drum. We’d do the occasional wedding reception, Club Social, British Legion meeting on Saturdays. You’d have to play standard waltzes and foxtrots, but we tried to do as much jazz as we could get away with.
Stevie: I was in college, but I got kicked out. It was a very free school, but I created a “bad impression.” Like I was a bit more fiery in those days. At the time I got kicked out, I knew exactly what I was going to do and didn’t even bother to go back for a leaving certificate. Then I was singing in folk clubs around Birmingham and playing jazz in clubs on Sundays.
Chris: Saturdays, dinnertime, musicians used to get together and jam at a pub called the Chapel. There was a great scene, some great blowing things going on in Birmingham. You could go to a pub at dinner time and then go to an afternoon club and someplace else in the evening. Kids would mass up to Manchester and then down to the clubs in Birmingham.
What’s Birmingham like?
Stevie: It’s called the Black Country. The West Midland people are the people Tolkien was supposed to have based his Hobbits on. It’s really heavy industrial.
Jim: The people are definitely character types, like Liverpool people—the accent, attitudes. Birmingham’s very much like Chicago. Maybe more like Detroit, and it’s got a heavy genuine musical scene.
How did you all finally get together?
Stevie: It was at the end of my Spencer Davis Group days, and we all used to go to this drinking-gambling club where Jim used to play, and like we used to get up and play with him and jam. And we just got together.
When did the Spencer Davis Group happen?
Stevie: Well it didn’t exactly happen. It happened but on a sort of false level. It was almost like a joke gone too far — that’s what it seemed to me. It wasn’t serious. In a way it was good just picking up an instrument and playing it and singing, but it wasn’t thought about as it is now. It’s just a matter of wanting to do something else.
Like I was pretty ignorant. With a song like “Somebody Help Me,” for instance, like suddenly this guy came around and said, “Here’s a song for you to sing,” he just arrived in the studio like that. I just wasn’t into it. “Gimme Some Lovin’ ” and “I’m a Man” were more personal, but I sort of did them, I didn’t think about it much.
Chris: When you consider American jazz, groups have stuck together, but individually there’s never been any restrictiveness because each member of a group has made an album on his own. Art Blakey used to keep a group together for three or four years, but at the same time the individual members were doing other things. And it’s good that this is now happening in pop, as long as you try to keep the group together. We played on a Joe Cocker session. And Stevie and I played on the Hendrix LP.
Jim: Big Pink has been together nine years, and they’re not like anything less or more than they are because they’ve been together nine years. It’s the fact that they’ve been together — —they have a nice thing together.
Stevie: And the Stax people have been together something like 15 years.
What was the first song you recorded as Traffic?
Jim: “Mulberry Bush.” The original version was beautiful. It was an instrumental-type sounding thing and we just blew it. We put words in, recorded in one studio, then another studio.
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