Dave Mason talks Journey, the Doobie Brothers, a possible Traffic reunion, 'All Along the Watchtower' and more
You know which rock star could crank out a must-read memoir? Dave Mason.
He co-founded and -fronted Traffic, the English psych-rock band behind hits like Feelin’ Alright?, Dear Mr. Fantasy and Hole In My Shoe. He played on the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland (strumming the 12-string acoustic on All Along the Watchtower, no less). He recorded with Michael Jackson, once joined Fleetwood Mac, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
We could go on, but c’mon – isn’t that a book you’d like to read?
“I get a lot of fans that keep asking me to do it,” Mason said by phone from a tour stop in Bentonville, Ark. “There’s no publisher that’s pursuing me to do it. So I haven’t really pursued it. It’s a lot of time, it’s a lot of research, and there’s been so many other music biographies written.”
And Mason’s, frankly, is still being written. The last few years, he’s been flying the Traffic flag higher than anyone, including his onetime bandmate Steve Winwood, touring theaters under the moniker “Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam.” And this summer, he’s joining Journey and the Doobie Brothers on a tour that comes to Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Friday.
Mason’s 35-minute opening set sets the stage for a night of classic rock hits, and he said they’ve all talked about joining forces on stage at some point – so get there early, because you never know what you might see.
“I got (the Doobies’) John McFee up playing with us the other night,” Mason said. “I know (Journey’s) Ross (Valory) and Neal Schon have asked me to come up and play on Watchtower, so we’ll see how that develops.”
Before the show, Mason talked about Traffic’s upcoming 50th anniversary, his Zelig-like place in rock and roll history and more.
How far back do you go with Journey and the Doboie Brothers?
I’ve probably done shows with them since they both started, more or less.
It’s wall-to-wall hits, I would imagine, from start to finish?
I’m pretty sure that’s what it is, especially with Journey. They have a lot of big hits. There’s probably a couple of original members left in that band. It’s not Steve Perry singing. But they do a great job of doing all of those songs. And for a large percentage of the audience, I’m not sure how much it matters that the original members are there.
You’ve been party to so much rock and roll history.
Have there been times when you’ve thought, Yeah, I should remember this. I should make notes about what’s happening here.
No. If I’d have thought of that, I’d have kept the notes and made a record of it.
Next year is the 50th anniversary of All Along the Watchtower. Were you super familiar with Dylan’s version before you went into the studio to do your version with Jimi?
Yeah, we both heard it together. We both listened to John Wesley Harding at the same time.
What did you guys hope to bring out with that version of the song?
I have no idea. I just happened to be there. I’d been hanging out with Jimi, and we just happened to hear it, and he got a bug about wanting to do Watchtower. I had no idea what he was going to do. I happened to be at the studio with him, and played on it. I was just following whatever was going on to enhance whatever was going on in his head.
Your own version that you put out a few years later – was that rooted in the sessions you did for Jimi?
Yeah, it was just to pay a little homage to Jimi and Dylan, of course. I just started doing it as a live song, and it’s why I recorded it, because I put it in the shows, and it started going over so well.
Has your version evolved over the years?
Not really. It’s pretty much the same way that I did it.
I know Feelin’ Alright? has evolved quite a bit. The version you’re playing these days is more akin to the Traffic Jam live album, with more guitars?
The way I’m doing it on stage now is kind of a funk version. It’s a song you can do any way. You can probably do it country, you can do it reggae – pretty much every guitar band and every garage band in the world’s probably played it at some point.
How often have you reinvented it over the years, in terms of your own live performances?
I’ve been doing it the way I’ve been doing it for the last three, four years. It’s fun. It puts a different groove into the set. I’ve pretty much stuck with the way I’m doing it right now.
Over the years you’ve re-recorded a number of Traffic songs. What is it you’re hoping to add or improve?
The Traffic Jam show was just an idea for a show to revisit some stuff, and it’s kind of turned into a musical biography of my life. We did Traffic stuff, then I did a bunch of my solo stuff up to new stuff, so the show basically became a musical, two-hour biography of my life. Some of the Traffic songs, I’ve adapted to my own way of doing them, like Dear Mr. Fantasy, and I’ve started playing this blues version of The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. I really wasn’t really trying to emulate exactly what we were doing. Traffic was probably one of the original alternative bands, and we were a jam band long before that term got coined, so it’s nothing new for me.
That’s another thing that’s got an anniversary coming up – 2017 is the 50th anniversary of Traffic. Have you talked about marking that milestone in any significant way?
Well, it’s only myself and Winwood left, and he doesn’t communicate with me.
In your mind, would it constitute a real reunion of Traffic if you and he played together, or could that band not really exist without Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi?
Well, no, you could do it. Steve and myself basically were the voice of Traffic, the vocals. I was there for the first two albums, so I can’t really vouch for anything after that. But you know, you could do it. It might be fun to do it with him if he was wanting to do it, to expand the Traffic Jam concept and put some other names in there that were fans of Traffic. It might be fun to do it that way.
When is the last time you spoke to him?
Ah, I think it was a brief hello at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. 2004.
Well, it’s possible. Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend are still playing as the Who without Keith Moon or John Entwistle.
Sure. It’s just up to him, whether he would want to do it.
-- Jay Cridlin