Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Something led me to go back and listen to old albums by the group, Traffic. Holy crap, does this stuff hold up. Right now I have “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” playing, Chris Wood’s otherworldly soprano sax playing through layers of chorus and flange, chased by Steve Winwood’s simple but jazzy piano solo. I love that this song is over 11 minutes long, going through different manifestations of itself and projecting all kinds of moods as it drifts along. And it’s followed with great contrast by Jim Capaldi’s “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone.”
Traffic records back then usually only had five or six songs on them. They weren’t afraid to let a tune breathe for seven minutes and up.
Since I was a budding young folkie in those years, I also liked earlier songs like “John Barleycorn (Must Die),” where Winwood took ancient material and made it seem cool again somehow. Winwood, of course, could do anything from R&B (with the Spencer Davis Group) to treacly ‘80s pop (“Higher Love”). He played keyboards and guitar, favoring that undistorted Stratocaster sound that strikes me as refreshing now. I could listen to him improvising in the back half of “Rainmaker” for hours. That he hooked up with Clapton to do a year of Blind Faith seems right, and some of those numbers hold up really well too. I’ve shared this clip of Steve doing “Can’t Find My Way Home” by his fireplace before.
This is what I love about the new cloud-accessible music library we’re enjoying these days (as destructive as it is to the artists themselves). You can think of an old favorite and binge on it, re-familiarize yourself with its details and idiosyncrasies, and hear new things in it too. It can also throw you into a great pile of memories, like when I saw Traffic in concert, and a Clapton concert where Winwood was with him on keyboards. I think Eric needed Steve’s support in those druggy days of his.
It was cool to like Traffic. You got prog rock cred because they weren’t popular like Led Zeppelin or Bowie or ELO. They were a niche act, even though a few of their songs got played on our local FM station, KSHE-95, Real Rock Radio. To sport a Traffic t-shirt was to project a certain musical sophistication, even if a lot of the girls didn’t much care for those long jammy tunes because they were hard to dance to. Sometimes I guess there’s such a thing as being too cool.
Anyway. On to Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory, the second Traffic album with two of its corners clipped off for no other reason than the cool of it.
(By the way, Traffic definitely rates an entry in my series, “Whither the Flute in Rock Music.”)