[Slowhand] Windy Wood

John Mills turbineltd at btconnect.com
Sat Jun 28 12:56:44 EDT 2008

Not from one of our more salubrious papers.

'I'd still play if no one listened'
Published: 26 Jun 2008

STEVE Winwood chooses his words carefully but it's clear he's no fan of TV
shows like X Factor.

Not that the veteran singer has a beef against the people auditioning - it's
just that, to his horror, the programme is more about making money than
decent music.

And music is something Winwood, one of the great figures of British rock, is
passionate about.

"I don't want to take anything away from the people who sing and play on
these shows," he says. "They are very talented in many cases, but they are
forced to sound a certain way which is instantly marketable. That's just not
good for the music."
Winwood, 60 last month, knows what he's talking about.

In the Eighties, after more than 20 years as a musician, he suddenly went
supernova with slick hits Higher Love and Roll With It.

But the pressure to come up with more - and the industry's disappointment
when he didn't - almost derailed his career.

So thank goodness, then, for his new album Nine Lives, which couldn't be
further from being the product of some record company exec obsessed with
audience demographics.

It's a terrific album, combining the loose, freewheeling Hammond organ sound
of Winwood's beloved Sixties band Traffic with the melodic flair of his solo
stuff. It may be the best thing he's done.

Winwood's proud of it but unsure quite where it fits in these days. He says:
"One of my problems is I'm not really sure if I slot into rock or not. I've
always tried to combine world music, folk, jazz, blues and rock, and have
done since Traffic. Nine Lives is all about that."

Traffic is, of course, the band Winwood will forever be linked with. They
were formed in 1967 after Winwood - who had had hits Keep On Running and I'm
A Man as the teenage star of R&B outfit the Spencer Davis Group - decided he
wanted to make more complex music.

He, drummer Jim Capaldi, flute player Chris Wood and, initially, guitarist
Dave Mason, famously retired to a cottage in the country to jam and see what

In England they're probably still best known for hippy dippy 1967 hit single
Hole In My Shoe - a song Winwood hates.

He says: "We never wanted to be a pop band but we had a hit with Shoe, which
was Dave's song. Dave had his own idea about the band, the rest of us had
another one - a not-quite-as-sensible one, really, because it wasn't half as

Dave quit and it was the end of Traffic troubling the UK charts but the band
had a second wind in the US.

"We were cutting these long tracks and not taking an interest in any market
or even whether anyone wanted to listen. But FM radio in the States liked
long, drawn-out songs and we approached cult status there because of that.
We were much bigger in the US than here."

Traffic's peak was 1970's John Barleycorn Must Die, a beautiful mix of folk
and jazz that has remained one of the most influential British albums ever
made. Paul Weller has based so much of his solo career on it, his album Wild
Wood should have been called Winwood.

In 1969, between the two Traffic eras, Winwood hooked up with Eric Clapton,
who had just quit Cream, and briefly formed Blind Faith. Promoters and
record companies, salivating at the thought of rock's first supergroup, sent
the untried band on a disastrous tour of huge stadiums, which finished them

"The album we did captured what we wanted to do but the problem was playing
live. Business interests tried to influence what we were doing. We were
booked into huge places where people only wanted to hear heavy Cream stuff
from Eric. But the new songs were more delicate and it wasn't the right
music for the audiences."

By the late Seventies Traffic had split and Winwood embarked on a solo
career. It was not a good time for a Sixties icon to be making music.

He says: "Punk was in full flow. And as I was the very thing punk was
rebelling against, I didn't fit in." Ironically, in 1980 Winwood came up
with his biggest hit yet by adopting punk's DIY ethic and making album Arc
Of A Diver at home entirely on his own.

"Everyone thought I'd lost the plot because I didn't want to work with
anyone. But it was a valid way of making a record. And the timing was
right - it struck a chord with the public."

Then came Back In The High Life and Roll With It. The albums made him a
superstar - and rich - but there were grumbles
Winwood's music had lost some of the qualities that made it special.
Winwood agrees, to some extent. "They were the days of massive corporate
involvement in music," he says. "I was doing the same thing I'd done with
Traffic but there was pressure from the record company to give it a
contemporary Eighties sound. So it came out sounding very different to
previous records."

Now, though, Winwood is making the music he wants to, with no one else
calling the shots.

He's recently played with Clapton again, teaming up for an almost Blind
Faith reunion at three ecstatically received shows in New York. Eric also
turns up on Nine Lives, with some incendiary playing on the album's
centrepiece, Dirty City.

On the phone Winwood takes great pains to come across as a musician rather
than a rock star.

He seems refreshingly normal - a married father of four who lives quietly on
a Gloucestershire farm and often plays the organ in his local church. Not
for him, then, the rock lifestyle that messed up friends like Jimi Hendrix
and, of course, Clapton.

"It didn't affect me as much as it did other people," he says. "Traffic did
a bit of wacky baccy, sure, as was the fashion, but basically it was all
about music.

"And it still is. To make a living from doing something I love is fantastic.
As long as people want to listen to me, I'll keep doing it.

"In fact, to tell you the truth, even if no one did want to listen to me, I'
d still be doing it!"

Nine Lives (Sony) is out now.

More information about the Slowhand mailing list