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Music / Traffic (Band)

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The original lineup, clockwise from the top right: Steve Winwood, Chris Wood, Dave Mason, Jim Capaldi

Traffic is a rock band formed in 1967 in Birmingham, UK, with their initial membership consisting of Steve Winwood (formerly of the Spencer Davis Group), Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood, and Dave Mason. Starting out as a Psychedelic Rock band first and foremost, they had eventually diversified their sounds, incorporating elements of Soul, Folk, Jazz, and Progressive Rock. They had briefly disbanded in 1969, with Steve Winwood forming the supergroup Blind Faith which only lasted a year. In 1970, the band regrouped and released their biggest album John Barleycorn Must Die. This incarnation of the band lasted to 1974, releasing three more studio albums and two live albums. The stress of touring had gotten to Steve Winwood, prompting him to quit the band and pursue a successful solo career, and the rest of the band decided that they cannot carry on without him.

In 1994, Winwood and Capaldi reformed the group for a one-off touring group, with Wood having died of pneumonia in 1983. The footage from the tours has been recorded in the live compilation Last Great Traffic Jam in 2005. Winwood and Capaldi also recorded a final studio album in the band's name around the time of their tour. The band (more specifically, the four founding members) was inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

Studio Discography:

  • 1967 - Mr. Fantasynote 
  • 1968 - Traffic
  • 1969 - Last Exitnote 
  • 1970 - John Barleycorn Must Die
  • 1971 - The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
  • 1973 - Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory
  • 1974 - When the Eagle Flies
  • 1994 - Far from Home

Live Discography:

  • 1971 - Welcome to the Canteen
  • 1973 - On the Road
  • 2005 - Last Great Traffic Jam

Members (Founding members in bold):

  • Barry Beckett - Keyboards (1973; died 2009)
  • Randall Bramblett - flute, saxophone, keyboards (1994)
  • Jim Capaldi - drums, percussion, vocals (1967–69, 1970–74, 1994; died 2005)
  • Rosko Gee - bass (1974, 1994)
  • Jim Gordon - drums (1971–74; died 2023)
  • Ric Grech - bass, violin (1970–72; died 1990)
  • Roger Hawkins - drums (1972–73; died 2021)
  • David Hood - bass (1972–73)
  • Rebop Kwaku Baah - percussion (1971–74; died 1983)
  • Dave Mason - vocals, guitar, sitar, bass (1967, 1968, 1971)
  • Michael McEvoy - keyboards, guitar, viola (1994)
  • Walfredo Reyes, Jr. - percussion, drums (1994)
  • Steve Winwood - vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass (1967–69, 1970–74, 1994)
  • Chris Wood - flute, saxophone, keyboards (1967–69, 1970–74; died 1983)

And the thing that you're hearing is the only sound of the low spark of high-heeled tropes:

  • Addiction Song: While it doesn't contain any lyrics, "Tragic Magic" off Shoot Out was Chris Wood's nickname for heroin.
  • Anthropomorphic Vice: "John Barleycorn (Must Die)" is a traditional English folk song of which Traffic's version is particularly well known. John Barleycorn himself represents the cereal grains, especially barley, used to malt alcoholic beverages.
  • Darker and Edgier: In comparison to Low Spark, Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory has both a darker cover and concerns darker themes such as addiction, isolation, and creative burnout.
    • When The Eagle Flies counts too.
  • Epic Rocking: Many of their tracks from John Barleycorn Must Die onwards have exceeded six minutes, and even before then they would easily make ten in live concerts. Their longest studio cuts are "Roll Right Stones" (13:40), "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" (11:41), and "Dream Gerrard" (11:03). Studio tracks breaking six minutes:
    • John Barleycorn Must Die: "Glad" (6:59), "Freedom Rider" (6:20), "John Barleycorn (Must Die)" (6:20), "Every Mother's Son" (7:05) - in short, four of the six tracks on the album.
    • The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys: "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" (11:41), "Many a Mile to Freedom" (7:16), "Rainmaker" (7:52). The bonus track "Rock & Roll Stew Parts 1 & 2" also runs for 6:07.
    • Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory: "Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory" (6:05), "Roll Right Stones" (13:40), "Tragic Magic" (6:43), "(Sometimes) I Feel So Uninspired" (7:31) - four of the five tracks on the album.
    • When the Eagle Flies: "Dream Gerrard" (11:03), "Graveyard People" (6:05), "Walking in the Wind" (6:48)
    • Far from Home: "Far from Home" (8:33), "Nowhere Is Their Freedom" (6:57), "Holy Ground" (7:48), "State of Grace" (7:16)
  • Folk Music: A lot of their material is influenced by or falls outright into this genre, most notably the title track of John Barleycorn Must Die, an arrangement of a Scottish/English drinking song which could've easily passed for a Fairport Convention song.
  • Instrumentals: "Glad" and "Tragic Magic"
  • Jazz Fusion: They have several tracks that fall into this territory, such as "Glad", the opening track of John Barleycorn Must Die.
  • Longest Song Goes Last: John Barleycorn Must Die ends with "Every Mother's Son," which runs at 7:05. None of the other tracks on the album pass the six-minute mark.
  • Lyrical Dissonance
    • Light Up or Leave Me Alone is an upbeat and kinda funky song that takes shape as a sort of "The Reason You Suck" Speech to an unknown woman negligent to the singer.
    • Rock and Roll Stew kind of zig-zags - it's a funk song about how exhausting it is to be on tour performing live, but acceptance of the lifestyle on the road at the same time.
    • Roll Right Stones is about death and the hereafter, set to a pleasant song that could otherwise wind up as a closing credit to a movie with a happy ending. Go figure.
  • Market-Based Title: The first US release of their first album was called Heaven Is in Your Mind rather than Mr Fantasy, and it had a substantially different track listing, incorporating "Paper Sun", "Hole in My Shoe", "Smiling Phases", and "We're a Fade, You Missed This" and deleting "Hope I Never Find Me There" and "Utterly Simple". It also incorporates snippets of the band's single "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush" in between some songs. It was renamed to Mr. Fantasy for the second pressing, but it kept the Heaven Is in Your Mind track listing until United Artists Records went out of business in 1980, at which point Island Records released the UK stereo version in the US. Recent CD releases combine all the tracks from both versions onto one disc. As a result, there are several different versions of the album now.
  • Music Is Politics: "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" is in part about the band's disillusionment with the record industry.
    "The percentage you're paying is too high-priced
    While you're living beyond all your means
    And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
    From the profit he's made on your dreams"
  • New Sound Album: John Barleycorn Must Die started the eclectic, jazz-infused sound compared to their folk/psychedelia-based beginnings.
  • Officially Shortened Title: One of their songs is also called "Roamin' Thru' the Gloamin' with 40,000 Headmen", although the original release on Traffic just called it "Forty Thousand Headmen".
  • Questioning Title?: "Feelin' Alright?"
  • Record Producer: Jimmy Miller, also known for producing The Rolling Stones' best albums (Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St.), produced the band's early work through Last Exit. John Barleycorn Must Die was produced by Winwood along with Chris Blackwell (founder of Island Records) and Guy Stevens (co-producer of The Clash's London Calling and also responsible for naming both Mott the Hoople and Procol Harum). Blackwell and Winwood seemingly traded off producing the band's later material from album to album; Capaldi and Winwood co-produced the band's final record, Far from Home.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: "Glad" -> "Freedom Rider" is such a song.
  • Spoken Word in Music: "Hole in my Shoe" has a spoken word section by the producer's stepdaughter, where she describes traveling on the back of an albatross to a magical land.
  • Step Up to the Mic: Steve Winwood was definitely the band's lead singer, but Dave Mason and Jim Capaldi have their fair share of times on the mic as well ("Feelin' Alright?" off the Self-Titled Album and "Light Up Or Leave Me Alone" off Low Spark).
  • Take That!: The "plastic princess" mentioned in "Walking in the Wind" (off When The Eagle Flies) is most likely a dig at all the Glam Rock topping the charts at the time of the album's conception.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: "John Barleycorn"
  • Title Track: Low Spark and Shoot Out both have one. "Dear Mr. Fantasy" counts for Mr. Fantasy.
  • Uncommon Time: parts of Roll Right Stones go to 11/8.