The SCENE regrets to report that a previously scheduled Dave Mason concert at the Grand Theater in Wausau on February 3, 2015, has been cancelled due to a tour conflict. Please enjoy the following interview with this rock ‘n’ roll legend.
Guitarist/singer-songwriter Dave Mason has been active in a number of projects. The co-founder of Traffic is also widely respected for his work with such icons as Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson, Delaney & Bonnie and Steve Winwood.
The 2004 music hall of famer’s latest album, Future’s Past (2014), is a mix of re-recorded classics and new material. It is being supported by his current national tour, Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam.
Mason has also devoted his time to such worthy causes such as Work Vessels for Veterans and Little Kids Rock.
Other members of the band include: Alvino Bennett on drums, guitarist Johnne Sambataro and Tony Patler on keyboards.
Dave called me from the road at a stop in Pennsylvania recently. He paid me a high compliment, that he considers me to be one of his most faithful supporters––an official “Masonette!”
Jane Spietz: How was Traffic formed?
Dave Mason: Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood, Steve Winwood and I ran into each other in different places and started hanging out when we could. We were into all kinds of stuff: jazz, blues, gospel, Motown, pop, everything.
JS: What was it like to emerge during the turbulent ‘60s, an era of such significant cultural change?
DM: I was just eighteen, nineteen years old. We were living it. It was just what was happening. It was a great time, especially in England. A lot of research going on. (Laughs) Everybody was doing research. It was a lot of fun. My focus was on what was happening with Traffic. Started writing songs, making albums, going on tour and playing.
JS: You were just a mere lad of 19 when you wrote “Feelin’ Alright.”
DM: Mostly I was just trying to write a very simple song. There are only two chords in the whole song. God bless Joe Cocker. He got a hold of it and “Feelin’ Alright” only became the song that it became because of his version of it. He interpreted it in a way and made it into something. That spawned about another forty-eight cover versions of it. And it has never stopped being used in films, commercials, TV shows. So yeah, I owe a lot to Joe Cocker.
JS: It was so incredibly sad to lose him way too soon.
DM: Yeah, one of the great voices.
JS: Talk about your collaboration with Delaney and Bonnie.
DM: I got to know them very well. I played with them for about a year. They were a great band, a great live band. They were the opening act on the original Blind Faith tour. Of course, they had the big hit with “Only You Know and I Know” from Alone Together, my first solo album after Traffic.
JS: Please share how you came to sit in with Jimi Hendrix.
DM: In England everybody finished up in London. There were some semi-private clubs there that everybody frequented. I just went over to Hendrix one night in one of the clubs and we got to talking. He was a fan of Traffic. And then I got to work with him. I played the acoustic guitar part on his version of “All Along the Watchtower,” and I sang on “Crosstown Traffic.”
JS: I would like to hear the story about your experience with Michael Jackson.
DM: I was making an album called Old Crest on a NewWave. I was in one studio and Michael was in another. I think he was actually cutting Thriller. I had this one song that I needed somebody to sing a high part on and I knew he was in the other room recording. So I went over there when they were on a break and he was standing in the doorway. I said, “Michael, I’ve got this song I’m working on that has this high part. Would you be up for coming in to sing high?” He kind of looked at me for a sec and said, “You know, when I was I was twelve years old, I did this TV special with Diana Ross. At the end of the show, she and I did this song called ‘Feelin’ Alright.’ So yeah, absolutely I’ll sing on it.”
JS: You were instilled into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. You stated: “Rock ‘n Roll is not an age, it’s an attitude.” Please explain.
DM: It depends on whether you want to get old or you want to age gracefully. (Laughs) Just because you’re aging doesn’t mean to say you have to get old.
Everything’s an attitude. It’s all an attitude in the end. And without the right attitude, you’re not going to get very good results. So, attitude is just the joy of the music. The joy of the noise! It’s a little part of hanging on to the kid within. Not getting too jaded. (Laughs) You’ve got to keep some of your innocence at least.
JS: Talk about your dedicated involvement with an amazing organization for veterans that supports a tremendous cause – Work Vessels For Veterans (WVFV). Its mission is “to provide veterans with the necessary tools to embark upon their civilian careers or educational pursuits.”
DM: We help returning vets. Our mission is mostly to help them start their own businesses. A friend named John Niekrash who lives around Mystic, Connecticut, is a lobster fisherman. He was looking to trade his boat up. He was attending some event and some disabled colonel got up and began talking to John about how veterans transition from their service to their country back into civilian life and the tools they need. So John decided rather than sell the boat, he was going to find a vet and give him the boat so he could go lobster fishing and start his own business that way. That’s kind of really how it started. We help returning vets. Just basic, simple needs and tools that nobody else is really supplying.
One that we helped start is a blueberry farm down in Jacksonville. And there’s another gentleman who’s started an office-cleaning service in St. Louis. We don’t just look for donations. People have donated land; they donate cars, trucks, tools. Things that one would need in a business. Our motto is sort of we’re not into giving handouts, but we are into giving a hand up. And we are also an all-volunteer charity. There’s nobody getting paid any money and there’s no real overhead. Pretty much everything we take in goes where it’s supposed to go. That’s the way it should be. It’s sort of shameful that the government doesn’t take care of these people. In other words, they could be doing what we’re doing. Like the farm, for instance. There’s plenty of federal land that they could help people with.
To me, anybody that puts on a uniform and defends the way we live and comes back injured or maimed in some way, I think frankly, the government should take care of them for the rest of their lives. It shouldn’t even be an issue. They’re just sort of overlooked. There are a lot of private and public charities that do what they can for the vets. We’re just doing our little bit, to try and help these people get back into business. Part of the deal is that if the business becomes profitable, a small portion goes back to Work Vessels for Vets, so they in turn can help other vets. So it goes forward. It’s just the right thing to do. The website is www.workvesselsforvets.org. I’m more passionate about this than I am about my music. We support anybody that puts on a uniform and defends my right to get onstage and play rock ‘n’ roll. (Laughs)
JS: You have supported another worthy cause, Little Kids Rock, which is a non-profit organization that provides free musical instruments and lessons to children in public schools throughout the United States.
DM: Though I’m not actively involved in Little Kids Rock, I feel that the lack of music and art in the school curriculum is a big mistake. It has been proven time and time again that even though one might not become a great musician or artist, the benefits in other learning areas are greatly enhanced.
JS: Your latest album, Future’s Past (2014), is a mix of re-recorded classics and new material. Please provide our readers with some background.
DM: I really wasn’t intending to do an album, to be honest with you. I sort of record when I’m home in my studio and fool around in there. There were some pieces that I had re-done which were to me way superior versions of the original. I did a little re-write of “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” which turned out to be a very nice track. I also included “You Can All Join In.” The rest is basically new stuff, like “That’s Freedom” which I finished after Jim Capaldi passed away. I finished up the song that he had started, called “How Do I Get to Heaven,” which is a beautiful song. And then there’s another new song called “Good to You.” Also, an instrumental called “El Toro (Spanish Blues).” So it’s a mix of different styles and different stuff.
JS: What is the concept behind your current national tour, “Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam?”
DM: It was an idea that I had to revisit some of the music from that time I was with them. The show has sort of developed into like a two-part show. During the first part we do Traffic songs. The second half is a selection of stuff from my solo work all the way until the new CD, Future’s Past.
JS: What do you hope to bring to your audiences at your Wisconsin stops?
DM: The same as I’ve always tried to do, which is to have people leave in a better frame of mind than they walked in with. Nothing grandiose, just hopefully take some people away for a couple of hours and feel good about it.
Jane Spietz is a community activist and social worker who loves music.
Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam
Tues., 2/3/15 7:30 PM
Thurs., 2/12/15 7:30 PM
Weidner Center, Green Bay
$34 – $44
Sun., 3/8/15 8 PM
Turner Hall, Milwaukee