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I've worked for a big multi-national, lived abroad for several years, travelled a lot, now in politics. Married once but separated; no kids. Generally utilitarian except for minority rights.


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JANUARY 8, 2012 11:31AM

GNS – An Appreciation of Steve Winwood

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          I’m not the biggest Winwood fan, owning only a couple of Spencer Davis 45s where he was a guitarist and lead singer.  He was always renowned for his talents on a wide range of stringed instruments and keyboards but through his long and varied career what always got me was his voice.  It’s a tenor (thank you Wiki) but not a very smooth one, especially when he was young.  Sometimes reminiscent of Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson or Bobby Hatfield with a bit of a natural vibrato.

          He got started early.  In his early teens he was playing in house bands for touring artists like Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.  He joined the Spencer Davis Group in 1963 when he was a Bieberish 14. Their first hit single, at least in the U.K., was Keep On Running in 1965 which brilliantly shows off his 17 year-old voice. 





          It sounds like a tricky one to sing well with, as we laymen put it, lots of ups, downs and high notes.  Like the note he hits at the end of the second line “Keep on hiding”.  Easily botchable.  But the kid pulls it off.  The band had several more hits, their most popular being Gimme Some Lovin’ and I’m A Man, both written by Winwood.

          In 1967 he left the band to join Traffic.  Here it gets confusing.  Traffic recorded some Sgt. Pepperish psychedelic songs like Paper Sun and Hole in My Shoe.  They disbanded a year later and Winwood formed the legendary Blind Faith along with Clapton, Ginger Baker and Rick Grech.  Here’s a clip from their first concert – an outdoor one in Hyde Park in front of 100,000 fans.  Winwood sings and plays the keyboard and Clapton throws in a laid-back but pretty solo.




          That was from June 1969 and I’ll bet that at least one of the camera staff couldn’t find their way home.  It was quite the year for Hyde Park concerts with the Stones doing their Brian Jones memorial a month later (on a bill that also featured King Crimson!).  Blind Faith didn’t even last a year, Traffic was re-formed and re-disbanded and you should check out his Wiki page for peregrinations up to 1980.  Now as a solo artist he had a major hit with While You See a Chance.




          This certainly has that 80s synth sound; like much else quite a ways away from the 60s.  But the 80s were his most successful period with hits like Valerie and the very popular Higher Love.  And he still had that fine, and now much smoother, voice.

          Winwood continued touring and recording with a variety of artists throughout the 90s and the ought’s.  Highlights included another Traffic reunion, a performance at Clapton’s 2007 Crossroads Festival and a subsequent series of concerts with Clapton at Madison Square Gardens.  Still going strong in 2010, here is Winwood on Letterman doing Gimme Some Lovin’.  At 62 his voice had lost only a little.




          All in all Winwood has had a remarkable career – a central member of a few influential bands, the composer of several enduring hits and a variety of musical talents that enhanced everything he touched.  He’s in the R&R Hall of Fame as a member of Traffic.

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My head was in the clouds in the 60s onwards, and my pop culture knowledge is next to nil, Abrawang. Thus I truly appreciate your post and listening to the selections you included. Thank you.

Abrawang ~ GNS and then some! I have always enjoyed his music and thanks for this great post today!
While You See a Chance is always a classic. Good, uplifting, energizing song. Thanks!
Fusun - never too late to catch up. He was quite the talent.

designanator - One would have to be pretty strange not to find something to like in his body of work. I'm still puzzling over how at 13 he was backing acts like Chuck Berry.

phyllis - you have all the right adjectives for that number. I was glad to see him get some big time commercial success.
Spencer Davis- That's all I won also. I have sold many a Steve Winwood songbook and I do not know why I have not paid him more attention.
The music is rolling here from your videos as I type.
Hi Linda. Winwood, being the lead guitarist, vocalist and chief songwriter, was the main guy in the Spencer Davis Group. But neither he nor his bro (bass-player) liked doing interviews while Davis enjoyed the spotlight. So they decided to call the band after Davis and that way they wouldn't be bothered much by the press.
Loved this walk down Winwood Lane. Two thumbs up, abrawang! Going in for another listen...
Hi ls - I had fun putting it together. If you're game for more, click that Valerie link. It's a great live performance.
Never was a huge fan (he was a little before my real time), but I can appreciate his guitar skill and artistry. Nice post. Good clips.
I heard Valerie on the radio the other day and started wondering why Winwood never became a superstar-level musician. He proved he had the chops to play at that level, certainly as a key member of a group, if not as a solo act.
I love those Spencer Davis Group singles and chunks of his earlier solo career but for me, Traffic was the pinnacle of Winwood’s output. In particular, Traffic’s second, self-titled LP is an all-time favourite that I’ll probably listen to until I croak, not to mention John Barleycorn Must Die, their first album, Low Spark of the High-Heeled Boys, etc. Terrific live version of “Can’t Find My Way Home” too.
Mary – I wasn’t a huge fan either but he put together a pretty good career. And I know you’re more youthful than many of us OSers but surely some of his 80s hits were during your lifetime.

Stim – for a while in the 80s he looked like he was poised for superstardom. A couple more hit records might have done the trick.

Various – I considered devoting more space to his Traffic days but didn’t want to edit out any of the other stuff. John Barleycorn was another new direction. I was amazed there was such a good clip of Blind Faith. YouTube has been such a boon for uncovering musical gems.
I had one of his albums and that is saying a lot because I could barely afford anything but the essentials back in the day. I remember Arc of a Diver. Beautiful!
Hey Susie. I was glad to see him get some big commercial success after having done a lot of interesting music in the two preceding decades. He seems like a pretty good guy too.
Can't believe I missed this! I saw it on your page when commenting on the religious post.

Stevie's the very best. I have original Spencer Davis vinyl through eighties High Life and Traffic in between. I loved him as a kid and my kids loved him a generation later and I even saw a concert of his with one of my kids (which is a culture clash exercise if there ever was one.) Winwood is one of rock's all-time greatest.