Backtracks: Dave Mason – Let It Flow

Dave Mason got to play in Traffic on his way to this album, a record that should have made him an absolute star. It didn’t quite happen, but lots of people think that it definitely should have. He took the long way to get to his shot at mainstream fame, spending years honing his skills and talents, learning from and playing with some of the finest musicians in rock history. The songs and the album are packed with fantastic vocal harmonies and sparked with audio energy and passion. Mason’s skills and talents are mostly overlooked, so don’t let his undeserved invisibility in rock talk circles stop you from enjoying some of the very best pop slash rock music of the Seventies.

The music world first learned of Mason’s talents in the late ’60s when he fell in with Steve Winwood, drummer Jim Capaldi, and woodwind player Chris Wood to form Traffic. The foursome focused on a progressive rock foundation by developing an inspired mix of rock and roll blended with an imaginative fusion of jazz, blues, and R&B, finished off by a psychedelic and pop music twist.

Mason, however, longed for a simpler approach, and his take on the group’s output and the musical differences between him and Steve Winwood hastened Mason’s departure from the group following the release of Traffic’s debut, “Mr. Fantasy.” He rejoined the outfit later to contribute to the follow-up album “Traffic” and shortly thereafter got most of the world “Feelin’ Alright,” his song that later became a mega-hit for Joe Cocker. Grand Funk Railroad released the song in May 1971 and their version made the 54th slot on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Numerous other artists, from Three Dog Night to the Jackson Five and Widespread Panic, have recorded or covered Mason’s extremely groovy composition.

In 1969, Winwood got out of traffic and formed Blind Faith, which toured with Delany and Bonney, while Mason ended up in Los Angeles to begin work on his debut solo album. That was Alone Together, which hit the streets a year later. The project demonstrated his talents and established Mason as a star in his own right, his singles “Only You Know and I Know,” and “World in Changes” became regulars on FM radio.

Mason then put his solo career on pause in order to undertake some joyful and brief stints with Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominos, and Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. Around this time he also went back to jam in Traffic. Folks may not know that Dave Mason made uncredited contributions to some highly remarkable recordings, playing acoustic guitar on Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” and the Stone’s “Beggar’s Banquet” album, plus he also provided vocals on Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic” and, to top it off, lent his voice to the Beatles’ “Across the Universe.”

Released at the end of January 1977, Let It Flow was Mason’s biggest selling album during his stint with Columbia Records. Mason was joined on the album by an assortment of guest artists that included Stephen Stills and Yvonne Elliman on backing vocals, and sax legend Ernie Watts. The album spent nearly a year on the Billboard 200, lasting 49 weeks and ended up at spot 37 at its height. The single “We Just Disagree”, nearly missed Top Ten territory and made it to number 12 on U.S. Billboard charts. It was the album’s biggest major commercial success. Another pair of tracks – “So High (Rock Me Baby and Roll Me Away)” and “Let It Go, Let It Flow” – reached spots 89 and 45 respectively.

Over the course of his career, Mason has played and recorded with many of the legends of pop and rock, including Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Steve Winwood, George Harrison, David Crosby, Fleetwood Mac, Graham Nash, Delaney & Bonnie, and Cass Elliot. While with Traffic he wrote “Hole in My Shoe”, a psychedelic hit song that made a mark on playlists for awhile.

Dave Mason is one of the perennials of music. A highly talented songwriter, an almost unmistakable vocalist and a beyond masterful guitarist with a moving, melodic, bluesy style, Mason is that one-in-a-million artist whose workmanlike reputation and wealth of talent makes a career in pop music seem an inborn calling. Mason has built a dedicated and steadfast following via his solid musicianship and contagious work ethic. He learned first-hand at one recent concert.

“We were playing at the China Club in Aspen about two weeks ago,” Mason said in a phone interview last year, “and there were 20 or 30 people up front who kept bowing to me every time I did a guitar solo. It was pretty funny, and rather embarrassing, actually,” he observed, laughing at the recollection.

As we began our research for this article we uncovered an unusual fact: Dave Mason shares his birthday with both Donovan and 10cc co-founder Graham Gouldman. All three of these uber-talented musicians was born on May 10, 1946, and Mason was born just 90 miles away from Gouldman. What this means is unclear, but it struck us as a strange coincidence worth mentioning.

Dave has a website with the latest news, tour schedules, and lots of good music. His latest release, Traffic Jam, is from 2016 and available on his homepage.

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