Traffic came along during a time when music was in full blown revolution. Those of us who remembered The Spencer Davis Group wondered what this new group would sound like. We got glimpses and snatches. Paper Sun will always remind me of the first time I heard Traffic. Seeing them live in concert some weeks after having my senses blown to bits by Soft Machine and Jimi Hendrix earlier left me open minded enough to greet Traffic with open arms. They were perfect – they were new and interesting and Stevie Winwood (dropping the “Little”) was a breath of fresh air. And even though The Spencer Davis Group were one of the really great blues-based bands to come out of the UK during the British Invasion period, this new incarnation in the career of Steve Winwood was an altogether different experience.
Traffic were tight – they were an excellent performing ensemble. And even though the lineups changed over the years, it was this initial formation of the band which set the precedent for the other lineups to follow. Even after Dave Mason left to pursue a solo career and even though Traffic disbanded relatively early on (in 1969) – the subsequent re-formations were still focused on tight ensemble playing and elegantly crafted songs.
This performance – a session done for John Peel on October 1, 1967, catches them during their formative stage. They had only been together since April of that year (shortly after Winwood left Spencer Davis), and already had three hit singles on the charts. Paper Sun had been released, followed by Hole In My Shoe and this psychedelic mashup of Jazz/Rock/World and Pop with the natural Soul-tinged voice of Steve Winwood proved a magic combination. And this was the combination which made them the superstars they became.
Over the years, the sound of Traffic has gotten more complex as different members joined and brought in their take on things, and it may be hard to imagine what hearing them for the first time, in this configuration must’ve been like in 1967. Hot on the heels of so many genres and sounds sweeping over us at the time. But try and separate Traffic for the next twelve or so minutes and pretend you never heard them before.
It might help explain some of the magic of those moments.