And Mason, whose signature tune “Feelin’ Alright?” has been covered by nearly 50 other singers, shows no signs of slowing down; at age 63, he still averages 120 shows a year and the motivation remains the same as ever: “I love playing,” he said in a recent telephone conversation. “And I have a band that I really try to keep together—learning my set takes a little while, so I prefer not to swap or change people. They’re great guys, I have a great time playing, and the bottom line is they need to work.”
Mason’s current album 26 Letters – 12 Notes is his first in almost 20 years, and it’s a solid demonstration of the prolific player’s unflagging skill.
“Nobody’s really tripping over themselves for a new Dave Mason album,” he says. “So I just kept touring, and I started making the new one, basically, just to amuse myself.”
That dryly pragmatic attitude is characteristic; Mason readily admits that, as a kid, the big beat was not his first career choice. Born May 10, 1946 in Worcester, England, he yearned to conquer the wild blue yonder.
“My whole dream was go into the Royal Air Force,” he says. “But since I was never that good at math, I realized that I’d never have passed the entrance exam. I got into guitar at 14, 15, so it became a thing where I saw other bands and thought ‘I could do that.’”
His first move was joining a local instrumental combo called the Jaguars. “Early on, we were doing whatever was current at the time, [we were] just a local band learning Shadows, Ventures tunes, whatever was a hit record.”
He soon joined forces with another Worcester lad, drummer-vocalist Jim Capaldi, forming what turned out to be a significant alliance. “We moved on to other stuff [such] as the Hellions and actually got a deal with Pye Records. We did a single and the B-side, “Shades of Blue,” was the first thing Jim and I ever wrote. Nothing really happened with the record, it never really took off, but it was produced by [cult ’60s/’70s music producer] Kim Fowley—that was a trip.”
After another short-lived outfit, Deep Feeling, evaporated, they met keyboardist Steve Winwood and fate intervened.
“We were all up in the Midlands, running into each other, hanging out, and that just sort of drifted into becoming Traffic, and after Traffic started, it really took off.” he recalled. “We didn’t stay in London, we all moved out to a cottage in the country, locked away to come up with some new stuff, like [The Band’s debut album] Music from Big Pink, and it worked out pretty well.”
That’s more than a bit of an understatement, as Traffic still rates as one of Britain’s most creative and influential bands; it also provided Mason with a reputation that afforded some memorable partnerships.
“I was lucky enough to bump into Jimi Hendrix in various little places in London—it was a small community of clubs and we had a mutual admiration thing . . . We hung out enough that I was able to play with him on Electric Ladyland. I sang on “Crosstown Traffic” and that’s me playing acoustic guitar on “All Along the Watchtower.”
Mason has several volumes worth of similarly impressive reminiscences, extraordinary events that seemed routine. “At that age, 18, 19, you think there isn’t anything you can’t do and it’s never going to end.” he says. “You’re not even really aware of it as you go through it. But it was an E ticket ride and lot of fun—it’s been a lot of fun. At least I have the memories—most not suitable for publication.”
Dave Mason at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, Fri. June 12, 8PM, 49500 Seminole Dr., Cabazon. (800) 252-4499. www.morongocasinoresort.com, www.dave-mason.com. $25.