Monday, February 25, 2008

Back In The High Life...again

I have always felt bad for Steve Winwood. This guy may be a genius but no one knows it. He is one of the most famous organ players in rock history and is a pretty solid guitarist as well.

Before he was 20 years old, he co-wrote one of the greatest songs of the 1960s Gimme Some Lovin'. But a combination of bad luck, bad choices and bad music has made Winwood an afterthought in the industry.

When he was 16 years old, he joined the band The Spencer Davis Group with his brother Muff. Together, they were part of that band for two albums Gimme Some Lovin and I'm A Man (U.S. titles).

Here is a rough sounding Winwood in 1966 singing Gimme Some Lovin. The song really needs some back up singers...but wow, the power of Winwood's organ playing really drives this song.

After leaving the Spencer Davis Group, he became involved with the band Traffic. Although they had some hits in the UK with Dear Mr. Fantasy and Paper Sun...they did not have the cross over success in the United States that his first band had. I am not a huge fan of this stuff as it seems to mix the art rock sound that became more in vogue with Yes, Genesis and The Moody Blues along with the blues sound of Spencer Davis and a hint of acid jazz.

As Traffic plugged along, he also joined the first known supergroup Blind Faith with the guitarist and drummer from Cream, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. Together they recorded a six song album entitled Blind Faith. It reached #1 in both the UK and North America and a tour soon followed. The tour was shortlived and no further albums were ever made by the trio. A sad fact as this still remains the best Steve Winwood material I have ever heard. Backed by Clapton's stellar guitar work and Baker's manic drumming...the six songs still sound as fresh today as they did in 1969.

Top 5 Steve Winwood songs
1. Gimme Some Lovin' (with The Spencer Davis Group)
2. Can't Find My Way Home (with Blind Faith)
3. Every Little Bit Hurts (with The Spencer Davis Group)
4. The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys (with Traffic)
5. Roll With It

It's Winwood's solo career that really seems to go astray and go against the music he made in the 60s and early 70s. His first official solo album was self titled and released in 1977. It did not garner one single hit song.

Three years later came Arc Of A Diver. It featured the over produced hit single When You See A Chance. It did reach the top 10...but it was more pop sounding than anything Winwood had done before.

His next solo album, Talking Back To The Night featured the hit song Valerie...even more overproduced and glossy than his previous hit.

Trying for a bigger sound, 1986 had him release Back In The High Life with had the multi grammy winning single Higher Love along with other hits Back In The High Life, The Finer Things and Freedom Overspill. Two years later, he had another hit with the song Roll With personal fave of his solo career along with the hits Don't You Know What The Night Can Do and Holding On. The album had more organ work than his previous three and reached #1.

Albums followed into the 90s such as Refugees Of The Heart, Junction Seven and About Time were released but did not reach any of the success he had in the 80s.

Why am I talking about Steve Winwood? I was checking out his website today and noticed he has a new album coming out called Nine Lives and the lead single Dirty City is being streamed on the website. It features Clapton on guitar. It is more than 7 mins long so it has no chance of being a hit...but it is the best thing I have heard him do since the break up of Blind Faith.

What am I saying with this lengthy post? Steve Winwood was a musical prodigy. He wrote a gigantic hit song before he was finished puberty. I would hate to think his life peeked before his 21st birthday. In an industry that revels in mediocrity...Steve Winwood deserves more...and frankly, so do we.


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