Let’s start by harshing your buzz, get it outta the way, right outta the box: No, there’s no full-fledged Traffic reunion in the works. That's not what “Dave Mason's Traffic Jam” is all about. Not that Mason, a founding member (and one of two surviving members) of the iconic '60s band, would be against it. In fact, the guitarist, who has played with everybody from the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac to Hendrix and Delaney and Bonnie and Friends — the “Friends” at the time included Eric Clapton — and has had a strong solo career, has been pushing for a reunion for years. “For me, personally, I think it would be great. I think a lot of people would love to see it, but I don’t think it will ever happen.”
Ever? What's the problem?
“As I tell everyone who asks me, “ he says, “you’re asking the wrong guy.” The “right” guy, of course, is fellow founder Steve Winwood — and he's not talking.
Traffic Jam, which pulls into the Blue Ocean Music Hall on Jan. 18, has Mason ripping through the Northeast during a particularly bone-chilling winter. “How smart am I,” he says, laughing, during a telephone interview from his cozy Cali home. The show is a Winwood-less celebration of the band, of the early sound, featuring hits and deep album cuts from 1967’s “Mr. Fantasy” and 1968’s “Traffic” albums, plus new material and classic Mason music.
The first half will be the Traffic retrospective, the second half highlighting songs from Mason's solo career – with a couple new tunes thrown in. Expect “Medicated Goo” and “Heaven is on Your Mind.” Expect “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” a classic track, a signature Traffic track from the band's fifth album, more than four decades ago. It dropped after Mason had left the band, but “there's always someone shouting for it at my shows anyhow, so I decided to do it,” he says. But don't expect it to sound like the original. He’s turned it into a slow blues,” a treatment that came from his 1999 “40,000 Headmen Tour” with former Traffic bandmate Jim Capaldi , who died seven years ago. Expect “Sad and Deep.” Expect “World in Changes,” but with a reggae feel. And don't freak out if you hear a cover of the classic Robert Johnson blues, “Come on in my Kitchen.”
And in the second half, the Mason set, or, if you will “alone together” set, expect “Feelin’ Alright,” which, of course, was on the first Traffic album, but which “I don’t even consider a Traffic song, per se,” he says. “It’s stood the test of time. I don’t regard it as anyone’s song, any more.” Which makes sense, seeing how it has been covered by some 48 musicians, including, most famously, Joe Cocker, whose version of the Mason original “is probably definitive,” according to Mason.
Many of the new approaches came during rehearsal riffing, the guitarist coming up with something new and thinking, “this is kind of cool, like a new song,” he says. “Purists out there may disagree.”
Speaking of which, expect “We Just Disagree” and “Let It Go, Let It Flow.”
Mason's been thinking about doing something like Traffic Jam for six years and decided to give it a shot last year. He did an unannounced tryout last month in California: Just three shows, the audience expecting a regular Mason show and getting something more than that. “They were the guinea pigs,” he says.
“ It’s fun to play them … after a departure of many years, rekindling, revisiting, songs from when I was 18, 19 years old. It was kind of time to break it up and explore these songs that nobody else is really playing anymore. It’s part of my past. Now it’s all come together, we’re out there, doing it. We’ll see how it goes.”
Mason is also releasing a new EP called “Future’s Past,” featuring new versions of classic stuff plus new stuff he’s done over the past few years. The EP will be available online and at live shows. Um, but it probably won’t be ready for the Salisbury show — or even the first leg of the tour. “It’s not a good time to get anyone to do anything for the first couple of weeks in January,” he says.
It's his first album in a while. Most of his latest releases, in fact, have been live shows and collections. There's a reason for that — the same one that's been haunting musicians for years. “There’s no radio, no national radio format for an artist” to support an album, only the venue, the show. “It’s nigh on impossible to expose new music to a new audience,” he says. “The only way is on the road.” Which, after, say, 40 years, gets a bit old. “I love playing,” he says, “but touring? Eh, it’s touchy. It’s hard. It’s very draining physically and emotionally. A different city every day, 120 before the tour’s over.”
And, as for Winwood, “he would be more than welcome to join us for ‘Traffic Jam,” Mason says.
But don't hold your breath.
JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Dave Mason’s “Traffic Jam” pulls into the Blue Ocean Music Hall at 8 p.m. Jan. 18. Tickets are $30-45. The club is located at 4 Oceanfront North, Salisbury.