Dave Mason shares thoughts on touring, Traffic, and the joys of 'Feelin' Alright'
If You Go
What: Dave Mason & Steve Cropper Rock & Soul Revue
When: 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 28 (doors open 7 p.m.)
Where: Revolution Hall, 1300 S.E. Stark St., Portland
Two guitar playing rock 'n roll legends will join forces when the Dave Mason & Steve Cropper Rock & Soul Revue takes over Revolution Hall, 1300 S.E. Stark St., at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28,
Backed by a full band, Mason, who with Steve Winwood founded Traffic, the beloved 1960s and early '70s British progressive band, and transitioned to a successful solo career, will perform with Cropper, a former member of legendary R&B group Booker T. & the MGs as well as The Blues Brothers. His signature spare guitar graced countless classics by legends like Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett, with whom he wrote classics like "Dock of the Bay" and "Knock on Wood" and "In the Midnight Hour."
Mason, 73, who was inducted with Traffic into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, is known for hits like "We Just Disagree," "Only You Know and I Know," "Let It Go, Let It Flow," and "Feelin' Alright," which Joe Cocker turned into a standard covered by dozens of artists. He also has performed and recorded with artists like the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Cass Elliott.
The Tribune spoke with Mason as he drove from his longtime home in Reno, Nev., on the way to opening tour dates in Oregon that were canceled earlier this year due to illness. Here is some of what he had to say:
Portland Tribune: Hi Dave! How are you? Are you calling from Reno?
Dave Mason: Good, thank you. Yes. We're just driving to Portland, actually, on the way to (Eugene).
Tribune: I'm glad to see you and Steve were able to reschedule the spring show here in Portland.
Mason: We're just starting it. We got to put it back together, so it's good.
Tribune: How did you guys get together for this? How long have you known Steve Cropper?
Mason: It's funny, because we're not close friends. We've known each other on and off at different times. We thought it would sort of be fun to put something together if we brought forth all the stuff he's been involved with what I've done and put something together and play some of those really cool (R&B) songs.
Tribune: How do your playing and song styles complement each other?
Mason: We're both very different … He's a very unique style. I'm more of a sort of backup, complementary style to his songs. He's very unique and very identifiable. The way we more or less deal with the songs, is he sits in (on guitar) on my songs and I sing on a couple of his. The way it works together it's very cool. My keyboardist sings "Knock on Wood," and "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," and on (Blind Faith/Traffic classic) "Can't Find My way Home," my other guitar player sings. Steve and I get to noodle around on guitar with it.
Tribune: How well did Steve Cropper know your material?
Mason: He didn't, actually. He came to a show of mine in Nashville. He was like, 'Wow, I didn't realize you did all that.' He wasn't really aware of everything.
Mason: There are some things in there I don't think people expect. Otherwise, we keep it (recognizable), for the most part. Songs people recognize from myself, things Steve was the writer on or played on. And there's stuff on there that's not our songs. It's just fun to break it up.
Tribune: Do you still like to do long tours?
Mason: Last year was pretty long, but not a lot. We took time off. My last big tour was probably the Journey/Doobie Brothers tour, three or four years ago.
Tribune: Are you surprised by the diversity and age range in your audiences:
Mason: Oh sure, for the most part. Sometimes we get a few really younger, 16-17-18-year olds who actually want to hear some real music.
Tribune: How do you look back on the Traffic days, the band and your contributions?
Mason: It was great. I wrote pretty much half of the first two albums. While that lasted, it was great.
Tribune: Why was your particpation with them so sporadic?
Mason: Basically the other three didn't really like what I did, so there was not much option but to leave.
Mason: It's more like he doesn't get in touch with me (chuckles). Yeah, it's too bad.
Tribune: I thought the two of you complemented each other's songs and styles quite well.
Mason: Yes, I thought so too.
Tribune: I would think "Feelin' Alright," "Only You Know and I Know" and "Let it Go, Let It Flow" are among your most covered songs?
Mason: Feelin' Alright, certainly that is. Fifty-plus major artists do it. Bands still play it.
Tribune: Is Joe Cocker's your second-favorite version (aside from Traffic's)?
Mason: It's my favorite version. I do it uptempo, and use that piano lick (from the Cocker version).
Mason: No, I didn't know Joe was recording it (at the time).
Tribune: Do you like to dig up deep cuts when you play?
Mason: I tend to stick to, for live shows, things that give me more opportunity to stretch out on electric guitar rather than "song" songs. It keeps it fun for me live — it keeps it fresh. I rarely play the same thing twice. I tend to stick to that sort of thing.
We have some versions of "Dear. Mr Fantasy," and (Traffic's) "Low Spark" (of High-Heeled Boys) that I do. We turn "Low Spark" into more of a blues song. I've adapted it for me. It keeps it more fun and more spontaneous live for me, rather than just singing road songs. That gets boring for me.
Tribune: What are your favorite of your solo albums? I love "Alone Together" and "Let It Flow," in particular.
Mason: I like all the albums I've done. Otherwise I wouldn't have done them. Whether they became the success they could have is not really the measure. I made them because I wanted and needed to. Otherwise, I wouldn't have.
Tribune: How's the band you have now?
Mason: The guitarist Johnne Sambataro I've played on and off with for maybe 40 years. The drummer (Alvino Bennett) I've been touring with about 16-17 years, and Tony Patler on keyboard and bass, probably 11 or 12 years. It's just my band.
Tribune: Do you have any recording plans?
Mason: No. Recording, I hate to say it, is something of an exercise in futility at this point. (Streaming has) decimated it. In any other business (than music), it would be the death of the business or something. And it's not just that. There's no radio anymore, no one playing anything. Terrestrial radio is still very powerful medium, but there's nobody (knowledgably curating and playing records).
They just don't want to pay anybody … The problem, is you get 5,000 plays for an artist on Pandora, the check's equivalent to selling a T shirt.
We're selling CDs at concerts, basically.
Tribune: Do you foresee retirement anytime soon?
Mason: Not really. I don't know what I'd do anyway. As long as I can sit and play and people want to come see, I'lll keep doing it.
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It costs just a few cents a day.)