TRAFFIC were formed in Birmingham, UK in 1967 by Steve Winwood, Chris Wood, Jim Capaldi and Dave Mason. Winwood had previously found fame in the SPENCER DAVIS GROUP whose biggest hit single was "Keep on running". While Traffic's sound then was very much of its time, the emphasis on Winwood's keyboards and Wood's wind instruments set them apart from their guitar driven peers.
The band's first single "Paper Sun", gave them instant chart success, reaching No. 5 in the UK. The follow up, Mason's "Hole In My Shoe", is probably their best know single, being a mildly amusing piece of psychedelia. Winwood was reportedly unimpressed with the song's success though, feeling it misrepresented his vision for the band.
The first album, "Mr Fantasy" followed the same year, but before it had even been released, Mason had left. Winwood's position as the dominant member of the band was already well established, his (and also Wood and Capaldi's) jazz orientation appearing at odds with Mason's lighter melodic style. Mason quickly returned however for the recording of the band's second album "Traffic" in 1968, writing or co-writing many of the tracks including his often covered "Feelin' Alright". It appears the band realised at that time that without Mason they would struggle to write sufficient material to meet their contractual obligations.
Mason was subsequently ejected from the band in 1969, Winwood later announcing that the band had run its course. Island records released what appeared to be a posthumous album of b-sides, singles, studio outtakes and live recordings in the form of the appropriately named "Last Exit". Winwood though was still contracted to Island for 2 more albums, so the following year he started work on a solo album, calling in Wood and Capaldi to assist. The TRAFFIC name was quickly resurrected, and the album, "John Barleycorn Must Die", was released. For many, this is Traffic's best album. While the title is taken from a traditional folk song, the music is a wonderful blend of prog, jazz, rock, and folk.
Following that album's release, Rick Grech (ex-FAMILY) joined, to ease the pressure on the multi-instrumental Winwood. Various subsequent line up additions and changes took place, including another return by Mason. The live album "Welcome To The Canteen" (strangely not credited to TRAFFIC, but to the band members individually) offers a good summary of their work during this period.
Despite further line up changes, which paled into insignificance when Winwood contracted peritonitis, two further classic albums "The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys", and "Shootout At The Fantasy Factory" were released to great acclaim , the former going gold in the US (it failed even to chart in the UK however).
Another "final" album, the disappointing "When The Eagle Flies" appeared in 1974, and once again the band appeared finished. Sadly, Chris Wood died of liver disease in 1983. Both Capaldi and especially Winwood enjoyed success in their solo careers, before reuniting in 1994 to work under the TRAFFIC name again. These sessions resulted in the satisfying "Far From Home" album.
Traffic were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in March 2004. Five months later, Jim Capaldi was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Capaldi and Winwood planned to record and tour once again as Traffic in late 2004, but were forced to cancel when Capaldi began treatment for a gastric ulcer. In January 2005, Capaldi succumbed to stomach cancer, and died at the age of 60 in a London clinic. Sadly, this really was the end of the road for this fine band. : : : Bob McBeath