Steve Winwood, singer and keyboardist, met drummer Jim Capaldi and Guitarist Dave Mason in the late 60’s, having already cut his teeth as the frontman in the Spencer Davis Group at the tender age of 15. After recruiting the multi-talented Chris Wood, the group, now called Traffic, began work on their first album in 1967. Influenced heavily by emerging sounds of the time, the band experimented with psychedelic rock sounds, writing songs collaboratively from a rented cottage in Berkshire, England. The result of their early work produced three singles, “Hole in my Shoe,” “Paper Sun,” and “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush,” which was used for the soundtrack of a British film produced that year. Following the success of their first singles, Traffic released their first album, Mr. Fantasy, in 1967, and while not as successful in the US (although still charting at 88 for over 20 weeks), they found instant popularity in the UK.
Traffic’s second album, the self-titled Traffic, was released a year later in 1968. Dave Mason, however, was beginning to struggle creatively with the band, and had already left (and returned) once before the release of Traffic. This album contained the original composition of Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright,” which found success after being covered by over 15 different artists since its original release. Supported by tours in the US, Traffic began to find true international fame, which ushered in the release of their third album, Last Exit, in 1969. The release of this album, however, marked several turning points for the band. Dave Mason, again quarrelling with the group, left Traffic, and the remaining members decided to take their music in a new direction.
With the departure of Dave Mason, Traffic decided to move away from their original psychedelic rock sound, and toward one with heavier blues and folk influences. Before a fourth album could be recorded, however, the band split and formed new projects. Both bands petered out in less than a year, and Traffic rejoined and released their fourth album, John Barleycorn Must Die, in 1970. 1971 brought a new lineup to Traffic, which expanded to include bassist Ric Grech, drummer Jim Gordon, and percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah. With this new lineup, the 1971 release of The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys brought immense success, achieving platinum certification. Oddly, the album never charted in the UK.
Following American tours, lineup changes, and extensive illnesses, Traffic finally released their sixth album, Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory, in 1973, which reached #6 on the Billboard charts, and reached Gold certification. In 1974 the band released When the Eagle Flies. It charted at #9, but with its release came the end of Traffic. Despite the release of two compilation albums, the band remained separated for twenty years. Chris Wood died due from alcohol-related causes in 1983, and Traffic remained quiet for another decade. It wasn’t until they were invited to travel with the Grateful Dead in 1994 that Capaldi and Winwood reunited. Having recorded new material during this time, the release of Traffic’s final studio album, Far From Home, was finally presented to fans in 1994.
Traffic continued to weave in and out of the spotlight following the release of Far from Home. 2004 saw them inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the group began to consider another album. Unfortunately, the plans never came to fruition, as Jim Capaldi died of stomach cancer in January 2005. A celebration of Capaldi’s life, called “Dear Mr Fantasy” was held two years later, featuring Capaldi’s music and a star-studded guest list, which sought to raise money for Jubilee Action’s “Street Children’s Appeal.” Steve Winwood has continued to write music and perform with his group, The Steve Winwood Band, and performed with Eric Clapton as recently as 2007. With fundraisers, new bands, and multiple song covers, it has been clearly demonstrated that while Traffic may be gone, their music is not forgotten, and continues to inspire new music today.