Saturday, July 3, 2010

Traffic: John Barleycorn Must Die (LP)

Back in 1968, Dave Mason left Traffic after the second of his three stints with the band. While he appears on seven of the cuts on the “Traffic” LP, he never finished out the album. This was reminiscent of his actions with the first LP. Traffic officially disbanded and leader Steve Winwood went to join Blind Faith with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker from Cream and Ric Grech from Family.

With the absence of a band and new material, Island Records compiled some studio and live recordings for the issue of 1969’s “Last Exit” LP; the album was released in the US under the United Artist label under a different cover. After the break-up of Blind Faith, Stevie Winwood began working on a solo album. Desiring to record with those of like musical tastes, Winwood invited percussionist Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood or woodwinds to join him in yet another incarnation of Traffic.

The result was the most popular Traffic LP – “John Barleycorn Must Die.” While the title cut is a traditional tune that we had previously featured as a Traditional Tuesday song, the remainder of the album is influenced by jazz and blues. For my feature today, I am going to concentrate on Side 1 of the album and discuss the virtues of these three songs. At the end, I’ll provide a link to a YouTube playlist of the entire LP.


I had many of the cuts from this LP before actually purchasing the album as WDVE’s Jim Roach used to play three hours of one artist, and one Sunday night he played Traffic. I remember sitting down at my mother’s piano and attempting to learn the piano parts to this classic jazz influenced instrumental that is appropriately titled “Glad.”

The song features no guitars and some of the leads that are guitar like are from Chris Wood’s electric saxophone through a wah-wah pedal. Wood also plays percussion, flute and I believe baritone and alto saxes.

Steve Winwood adds a Hammond organ to his piano and percussion, while Jim Capaldi hands down the backbeat and percussion. Since the percussive instruments are not identified, it is impossible to tell who is playing what; however, someone (probably Capaldi) is playing the congas.

Freedom Rider

This fourth Traffic LP is unique in that it only contains six cuts – three to a side because of their individual length. The credits for “Freedom Rider” is the same as the previous cut; however, Winwood sings. Chris Wood appears to be playing at times an alto and tenor saxes played in the lower registers and has a fantastic flute solo in the middle of the song that reminds me of Hubert Laws’ playing.

Empty Pages

Less jazz influenced as were the two previous tunes, it marks the first use of electric bass on the LP – played by multi-instrumentalist Steve Winwood. His electric piano solo (either an RMI or a Hohner) is reminiscent of runs heard by Brian Auger and his Oblivion Express. Both Winwood and Wood are playing Hammond organs. Calpaldi handles all of percussive duties on this recording.

The Entire LP

On side 2, Steve Winwood plays guitar on “Stranger to Himself” and “John Barleycorn Must Die.”

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