Saturday, February 26, 2011

Traffic: The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys

Saturdays are reserved for songs that as singles did not chart on Billboard’s top 40 portion of the Hot 100 or were album cuts that received airplay, but did not have a corresponding single release. For today, it is the latter category. Our feature songs comes from Traffic, a group I was introduced to me by Jim Roach of WDVE in Pittsburgh, as he featured three hours of one artist every Saturday night.

Today’s cut was from one of the two odd shaped albums by the group that had the bottom left and top right corners chopped off to give the illusion that the album was a cube. It is the title cut from the first of these successive cubic LPs named “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.” The unusual title was the creation of American actor Michael Pollard.

Jim Capaldi and Pollard had been vacationing in Morocco had been discussing fantastic movie plots and at some time before they left the country, Pollard had taken one of Capaldi’s books and scrawled the words – and thus the beginning of the song co-written by Capaldi and Steve Winwood had its genesis.

The song is a unique arrangement between Dm in the verse and D in the chorus. Recorded by band in a jam style, it is the longest cut on the album running eleven and half minutes and starts and ends with a fade. It was the first album to be released after the third departure of Dave Mason from the band. Do we sense a little passive-aggressive behavior with Mr. Mason?

Any who, Traffic’s line up had greatly increased with the release of their previous album “Welcome to the Canteen.” Its three principle members of Winwood (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Capaldi (vocals & percussion), and Chris Wood (woodwinds) had been joined by a number of others. Ric Grech, who played with Winwood in Blind Faith, relieved Winwood from bass duties. Grech is also featured on violin.

In addition, Capaldi was brought into a more prominent position out from behind the drum kit and he focused on percussion and vocals, while Gordon who had been with Delaney and Bonnie with Dave Mason took over the drums. Ghanaian percussionist Reebop Kwaku Baah added a level of sophistication to already sophisticated band. It just clicks.

This song has a little bit of everything – the primary piano motif that is joined by growling tenor and baritone saxes by Chris Wood, congas, vibraslap, handclaps, an alto flute, and probably more that I missed. I think this tune was what introduced me to music that was on the fringe of jazz and led me to expand my music horizons into that genre. As I listen to this song that was recorded forty years ago, it sounds as fresh today as it did then.

I haven’t seen anything official about the keyboard solo, so I’ll add my two cents into what I believe it is. Some have considered it a Ondioline – but it’s a polyphonic instrument. Others said it was a Farfisa organ; however, I believe that it was Hammond B-3 organ in overdrive and run through a Lesile and perhaps a fuzz tone or octave guitar effect.

I got on Steve Winwood’s web site and was going to ask the question on his forum; however, it requires a subscription at the cost of $49.95. I think I’ll be satisfied with guessing at this point. Ultimately, the answer is still up in the air.

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