The late Joe Cocker is no doubt grinning in heaven as former Traffic guitarist Dave Mason performs “Feelin’ Alright” with gusto during his “Traffic Jam World Tour.” Cocker’s 1972 version of Mason’s hit may be regarded as the definitive version, but Mason is content playing the song exactly how he wrote it for Traffic in 1968.
“I play “Feelin’ Alright” today the way I’ve always played it,” the rock ’n’ roll journeyman and philanthropist said. “Not necessarily Joe’s interpretation or anyone else’s.”
The Woodstock nation’s numbers are thinning, and this is a time of reflection for Mason, whose tour affords a multimedia presentation of Traffic cuts, solo hits such as “We Just Disagree,” rare photos and stories from the road.
For Mason, it’s a chance to revisit compositions and musical ideas that he doesn’t regard as “old,” but simply “good.” For fans, it is a chance to hear an often-covered musician in his own words.
Weekender recently caught up with Mason for an interview.
Weekender: What can you share about the multimedia aspect of these performances? From where did the idea come to share old photographs and anecdotes about your life and career?
Mason: I knew I wanted to revisit the older material and those particular times in my life, and I knew I wanted to incorporate some sort visual aspect. That portion of the show started small, and has just grown and grown. I guess you can call this thing a “musical travelogue.”
W: Your most recent release, “Future’s Past” (2014), showcases new arrangements of Traffic hits and solo material. In concert, does your quartet explore the musical spaces of these versions and push them even further into new territory?
M: I would say the structure of the songs don’t change, but everyone has enough room to jam. Going back to Traffic, there was lots improvising and extended solos. That’s always been an important part of the performance.
W: You shared in an interview with Elixir Strings that you can’t read or write music. What’s your approach to composing and playing?
M: Yep, I am entirely self-taught, and if a young person came to me with a guitar and said, “Teach me how to play this thing,” I wouldn’t know where to begin. For me, there’s no formula for it. It’s all about doing what you feel. The music has to come from somewhere before you put it on paper, anyway.
W: Your rhythm guitar accompaniment on Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “All Along The Watchtower” is widely recognized, but you’re also featured on another prominent FM radio staple — The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man.”
M: Yes. I am playing some percussion alongside Brian Jones and Charlie Watts, and also play the shehnai (a Mideastern reed instrument) in the song’s tag. Jimmy Miller was that song’s producer and Eddie Kramer was the studio engineer — both of those guys also worked with Traffic. And the Stones were friends, of course, so everyone knew everyone else. That’s how I wound up on the track.