Classic tunes stand test of time
I have loved Dave Mason’s music since I heard Traffic for the first time as a teenager. His solo debut, 1970’s “Alone Together,” is one of the great rock albums of all time. It was a thrill to talk with him in 2017 before he played the 20th Century, but he wasn’t chatty. He preferred to let the music speak for him, and when it comes down to it, there’s nothing wrong with that. He plays Memorial Hall March 4.
Here’s a quick pop (music) quiz: Name the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member who played on Jimi Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland,” the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet,” George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” and the original sessions for Derek & the Dominos’ “Layla.”
Hint: He was on stage during Blind Faith’s American tour in 1969. And it’s not Steve Winwood or Eric Clapton.
This witness to, and participant in, rock ’n’ roll history is Dave Mason. The Englishman is also a founding member of Traffic (with Winwood) and recorded a beloved solo album, “Alone Together,” in 1970 during a hiatus from that group. He visits the 20th Century in Oakley Tuesday on the “Along Together Again” tour that celebrates the classic record.
Mason’s proximity to Blind Faith came as a guitar slinger with Delaney & Bonnie, the American blues, rock and soul review fronted by Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett that opened for the supergroup’s 1969 tour. Leon Russell was the music director and then used the template a year later with Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen. When Mason went into the studio to record “Alone Together,” many of musicians were veterans of one or both of those bands.
“I knew some of the people like Leon and Bonnie because I played with Delaney & Bonnie,” Mason says. “(Drummers) Jim Gordon and Jim Keltner would sometimes play with Delaney & Bonnie, and they were the top session guys in (Los Angeles).
“Many of those people wound up being in Derek & the Dominos (Clapton, Gordon, keyboard player Bobby Whitlock and bass player Carl Radle). I was originally part of that, we actually did some recording. But the unfortunate thing, which is no secret, that was the period when Eric started getting into heroin. There wasn’t a lot getting done, so I said, ‘You know what guys, I’m going to beg out of this and go back to the U.S.’ ”
If Mason had stuck it out, he would have been on three crucial albums of 1970. Delaney & Bonnie’s “On Tour” came out in March, “Alone Together” was released in June and “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” arrived in November with Duane Allman stepping in on guitar.
Mason is proud of the résumé, but doesn’t dwell on those early accomplishments, which include writing “Feelin’ Alright,” a hit for Traffic that blew up when Cocker covered it. He has no regrets that the spotlight didn’t stay focused on him.
“I never set out to be a star,” he says. “I just wanted to make music and have a good time and make some money. That was basically it for me.”
At age 70, Mason is still making music, hopefully having a good time playing about 100 shows a year and drawing a paycheck. But it is gratifying when one of your peers puts a compliment in the tip jar.
“We did a show with John Fogerty a year or so ago, and he said, ‘Man, you know that lick you played in ‘Only You Know and I Know?’ I worked on that forever.’ It’s nice to hear things like that.”
Fogerty speaks for millions of fans who have spent time “Alone Together” for more than 45 years.