Steve Winwood is an English singer and songwriter who became a major star in the 1980s. His powerful and unique high tenor voice and his ability to play different instruments made him a very sought after musician, whether as a performer or a session musician. Throughout his illustrious career, Winwood has played many different genres of music, ranging from jazz and blues-rock to psychedelia and progressive rock.
Stephen Lawrence Winwood was born in Handsworth, Birmingham on the 12th of May, 1948. His earliest musical influences were swing and Dixieland Jazz, and he started playing the piano, drums, and acoustic guitar at a very young age. When he was eight, he played in the Ron Atkinson Band with his father and his brother Muff. When Winwood was attending the Great Barr School, he played the guitar and organ behind blues greats such as John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley, and others, who were touring the UK at that time. In the year 1963, he and Muff joined the Spencer Davis Group, and they worked with guitarist Spencer Davis to produce a number of classic R&B hits, such as “Gimme Some Lovin',” “I’m a Man” and “Keep On Running.”
In 1967, Winwood started a new band called the Traffic with Dave Mason, Chris Wood, and Jim Capaldi. He was the lead vocals, guitarist, and keyboardist of the group, while Mason handled the guitar, Capaldi played the drums, and Wood played a variety of instruments. The four of them retreated to a country cottage in Berkshire to develop their sound, which turned out to be a distinctive blend of pop, jazz, psychedelia, pop, and folk. Shortly after that, they released their first single “Paper Sun,” and this was followed by the launching of their first album Mr. Fantasy, which included hits such as “Heaven In Your Mind,” “Giving To You” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy.”
In 1968, Winwood and his band came up with a second album, Traffic, which featured a unique blend of psuchedelic rock and bebop jazz. The album climbed up to the ninth spot on the UK charts, and it included popular songs such as “Feelin’ Alright” and “Cryin’ To Be Heard.” Although the band was enjoying considerable success, there was internal struggle between Winwood and Mason because of differences in musical styles. Mason quit Traffic, and Windwood decided to break up the band.
The following year, Winwood joined Eric Clapton’s band, Blind Faith, but the partnership did not last long. He decided to work on a solo album, and he invited Wood and Capaldi to play back-up for him. In the end, John Barleycorn Must Die was released in 1970 as a Traffic album. This album is considered the most successful Traffic album ever, and it featured great songs such as “Freedom Rider,” “Empty Pages,” “Stranger to Himself” and “John Barleycorn.”
In 1971, new members were added to the band, and they were Ric Grech, Jim Gordon, and Rebop Kwaku Baah, who played bass, drums, and percussion respectively. The same year, a new Traffic album The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys was released, and it became a big hit in the UK as well as the US. Other Traffic albums that were released in the following years were Shoot Out the Fantasy Factory in 1973, and When the Eagle Flies in 1974. Some of the hit songs from these albums were “Shoot Out the Fantasy Factory,” “Evening Blue,” “Tragic Magic,” “Something New,” “Graveyard People,” “Walking In The Wind,” “Love” and “When Eagle the Eagle Flies.”
Traffic disbanded in 1974, and Winwood pursued a solo career. His debut album Steve Winwood was released in 1977, and this was followed by a number of albums, including the highly successful Arc of a Diver in 1980, Back In The High Life in 1986, and the 1988 Roll With It, which reached the number one spot on the US charts. The most popular songs of Winwood’s solo career are “Higher Love,” “Roll With It,” “The Finer Things,” “Valerie,” “While You See A Chance,” “Don’t’ You Know What The Night Can Do?,” “Holding On” and “One and Only Man.”
In 1994, Traffic came together again to produce a one-off album Far From Home, and they played together at Woodstock II as well.