In early 1967, with The Spencer Davis Group still basking in the glow of three Top Ten albums and four Top Ten singles in the UK, as well as two of those singles, "Gimme Some Lovin" and "I'm A Man" also reaching the Top Ten in the US, the band's vocalist and keyboard player, 18 year old Steve Winwood, decided he'd had his fill of the Pop / R&B sound and quit the group. Before leaving, he had already started jamming with a band called Deep Feeling, led by drummer Jim Capaldi. Other musicians, including saxophone and flute player Chris Wood and Spencer Davis Group roadie / guitarist Dave Mason would also join in.
Calling their ensemble Traffic, the four of them took to the solitude of a cottage in the Berkshire section of England to rehearse and write. Before long, they emerged with a repertoire of Jazz, Folk and R&B and headed to Olympic Studios in London to record their first album, "Mr. Fantasy" for Island Records. Even before the LP was complete, Island released the single "Paper Sun", which reached #5 on the UK charts. On the heels of this success, a second single, a catchy Pop song written by Dave Mason called "Hole In My Shoe", a was quickly issued against the wishes of the rest of the band. "It was a so silly and poppy and commercial", Capaldi told Chris Welch, author of Winwood's biography, Roll with It. "It had nothing to do with Traffic at all.... Me, Chris and Steve stuck together as a nucleus and the song caused a big rift within the band. We never played it live, ever." Winwood echoed Capaldi's sentiments about the song telling Welch, "It didn't really represent us at all, although in England it's what we're known for." The song hit the UK charts in September and climbed to #2. By December, the album was finally released as well as a third single from it called "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush", the title song from a motion picture, which became their third British Top Ten hit.
In January of 1968, still stinging from the criticism over "Hole In My Shoe", guitarist Dave Mason quit the group. A fourth single from the debut album, "No Face, No Name, No Number", made the British Top 40 in March, just as Traffic debuted as a trio in the US, where "Mr. Fantasy" had cracked the Top 100 of the Billboard album chart. By May, the band found itself in New York where Winwood and Wood were enlisted to help out on Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" from his "Electric Ladyland" LP. It was here that Dave Mason caught up with them and stayed on for the rest of the tour as well as contributing heavily to the band's second album, "Traffic", writing half of the songs, including "Feelin' Alright?" which went on to become a Rock standard, particularly after being covered by Three Dog Night and Joe Cocker.
The "Traffic" LP was released in October, 1968, but just as the band started a US tour to promote it, Winwood, Capaldi and Wood fired Dave Mason, essentially for the same reasons as the first falling out. At the conclusion of the tour, with the album reaching the UK Top 10 and the US Top 20, Steve Winwood announced that the band would split up as of the beginning of 1969. In April of that year, Island Records released "Last Exit", a collection of non-LP singles, outtakes and live recordings. It became another Top 20 success in America. In October, the record company milked one last album out of the band, "Best of Traffic".
Almost immediately, Winwood started jamming with Eric Clapton, who had just split with his band Cream, and found that they worked so well together, they added former Cream drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Rich Grech, formerly of the Progressive Rock group Family to form Blind Faith. The first of what was to become known as a "supergroup", Blind Faith quickly recorded a self-titled LP that sold well, mostly on the past reputations of its members. A US tour proved disappointing, as crowds seemed more anxious to hear old Cream and Traffic songs than any new collaborations. Without a clear identity of their own, Blind Faith disbanded after the tour. Winwood and Baker stayed together to form Ginger Bakers Airforce, but they also failed to win a following. Meanwhile, Capaldi and Wood rejoined Mason along with keyboardist Wynder K. Frog in the short-lived band Wooden Frog, which never recorded.
Still owing his record company two albums, Winwood began work on a solo LP that was to be called "Mad Shadows" in early 1970, but quickly brought in Capaldi and Wood to help out. The effort turned into a Traffic LP called "John Barleycorn Must Die", which was released in June. In the US, it became a gold-selling Top 10 hit, while in the UK it reached the Top 20. In anticipation of an extensive tour, Traffic needed a bass player for 'live' performances and added Rick Grech to expand the trio into a quartet again.
In the spring of 1971, former Derek and The Dominos drummer Jim Gordon was brought in, as was percussionist Reebop Kwaku Baah. Also joining for a handful of UK dates was Dave Mason, who had in the meantime become a solo star with his 1970 album "Alone Together". This line-up produced a 'live' album called "Welcome To The Canteen", released in September. Re-signing to Island Records, Traffic quickly followed with a studio effort entitled "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys", which although failed to chart in the UK, sold a million copies and reached the Billboard Top 10 in the US.
A tour slated for the Winter of '71 / '72 was cut short when Winwood was diagnosed with peritonitis, an inflammation of the membrane lining the abdominal cavity. Rick Grech and Jim Gordon left the band while Jim Capaldi recorded his debut solo album, "Oh How We Danced", which cracked the Hot 100 in the US. In the Autumn of 1972, Winwood had recovered to the point that Traffic was able to record a new album, enlisting the help of drummer Roger Hawkins and bassist David Hood, who were founders and staff musicians at the famed Muscle Shoals recording studio. "Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory", released in January 1973, reached the Billboard Top 10 and was awarded a Gold record. The world tour that promoted it was chronicled on a live album called "Traffic - on the Road", which included keyboardist Barry Beckett, another Muscle Shoals alumnus, and was released in October 1973.
At the end of the tour, the Muscle Shoals musicians returned home and Kwaku Baah also left the band, which then recruited bassist Rosko Gee. Capaldi released a second solo album, "Whale Meat Again" in the summer of 1974. A single from the LP called "It's All up to You" reached the UK. Top 40. With Traffic, he recorded a new album, "When the Eagle Flies", released in September '74. It was the band's fourth consecutive studio album to reach the American Top 10 and earn a Gold record. The group hit the road in support of it, but at the conclusion of the tour, Traffic disbanded with little fanfare.
With an already established solo career, Jim Capaldi scored a Top Five hit in the UK in 1975 with a cover of "Love Hurts" from his third album, "Short Cut Draw Blood". The single charted in the US, but was over shadowed by a competing version by Nazareth, which reached #8 in early 1976. Dave Mason enjoyed his own success when "We Just Disagree" reached #12 on the Billboard singles chart in the Autumn of 1977.
Along with former Santana drummer Michael Shrieve, Steve Winwood participated prominently in Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamashta's concept album "Go", which made the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976. In 1977, he finally launched his solo career, releasing the modestly successful album "Steve Winwood". Three-and-a-half years of silence ensued, until the 1980 release of "Arc of a Diver", which reached the American Top 5 and went platinum on the strength of the single "While You See a Chance", which reached #7. 1982's "Talking Back to the Night" proved to be a commercial disappointment, but Winwood enjoyed the greatest success of his career with 1986's "Back in the High Life", a multi-million seller that threw off four Top 20 singles, the chart-topping "Higher Love" in 1986, "Freedom Overspill" (#20 in 1986), "The Finer Things (#8 in 1987) and the album's title track (#13 in 1987).
In 1987, "Valerie," a remixed version of a song from "Talking Back to the Night", reached Billboard's #9 spot . 1988's single "Roll With It" topped the Billboard Hot 100 and was another multi-platinum seller for Winwood, as was the album it came from. The same year, "Don't You Know What The Night Can Do" reached #6 and "Holding On" went to #11. 1990's LP "Refugees of the Heart" however, failed to match the success of earlier efforts, spawning just one Top 20 hit, "One And Only Man" (#18).
In 1994, Winwood announced a reunion with Jim Capaldi, who had continued to record solo albums with diminishing success. Sadly, Chris Wood had passed away on July 12th, 1983. The two recorded a new album, "Far From Home" and toured as Traffic that summer. The album reached the US and UK Top 40, but did not produce a hit single. A supporting tour was sparsely attended and lead to another retirement of the Traffic name. Nevertheless, the 1967-1974-era band continued to enjoy significant status as a classic rock act, its albums earning CD reissues along with the release of compilations like "Smiling Phases" (1991) and "Feelin' Alright: The Very Best of Traffic" (2000). Jim Capaldi's death on January 28, 2005, appears to have put a permanent end to the band.