TRAFFIC WERE a strange item that hovered around my youth. As a youngster heading toward my teens that voice somehow transmuted from ‘Gimme Some Loving’ to ‘Hole In My Shoe’. They were on my map.
I saw Traffic at the Albert Hall in 1971. They looked like they’d smoked too much strong black hash. Winwood’s hair hung in lank curtains over his palid, inscrutable face. It was conceivably the least dynamic rock’n'roll show I’ve ever seen.
A homeless spell whilst at art school found me staying at a fellow student Edward’s family home in Putney. Traffic On The Road was one of a handful of albums he had. We would snort cheap sulphate and smoke cheap Moroccan hash, and nod-our-heads/fidget-and-babble to it, whichever was winning. Then Traffic disappeared, to be replaced by a blow-dried horror singing “take me to a higher ground”. No thanks.
AND NOW, fuelled by the discovery that Free were fantastic, I raid iTunes for my past, and up comes Traffic On The Road, and it is frankly pretty ghastly. I revisit in part because this version of the band had the Muscle Shoals chaps – Roger Hawkins, David Hood and Barry Beckett – adorning it. Well the Alabama trio are perfectly fine, though what they made of the experience is beyond me. But the rest of the band…
Part of the problem is that they weren’t really a band at all. Chris Wood was a feeble tenor player. His flute has its moments as we know from Electric Ladyland. But a single reed/woodwind player is a waste of space in a rock band. Reebop Kwakabu bangs and rattles things without disturbing the groove one way or another. Jim Capaldi, meanwhile, does nothing whatsoever. OK, maybe not nothing, but waving a tambourine around and singing badly on ‘Light Up Or Leave Me Alone’ (an otherwise bracing tune) strikes me as money for old rope.
And it’s there that, weirdly, Traffic pointed to the future, for is not Capaldi the proto-Bez, the hippie Chas Smash, looning around on the stage with no apparent function? Is it not indisputable that Chris Wood patented the sort of flaccid, tuneless saxophone that was to later grace albums by Sade and Spandau Ballet?