Dave Plays 100+ Dates a Year
Hall of Fame rocker Dave Mason is feeling great these days recording and playing more than 100 dates a year
By BETH PEERLESS
Updated: 02/04/2010 09:43:29 AM PST
Dave Mason's come a long way to get back where he started. The legendary British guitarist/songwriter/ vocalist's first album of new material in years sounds like it was crafted in the '70s, although there are tunes in the mix of 12 cuts on "26 Letters — 12 Notes" that are decidedly modern.
One in particular, "World of Hunger," could even be covered by the ubiquitous Black Eyed Peas, with its dance beat and techno sound.
Don't get all freaky on that, because it's a good thing when an artist can stretch and be currently relevant while at the same time mining the era that made one famous in the first place.
Although his fame was cemented in the late '60s with the fortunes of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Traffic, a wonderfully creative product of the British blues scene that crafted rock tunes painted with brushstrokes of jazz and psychedelic whimsy, Mason earned his wings to fly solo because of his great feel for writing hit songs, a voice filled with soul, and the ears to polish his tone brightly in whatever style he chose.
He is considered one of the great guitar players from the British Invasion era that includes other fine blues and rock guitarists such as Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood (his equally talented mate in Traffic, who also doubled on keys).
The early Traffic hits composed by Mason were "Feelin' Alright," "Hole In My Shoe" and "You Can All Join In."
His history witnesses a coming and going pattern with the band until he pretty much settled into a routine of collaboration with a number of musicians who were also legends from that time, such as Jimi Hendrix ("All Along The Watchtower"), George Harrison ("All Things Must Pass"), Paul McCartney ("Listen To What The Man Said") and the Rolling Stones ("Beggar's Banquet").
His stellar solo career produced hits such as "We Just Disagree," "Only You Know and I Know," "World In Changes," and "Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave."
The new (at least since he last played Carmel) late 2008 release on Mason's own label, Out the Box, opens with the blues-flavored "Good 2 U."
String arrangements complement the clean guitar lines and crisp rhythm, and the lyrics come from the heart of a man trying to prove himself to the woman he loves.
"Let Me Go" follows, the first in a series of tunes that immediately call to mind '70s radio rock with raspy hard vocals, punchy rhythms and thumping bass lines.
"Pink Lipstick" mines the classic rocker viewpoint from the stage, with lust-inducing, too-young-to-touch-but-asking- for-it moves on the dance floor driving the man to distraction. You know, that typical rock star stance. Never mind that Mason's pushing retirement age, it's the same as it's always been. Old age is a physical thing, not mental, as most aging baby boomers will attest to.
"How Do I Get To Heaven" brings the tempo down to a slow burning love ballad, a classic Mason vehicle to accentuate his delicate guitar playing and soulful vocals, with accents provided by one of his many female background vocalists.
The liner note booklet comes up a bit short by not listing where each performer contributes, thus we are left in the dark as to where Willie Nelson lends his guitar playing, or Sheila E her vocals or percussion, or Mike Finnegan's organ playing or any number of vocal turns. Oh well.
Next up comes a real Chuck Berry-style rocker, "Ain't Your Legs Tired Baby." A slick horn arrangement adds spice to this great dance tune, a staple for any rock show that will get people up and moving.
"You're Standing In My Light" calls to mind a talking blues intro that Bob Dylan would do, and the song proceeds to pick up steam to full rock ahead, coming off as a Bruce Springsteen stomp or a John Mellencamp kind of vibe.
Once again, Mason pleases with his ballad styling on "Passing Thru The Flame." His vocal range and clarity sparkle on this mid tempo torch song.
"That's Love" gets funky and fun. "El Toro" is an atmospheric instrumental guitar showcase that has sort of a bolero rhythm, evidently the point with the title in Spanish.
The next to last song, "World of Hunger," veers into the funky techno style again, with punkish vocals that seem a little out of place on a Mason album, but then it gets some of that '70s flair thrown in with Peter Frampton-style guitar effects and Earth Wind and Fire backing choir-like vocals.
The lyrics are cool, though, to deal with overpopulation and modern society's failing in its reducing humanity to being just a number.
The art of the album sequence is used to great effect on the closing number titled "Full Circle And Then."
Mason's soulful treatment on a mature love theme shines with its lyrical lead guitar accents and lilting rhythm.
Overall, Mason has packaged an interesting variety of tunes, produced impeccably, a trademark of his love of good sound production.
"I started doing the album for my own amusement anyway," he said in a phone interview from his home in Ojai, referring to the five- or six-year period in which he wrote and recorded the material. "It's been 20 years since I've really put anything new out anyway. All the reviews have been great. Radio won't play it though, nor the TV shows. I'm kind of shut out of that. It's hard to get the exposure so people will even be aware. I just tour. That's what we do."
Mason said he and the band do 100 to 120 gigs a year now, basically doing it because he wants to keep his band together and play music for as long as he can.
"Being on the road is work," he said. "We all like playing, we just don't like traveling. We get paid to leave the house. We don't get paid for the music. That's what we do, and we'll keep doing it as long as we can. We'd do it anyway. As long as there's an audience, we'll turn up."
In concert, one of the highlights that makes his shows such a pleasure to experience is the attention to sound quality.
The last couple times he's played at Carmel's Sunset Center, everything the band played came across with pristine clarity and a fabulous house mix by his longstanding front-of-house sound engineer Chris Curtis.
His touring ensemble includes bassist Alex Drizo, guitarist Johnne Sambataro, drummer Alvino Bennett and keyboardist Tony Patler.
Mason has been living in the U.S. for quite some time, pretty much since splitting with Traffic in late 1968.
He had met country rocker Gram Parsons while touring with Traffic, and it was Parsons who drew him to Los Angeles. There he met Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, and he joined their Friends Tour of 1969, sharing the stage with other rock luminaries Clapton, Rita Coolidge and Leon Russell.
His debut solo recording, "Alone Together," came out in 1970 and featured Jim Capaldi from Traffic, Russell, Coolidge, the Bramletts and others.
The LP stayed on the album chart more than six months and went gold. "Only You Know and I Know" was a No. 42 single for Mason in 1970; Delaney and Bonnie's version hit No. 20. His biggest solo hit was "We Just Disagree" in 1977.
Two other collaborations included Mama Cass of the The Mamas and the Papas and a short stint with Fleetwood Mac in the mid 1990s.
Mason's career has had its ups and downs, but today he is happy with his life and his efforts to contribute to society with his humanitarian organization Work Vessels for Vets, which he says "does not give a hand out, but a hand up."
They help through contributions of boats, cars or vans and such that give returning veterans a chance to make it on their own.
He was recently awarded an Outstanding Career Achievement Award from the Hollywood Music in Media Association.
...and sadly every damn song probably sounds the same as it did on the album 40 years ago
Dave, if you ever read The Ledge, can I offer just one bit of advice, go and see a Bob Dylan show, you never know what songs you are going to get or how he might peform them.
Yeah, but that's why he was the PERFECT guitarist for Fleetwood Mac.
On and on it will always be, the rhythm, rhyme, and harmony.
THE Stephen Hopkins
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