Classic rock fans have been turning out in droves in recent years to see bands from the 1970s in various reincarnations. Reunion tours with acts such as the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac have played in sold-out concert halls all over the country.
Some artists from that era, however, never really went away. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Dave Mason, a native of Worcestershire, England, who has made his home in the United States since 1969, has been part of the rock-music scene since he was a teenager in the mid-'60s, and it seems as though he's been on the road ever since.
"I'm always touring; I never stop," Mason said by phone from his home in Santa Barbara, Calif.
The musician was about to depart on a 30-city U.S. concert tour billed as the reunion of co-founders of the band Traffic that kicks off Friday night at Glenside's quaint Keswick Theater. The show is sold out, but a second date has been added on Friday, March 13. English folksinger Al Stewart, whose biggest hit was Year of the Cat, is the opening act for both concerts.
"Philadelphia has always been good to me," said Mason. "I think I've played there every year for the last thirty years."
Although most of Mason's success was as a solo performer, he has been associated with other distinguished recording artists during his career. This tour reunites him with drummer Jim Capaldi, with whom Mason formed Traffic, one of the bands that came out of the English rock scene in the late '60s.
"Jim and I have known each other since we were fourteen," said Mason. "We started Traffic (with Chris Wood and Steve Winwood)."
The singer's biography is pretty complicated. Like Traffic, which split up and reformed several times, Mason never stayed in one place for long, but it was his constant movement that enabled him to become involved with numerous recording artists.
"I was (with Traffic) for the first two albums," he said. "Then I did some recording work with (Jimi) Hendrix, and I produced an album for a group called Family. (Family) was moderately successful, but they were pretty avant-garde for the time."
Mason's solo success was still a few years away. To pursue this, he relocated to this country and hooked up with a new band called Delaney & Bonnie and Friends.
"When I came to America, their manager became my manager," said Mason, explaining how it came about. "We played on the Blind Faith tour and opened up for them. And Delaney & Bonnie had a hit with a song that I wrote called Only You Know and I Know."
Blind Faith was the short-lived group that Eric Clapton formed with Winwood, Ginger Baker and Rick Grech when his previous group, Cream, dissolved. After one album and one tour, Blind Faith disbanded. Winwood returned to Traffic and made several albums with the band, including John Barleycorn Must Die and Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys.
Clapton previously had been with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, whose friends also included, at various times, Mason, George Harrison and Rita Coolidge. The group's rhythm section (Carl Radle, Jim Gordon and Bobby Whitlock) formed the core of Clapton's new band, Derek & the Dominoes, noted for the hit song Layla.
Mason was supposed to be the Dominoes' second guitarist.
"I was going to be a part of that, but Eric sort of had a substance problem, and there was no real work being done," Mason said.
Clapton was battling heroin addiction at the time.
"I had done some things in the studio on what started out as the Layla album, but they ended up recording that stuff over again," the guitarist continued. "And I did a live show with them somewhere in London."
Mason was doing studio work for various artists in the early 1970s, including Harrison (on the album All Things Must Pass) and the Rolling Stones (for Beggars Banquet), and he had even rejoined Traffic for some live performances when his breakthrough album, Alone Together, firmly established him as a solo artist. The record is still considered one of the top classic rock albums from that decade.
Mason continued to release albums through the 1970s and '80s, such as Let It Flow, Mariposa De Oro and Old Crest On a New Wave. His solo work included his own songs (Let It Go, Let It Flow and Every Woman) and interpretations of some of the top songwriters of his era, including Bob Dylan (All Along the Watchtower), Sam Cooke (Bring It On Home to Me) and Carole King (Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?).
Some of Mason's compositions also have been successful for other artists, most notably Joe Cocker's version of Feelin' Alright. Mason's biggest hit was We Just Disagree, penned by one of his collaborators, Jim Krueger.
A Traffic reunion tour in 1994 included an appearance at the Woodstock II festival, but Mason wasn't part of the band's revival. He was touring with Fleetwood Mac, another band that at the time was in the process of reforming.
"That was Jim (Capaldi) and Steve (Winwood)," Mason said of the Traffic reunion concerts. "I was with Fleetwood Mac in 1994 and '95. "That was just a two-year thing for me. Mick (Fleetwood) and John McVie were trying to put the band together again, and they invited me to be a part of it."
Mason's tenure with the band included an album (Time) on which he sang lead vocals on a few cuts. The other members of Fleetwood Mac's most successful lineup (Lindsay Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie) eventually returned for a new album and a reunion tour last year. Mason is hoping his collaboration with Capaldi will lead to similar results.
"We're in the process of writing and recording new stuff and trying to get a record deal," Mason said. "We have to put the best four or five songs together and shop it around when we come back off the tour."
After three decades on the road, most performers would grow weary of the constant travel, having to live out of a suitcase for weeks at a time and dealing with all of the booking agents and concert managers. Does this artist ever get tired of the grind?
"That's a hard question for me to answer," Mason said. "I mean, yes, I do (get tired of it), but the bills still come to my house. I enjoy playing the music. That part I love, but it's the other stuff that they have to pay us for."
Visit Dave Mason's Web site.