You Can All Join In:
An EXCLUSIVE interview
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
Dave Mason has rarely played by the rules. Born in Worcester, England, the singer and guitar player first came to the public’s attention as a member of legendary Rock band Traffic alongside Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood. The band received a lot of positive press and interest was high when they released their first single in the middle of 1967. However, magic happened a few months later when their second single, the Mason-penned “Hole In My Shoe,” shot up the UK charts and landed in the #2 position. Anticipation for the band’s debut album, Mr. Fantasy, was at all-time high, but by the time the LP hit the shops, Dave Mason had already left the band. Thankfully, he returned to the fold the following year and wrote half of the band’s self-titled sophomore album released in October of 1968. One of his contributions was the song “Feelin’ Alright,” which has become Traffic’s best-known track. “Feelin’ Alright” has been covered by artists as diverse as Hubert Laws, Three Dog Night, Lulu, The Jackson 5, and Joe Cocker. However, even the success of “Feelin’ Alright” wasn’t enough and Mason left Traffic again, only to return briefly in 1971. He pursued a successful solo career that began in earnest with his 1970 debut Alone Together. The following year, he threw another curveball and released the excellent Dave Mason & Cass Elliot album, a collaboration with the vocalist best known for her work with The Mamas & The Papas. For the next decade he continued to release albums that stayed true to his Rock roots but also added more interesting musical elements into the mix. He was not afraid to work outside of the box, creating music that he wanted to make in hopes that his fans would follow – and they did. Though he remained a critically successful solo artist and a popular touring act, Dave Mason didn’t score his next hit until 1977’s “We Just Disagree,” which reached #12 on the Billboard charts. While was focused on his own career, he did manage to work with some of the biggest names in music including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Fleetwood Mac, George Harrison, Michael Jackson, Phoebe Snow, David Crosby, Graham Nash and many others. These days, Dave Mason is not as prolific as he once was, although he manages to please fans in a live setting when he is out on the road touring.
To coincide with his 2014 tour, Dave has released the album Future’s Past, which offers fresh new arrangements of solo tracks, one new song (“That’s Freedom”) and new interpretations of two classic Traffic songs – “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and “You Can All Join In.” In choosing those two Traffic tracks instead of his self-penned hits for the band, Mason proves he is still far from predictable. Having Joe Bonamassa add lead guitar to “Dear Mr. Fantasy” was a stroke of genius. The album is a nice look back at the past but remains rooted in the present. The new version of “As Sad And Deep As You” (originally from Alone Together) is stunning and betters the original by far. He even manages to add a new twist to his cover of Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen.” Future’s Past is a very worthy entry into his impressive back catalog and will delight long-time fans and bring some new ones along for the ride.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Dave Mason about Future’s Past and more…
SPAZ: Your new album, Future’s Past, is now available. How are you feeling about this project and the reaction you’ve had to it so far?
DAVE: Well, it’s a too early for me to know. Most of the CDs that people will buy are on the road when I’m touring. It’s available on the website too – DaveMasonmusic.com. But what’s going on in the outside of that world, I don’t really know at this point. I’m going to have to wait to see what happens.
SPAZ: What inspired you to record these specific songs as opposed to just sticking with the hits?
DAVE: Well, to be honest with you – when we’re not out playing around, I keep myself amused by playing around in my studio and either recording new stuff or finding a new way to do something that I think is still relevant. A lot of my lyrics are somewhat timeless so then it’s just a question of what you’re putting behind it. I tend to record a lot of different things when I’m home and there’s really no intention like planning for an album per se. But I had these tracks and obviously since I’m out on the road for the rest of this year and into 2015 doing Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam show, I did “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” - which I put in a minor key and did my own interpretation of it – and “You Can All Join In.” I put those on because they both sounded great to me and obviously they were relevant to the tour.
SPAZ: It sounds like you’re really reconnecting with the songs.
DAVE: Yeah, I was. That’s why I’m doing the Traffic Jam show. I’m 68 years of age and I was just going on 19 when I was in Traffic. I’ve been thinking for five or six years about doing this, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it. Frankly I didn’t quite know how it would be accepted with me doing it, but it’s turned out to be rather good and it’s nice to revisit that stuff.
SPAZ: Do you feel, being an artist, that sometimes in order to keep things interesting, you have to shake them up a little bit?
DAVE: Part of it is just that. The same with an audience - they get bored. So I’m no different from the people in the audience. It’s just that I’m the guy up there being able to play these songs. I’ve got the same things to deal with as everybody else. You know, pants go on one leg at a time. I don’t care what your name is or how special you think you are.
SPAZ: I think that “As Sad and Deep as You” is a really powerful track on this record.
DAVE: Yeah, it’s better than the original. It came out really well. It was basically a live recording. Actually, the only thing that was not live was the lead guitar on that.
SPAZ: Did you approach the Traffic tracks with a little trepidation knowing that Traffic fans might be a little harder to impress?
DAVE: To be honest with you – I have to make stuff that I like and have to hope that people pick up on what I’m doing. Everybody’s gonna put their own twist on it anyway no matter what, but essentially, I have to go with what I like. I tried doing that once early in my career with the label. “Well, you gotta be more like this..” and I tried it and it was like “Forget this. It’s not me. It’s not gonna happen.” So a big part of lasting as long as I have is I try to be as authentic as I can in being me because that’s what I think most people pick up on. And most certainly when you’re playing live.
SPAZ: These recordings are very warm and intimate, production-wise. Is recording today a completely different beast than even 8 to 10 years ago?
DAVE: It’s no different than it was 40 or 50 years ago other than the technology. I don’t even begin to record unless there’s a song to record - you’re really just trying to catch a performance with that song. If you’re getting a great performance then you’ve got the magic. When recording in a studio, you can change and polish things to a certain extent, but you don’t want to do it to the point where it’s just ‘overproduced.’
SPAZ: You’ve got a pretty healthy solo back catalog, but you haven’t been as prolific in the last few decades. Do you have a stockpile of songs that you’re sitting on that you’re just going to surprise us with in a short amount of time?
DAVE: Well, I don’t have a huge amount of stuff. I wish there was. The thing is, I’ve never been that prolific. I mean, there were were eight songs on Alone Together. It took me two years to write those eight songs. And you know, those eight songs would have been on the next Traffic album if things would’ve worked out. Or at least two or three of them would’ve been.
SPAZ: I know that you’ve done like a lot of cover versions and you have your songs covered as well. Do you find that artists either don’t take enough chances or perhaps take too many in regards to re-interpreting someone else’s songs?
DAVE: There are certain artists that have a habit of taking one of their songs and kind of making it unrecognizable. (laughs). Live, that is. So I don’t really go for that because the bottom line is - your audience spends money to come see you and, for the most part, it’s not a question of just the song that they want to hear. It’s that the song triggers a moment in time for them. And that’s what the connection is. It takes them to a place where they were. I guess the word is ‘touch people’ and I try not to make too much of it. (laughs) I don’t read my own press so I’m not gonna get too carried away with it. All I can do is just keep moving forward as much as I can. Thank God I can still get up there and play and sing.
SPAZ: What’s next for Dave Mason?
DAVE: We’ll be back on tour starting in July.
SPAZ: And then hopefully a new Dave Mason record, right?
DAVE: Well, I don’t know about that. This one basically just came out on the 13th of May. There’s only so much that I can put out!
Thanks to Dave Mason
Special thanks to Kevin Day, Aaron Feterl, Tony Valenziano, Danielle Isitt and Dana House