A FEW MINUTES WITH… Dave Mason
By Don Wilcock
Do legacy artists get the same buzz their fans do when we go to see them perform? When you’re Dave Mason, lead guitarist for Traffic, arguably the most innovative of the British Invasion bands, contemplating a tour with Steve Cropper, the guitarist who co-wrote “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” the answer is yes. The tour hits Albany on Wednesday night (August 22) at The Egg.
Cropper was the guitarist on virtually the entire Stax-Volt catalog and was a principle in Booker T. & The MGs. When I talked to Dave Mason before the tour began in April, he was psyched. He’d never played guitar with Cropper, and he couldn’t wait to get on stage with a musician who’d been an inspiration to him and the others in Traffic as teenagers in England.
“I mean the list of the records that band (Booker T. & The MGs) played on is just is endless. I mean it pretty much is the entire Stax catalog. So, that’s what I was listening to. We were all listening to them when we were kids: Capaldi, Winwood, I mean, we were all huge fans of that stuff, in fact, when we were 18, 19 years old.”
It was Mason’s idea to do the tour. “We were trying to put something together re-doing Traffic with the Traffic jam with myself, Steve (Cropper), Michael McDonald and Steve Winwood, but basically we couldn’t wait around for the other two, so Steve and I decided we’d go out and start doing some stuff together. That’s really how it
The back-up band is Mason’s and features young vocalist Gretchen Rhodes. At the time of our interview in April rehearsals had not yet begun, and Mason was still contemplating how the sets would go. “(We’ll be on stage) mostly together, but there’ll be some things he’ll probably step off, and I will. “Green Onions” or something like that I won’t be up there, but we’re doing some of the material he co-wrote like “Dock of the Bay.”
At the time, Mason envisioned doing some classic rock and roll songs that were in neither his nor Cropper’s standard repertoire. “I’m planning on picking some things I grew up with. I’m thinking of doing an Everly Brothers song. I might do ‘The Wanderer,’ a little Eddie Cochran, and I’ve been wanting to do this for years, so I want to do ‘Born Under a Bad Sign.’”
So far, that’s not happened. Their set lists in July and early August have been nearly all from the two legacy artists’ own repertoires including: “In the Midnight Hour,” “Green Onions,” “Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave,” “We Just Disagree,” “Knock on Wood,” “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby,” “Hip Hug-Her,” “The Low
Spark of High Heeled Boys,” “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” “Can’t Find My Way Home,” “Try a Little Tenderness” and (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” Gretchen Rhodes does the heavy lifting on The Traffic songs vocally.
Mason obviously is enjoying the concept of playing with one of his idols. “Yeah, I mean I love playing. I can’t say that I’m thrilled about traveling anymore, but I love playing, and Booker T. & The MGs? God! So, to be playing with him and doing stuff together, to me it’s just personally so much fun.
“Everybody in the business or any musician worth a damn, knows who Steve Cropper is and knows his history. The problem, on the other hand, (the general public) is really not that aware of him unless you put it in the context of Booker T. & The MGs or the Blues Brothers. In a way, it’s a great way to have him be a little more
exposed in terms of what he has actually written, played on or his whole career. So, as I said, to me it’s more of a personal kind of thing. I hope it translates to the audience out there. I hope there will be some younger people that will discover things.”
Dave Mason had founded two bands by the time he was 15. He’s a founding member of Traffic, whose 1967 debut album Mr. Fantasy changed the paradigm of the British Invasion. He’s written more than 100 songs including his signature hit “Feelin’ Alright.” He performed on the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, Paul McCartney & Wings’ Venus and Mars and Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland.
The AllMusic Guide calls Steve Cropper “probably the best-known soul guitarist in the world.” A member of Booker T. & the MGs, the Stax Records house band during the label’s most influential period, he co-wrote Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” and backed artists such as Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and Rufus Thomas. He was the lead guitarist in both Blues Brothers movies and in 1996, England’s Mojo Magazine rated him number two guitarist of all-time (Jimi Hendrix was number one).