The Sunday Dozen: Steve Winwood

Steve Winwood circa 1983.

Why am I featuring Steve Winwood this week? Let me count the ways.

Steve Winwood is my favorite male rock vocalist. Even after listening to him for most of my life, his voice sends shivers up and down my spine. He never strains to hit a note: he does it easily and naturally. Such ease is usually the product of hard work and practice.

Steve Winwood is a virtuoso instrumentalist. He’s one of those people who can pick up any instrument and make music. He played all the instruments on two of his solo albums. In recent years, he’s stuck to guitar and keyboards, but he can do it all. The man is music on legs.

During the pandemic Winwood pumped out videos for fans on his Facebook page. They’ve been a great comfort but no surprise: Steve Winwood makes the musical equivalent of comfort food. That’s praise, not a slam. He’s been a presence in my life through The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith, and 45 years as a solo artist. Winwood’s music was always there to pick me up when I felt down. Comfort food is wonderful as is Steve’s music.

Lyrics were never Winwood’s strong suit so he worked with a series of lyricists over the years most notably Jim Capaldi and Will Jennings.

I first tried distilling Winwood’s career when I started this feature. It did not go well: I had a band dozen and a solo dozen. I put it on the back burner until this week. Now that I’ve been at it for a few months, I found it easier to ruthlessly edit his song catalogue down to one list covering his entire career.

I ended up with 8 songs from Winwood’s bands and 4 from his solo career. He’s been inconsistent as a solo artist but when he’s on, he’s really on.

As always, the songs reflect my taste and are posted in chronological order.

The two oldest songs have improved with age and are even better live, so I’ve posted the studio originals as well as live versions. Too much Winwood is never enough.

Gimme Some Lovin’ is the perfect blue-eyed soul song. The definitive live version comes from Traffic. Welcome To The Canteen wasn’t initially available in the US so I bought a copy in Greece and brought it home to share with my friends as one of them recently reminded me.

Dear Mr. Fantasy has been covered by many artists as well as turning up in movies when they want to evoke the Sixties. It evolved into a serious Winwood guitar work out over the course of his storied career.

Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring is a cheerfully surreal ditty that always makes me smile, especially the opening line: “We are not like all the rest.”

Blind Faith was one of the first rock supergroups. I dropped their name earlier this week. Can’t Find My Way Home is a rock and roll standard and frequent live set opener. We all get lost every so often, after all.

This is a bit of a cheat. I regard the entire first side of John Barleycorn Must Die as a suite, but I couldn’t find a YouTube video that included Empty Pages. I had to settle for Glad/Freedom Rider. I’m so glad that I found the freedom to post it.

My high school had an entire building dedicated to the music department. There were at least four piano rooms. After the album came out, I recall hearing the opening chords of The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys coming out of all the piano rooms.

Many A Mile To Freedom is the second-best song on the Low Spark album. It’s Traffic at its best or is that second best? I best move on.

Walking In The Wind is all about the groove and what a groove it is.

Higher Love was one of the biggest hits of 1986. What’s not to love about Steve Winwood belting it out with Chaka Khan? Two great voices for the price of one.

I don’t care about the Grammy awards, but Higher Love won for record of the year and best male vocalist. Well-deserved honors from a dubious source.

Oddly, it’s a song that doesn’t work that well in concert. I’m not sure why.

Back In The High Life Again is the title track of Winwood’s second most commercially successful album, Back In The High Life. I’m not sure why they dropped the word again. I’ll have a Miller High Life and contemplate that omission. It’s my new omission in life…

It’s a gorgeous song with backing vocals by James Taylor. Yet again, two great singers for the price of one.

Winwood did a beer commercial but it was for Michelob, not Miller High Life, and they used a song from his next album. Here’s some sudsy early lagniappe:

Roll With It is the title track of Winwood’s most commercially successful album. The beer ad probably had something to do with it.

The song is best described as blue-eyed Stax-Volt soul. The video is shot in glorious black and white.

Different Light is the opening track of Winwood’s 2003 album, About Time. It’s one of my favorites as it features Steve’s Hammond B-3 wizardry and Jose Nieto’s guitar stylings.

This week’s lagniappe features Winwood covering a traditional folk song with Traffic followed 27 years later by a Sly Stone classic.

Finally, here’s Winwood’s fellow Sunday Dozen dude Warren Zevon with his poignant version of Back In The High Life Again:

The last word goes to Steve Winwood in his Traffic days; make that daze, he’s obviously no stranger to the herb.

7 thoughts on “The Sunday Dozen: Steve Winwood

  1. Glad is the favorite piece for me from all of my undergrad years. Played it to death, pretty much every day for a year.

    1. I did that with that whole album. I loved “Glad” for its funky piano. “Barleycorn” is just an amazing version of a very old song. I wonder if Winwood and Richard Thompson ever thought of collaborating on it, given Thompson’s time with Fairport Convention.

  2. Winwood is a beautiful soul, a man whose music has moved me since I first heard him. Thank you for sharing these gems. I have enjoyed watching how he has matured from Wunderkind to an elder gentleman of mature and mellow tastes. Brilliant

  3. I saw Traffic at the old, old Arie Crown in Chicago in 71. 4th row center. Fantastic show.
    As a note, Redbone opened.

  4. WIthout Chaka Khan, one would need half a dozen backup singers to make ‘Higher Love’ work in concert.

    And dmark is dating him/herself but then so can I seeing shows at the older Regal sponsored by WVON

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