“Possessed of a powerful, utterly distinctive voice, Winwood [is] also an excellent keyboardist” SH and plays guitar, bass, and other string instruments. He first became a name via the Spencer Davis Group (“Gimme Some Lovin’” “I’m a Man”) as a “teenager R&B shouter” SH and then he went on to become a force with Traffic (Dear Mr. Fantasy, The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys), a venture which allowed him to explore “jazz, psychedelia, blues-rock, and progressive rock.” SH He was also part of the supergroup Blind Faith (Can’t Find My Way Home).
Had his career never gone any farther, he still had a stable of classics that most musicians can only dream of. However, he went on to launch a successful solo career “with the highly polished blue-eyed soul-pop” SH of classics such as “While You See a Chance”, “Higher Love”, and Roll with It. “Yet his turn as a slick, upscale mainstay of adult contemporary radio was simply the latest phase of a long and varied career.” SH
While he built his career both as a member of various groups and as a solo artist, Winwood has also “remained an in-demand session musician for most of his career, even while busy with high-profile projects.” SH He has “collaborated with and accompanied musicians from around the globe, including Jimi Hendrix (Electric Ladyland), Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, James Brown, Muddy Waters, Toots & the Maytals, Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, salsa greats Tito Puente and the Fania All Stars, Japanese innovator Stomu Yamashta and African percussionist Remi Kabaka, just to name a handful of dozens.” SW
Winwood was “first interested in swing and Dixieland jazz, he began playing drums, guitar, and piano as a child, and first performed with his father and older brother Muff in the Ron Atkinson Band at the age of eight. During the early ‘60s, Muff led a locally popular group called the Muff Woody Jazz Band, and allowed young Steve to join; eventually they began to add R&B numbers to their repertoire, and in 1963 the brothers chose to pursue that music full-time, joining guitarist Spencer Davis to form the Spencer Davis Group.” SH
Spencer Davis Group (1963-67):
“Although he was only 15, Steve's vocals were astoundingly soulful and mature,” SH even drawing “comparisons to that of his idol Ray Charles – despite his tender age.” SW In addition, “his skills at the piano were also advanced beyond his years.” SH His talent, and the custom for “U.S. singers to travel solo and be backed by pickup bands” WK led to him “backing blues singers such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Howlin’ Wolf, B. B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Eddie Boyd, Otis Spann, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley on their United Kingdom tours.” WK
“The blues and R&B-influenced rock of Gimme Some Lovin’,” SW “which stood with any of the gritty hardcore soul music coming out of the American South,” SH and “I’m a Man stood among the leading hits at the peak of the British Invasion.” SW
While still with the Spencer Davis Group, “Winwood joined forces with guitarist Eric Clapton as part of the one-off group…Powerhouse. Songs were recorded for the Elektra label, but only three tracks were released on the compilation album, What’s Shakin’.” WK
“Winwood eventually tired of the tight pop-single format; by the mid-'60s, the cutting edge of rock & roll often involved stretching out instrumentally, and with his roots in jazz, Winwood wanted the same opportunity. Accordingly, he left the Spencer Davis Group in 1967 to form Traffic with guitarist Dave Mason, horn player Chris Wood, and drummer Jim Capaldi, all of whom had played on ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’.” SH They forged their “collective spirit into Traffic, producing some of the most inventive and durable works of the psychedelic-tinged late-‘60s.” SW
“Traffic debuted in the U.K. with the single Paper Sun in May 1967, and soon issued their debut album Mr. Fantasy (retitled Heaven Is in Your Mind in the U.S.); it was followed by the jazzy psychedelic classic Traffic in 1968. However, conflicts had arisen between Winwood and Mason over the latter’s tightly constructed folk-pop songs, which didn’t fit into Winwood’s expansive, jam-oriented conception of the band. Mason left, returned, and was fired again, and Winwood broke up the band at the beginning of 1969.” SH
Blind Faith (1969):
“Winwood subsequently hooked up with old friend Eric Clapton, who’d recently parted ways with Cream.” SH The two had “worked together briefly in the short-lived Powerhouse project.” SW “Rumors of their collaboration spread like wildfire; the enormous anticipation only grew when ex-Cream drummer Ginger Baker signed on, despite Clapton’s misgivings over the expectations that would create. Concert promoters rushed to book the band before any material had been completed (hence the band’s eventual name, Blind Faith), and offered too much money for them to refuse, despite their lack of rehearsal time.” SH
The trio also added bassist Rick Grech, who would later join the reformed Traffic with Winwood. The group’s “self-titled debut, released in the summer of 1969, was a hit, but the extreme pressure on the group” SH and “Clapton’s greater interest in Blind Faith’s opening act Delaney & Bonnie & Friends” WK “led to their breakup even before the end of the year.” SH
“However, Baker, Winwood, and Grech stayed together to form Ginger Baker’s Air Force. The lineup consisted of 3/4 of Blind Faith (without Clapton, who was replaced by Denny Laine), 2/3 of Traffic (Winwood and Chris Wood, minus Jim Capaldi), plus musicians who interacted with Baker in his early days, including Phil Seamen, Harold McNair, John Blood and Graham Bond. But it turned out to be just another short-lived project.” WK “Winwood still had contract obligations to Island, and he left not long after Air Force’s debut performance at the Royal Albert Hall in early 1970.” SH
Traffic – Mach II (1970-74):
“Winwood soon went into the studio to begin work on a new solo album, tentatively titled Mad Shadows.
However, Winwood ended up calling Wood and Capaldi in to help with session work” WK and they ended up recording together “in a reconvened Traffic for the landmark John Barleycorn Must Die album,” SW which showcased “the sort of jam-happy jazz-rock sound that Winwood had in mind for the group from the start.” SH
“An expanded Traffic lineup (including African percussionist Reebop Kwaku Baah) went on to make two of the most arresting albums of the early ’70s in The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” SW “which brought Traffic to the peak of their commercial popularity in America,” SH and Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory. “A scaled-back line-up brought the Traffic era to a close with 1974’s When the Eagle Flies.” SW
Session Work and Go (1973-76):
“In 1973 Winwood recorded an album with Remi Kabaka, Aiye-Keta, for Antilles Records.” WK The following year, Traffic broke up, “but instead of going solo right away, an exhausted Winwood spent the next few years as a session musician.” SH
“In 1976, Winwood provided vocals and keyboards” WK on the “jazz fusion LP Go,” SH “a concept album” WK by Japanese composer/percussionist Stomu Yamash’ta.
“When Winwood finally returned with his self-titled solo debut in 1977, Britain was in the midst of the punk revolution, and the music itself was somewhat disappointing even to Winwood himself. Dismayed, he returned to Gloucestershire and all but disappeared from music. He returned in late 1980 with the little-heralded Arc of a Diver, a much stronger effort on which he played every instrument himself. Modernizing Winwood’s sound with more synthesizers and electronic percussion, Arc of a Diver was a platinum-selling hit in the U.S., helped by the hit single While You See a Chance; it received highly positive reviews as well, most hailing the freshness of Winwood's newly contemporary sound.” SH
“The extremely similar 1982 follow-up Talking Back to the Night sounded rushed to some reviewers, and it wasn’t nearly as big a hit, with none of its singles reaching the Top 40. Unhappy with the record, Winwood even considered retiring to become a producer (though his brother talked him out of it).” SH After the huge success of 1986’s Back in the High Life, two of the album’s songs saw rerelease in remixed versions – Valerie, which became a top 10 hit, and Talking Back to the Night.
Back in the High Life and Roll with It (1986-88):
“Taking more time to craft his next album, Winwood didn’t return until 1986, with an album of slickly crafted, sophisticated pop called Back in the High Life…It was a smash hit, selling over three-million copies and producing Winwood’s first number one single in Higher Love, which also won a Grammy for Record of the Year.” SH Back in the High Life Again,The Finer Things, and Freedom Overspill were also hits from the album.
“In 1987, Virgin offered Winwood a substantial sum of money and successfully pried him away from Island.” SH “Winwood’s hot streak continued with his first album for Virgin, 1988’s Roll With It. The title track became his second number one and his biggest hit ever, and the album topped the charts as well; plus, the smoky ballad Don’t You Know What the Night Can Do? was featured in a prominent TV ad campaign. Winwood had by now established a large, mostly adult fan base.” SH
Another Solo Album and a Traffic Reunion (1990-94):
1990’s Refugees of the Heart “repeated the slick blue-eyed soul updates of its predecessor, but according to most reviewers it simply wasn’t performed with the same passion, save for the lead single One and Only Man, a collaboration with Traffic mate Jim Capaldi.” SH
“Winwood continued his pattern of following disappointments with periods of inactivity” SH but eventually reunited with Capaldi “as Traffic for the 1994 Far from Home album and tour, the latter documented in the CD/DVD release The Last Great Traffic Jam.” SW They also performed Woodstock ’94.
Solo Again (1997-2003):
“In 1997, Winwood teamed with producer Narada Michael Walden for Junction 7.” SW “However, his momentum had stalled, and the album – which received mixed reviews – failed to sell well. The following year, Winwood toured with his new project Latin Crossings, a jazz group that also featured Tito Puente and Arturo Sandoval (though they never recorded). He subsequently parted ways with Virgin.” SH
“Winwood also starred in the film Blues Brothers 2000, appearing on stage with Issac Hayes, Eric Clapton, and KoKo Taylor at the battle of the bands competition; the band is called the Louisiana Gator Band.” WK
“The brilliant About Time appeared in 2003,” SH “on his new record label, Wincraft Music.” WK. It saw “Winwood returning to the free-flowing spirit of some of his most enduring music.” SW
Reteamed with Eric Clapton (2007-09):
“In July 2007, Winwood performed with Eric Clapton in the latter's Crossroads Guitar Festival. Among the songs they played together were ‘Presence of the Lord’ and ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’ from their Blind Faith days. Winwood played several guitar leads in a six song set. The two continued their collaboration with three sold-out nights at Madison Square Garden in New York City in February 2008,” WK sampling both of their repertoires as well as featuring covers of classic songs. This resulted in a CD/DVD of the shows and a tour in the summer of 2009.
The pair also collaborated on a record when Clapton contributed to the song Dirty City for Winwood’s 2008 album Nine Lives. “Also in 2008, Winwood received an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music.” WK