While most of his contemporaries' primary concerns were of passing high school math, 15-year old musical whiz Steve Winwood was fronting the soul influenced Spencer Davis Group. Scoring on the pop charts with Winwood penned "Gimme Some Lovin,'" and the ironically titled "I'm a Man," young Winwood was quick to craft now essential standards in the rock and roll canon.
Rapidly tiring of the Spencer Davis Group, Winwood sought to start a band that could feature his blue-eyed soul vocal stylings as well as his penchant for long form instrumental prowess. Winwood found that band in the company of folk/blues guitarist Dave Mason. Along with drummer Jim Capaldi and reedist Chris Wood, Winwood and Mason formed Traffic in 1967.
Winwood and company created a matchless sound born out of blues, R&B, British folk, jazz and psychedelia. The quartet's debut, Mr. Fantasy, (Heaven Is in Your Mind to U.S. fans,) reached audiences later in 1967, followed by the group's classic self-titled album in 1968.
Although making waves with Traffic, Winwood and Mason disagreed about the direction of the band, causing Winwood to fire Mason and subsequently break up the band, (albeit temporarily,) in 1969.
After the dissolution of Traffic, Winwood was quick to reignite his musical fire by hooking up with guitarist Eric Clapton, who was fresh off his stint with blues-rock powerhouse, Cream. Finding that they enjoyed playing together, 20-year old Winwood and Clapton, his slightly senior partner, expanded their duo to include former Cream drummer Ginger Baker. News of the band's formation caught on like wildfire amongst fans and promoters. Concert tours were booked and arrangements for an album were made, all before the band had adequate time to rehearse.
Dubbed Blind Faith because of the unheralded hype surrounding the band, the publicly unheard trio added bassist Rick Grech for their subsequent album and tour. Though the group stayed together less than a year, collapsing under the weight of its own popularity, Blind Faith became one of the most popular groups in rock history.
Winwood would take bassist Grech, from Blind Faith, to tour with a reformed, Dave Mason-less Traffic in 1970. Traffic would release one of their most successful albums, John Barleycorn Must Die, after their 1970 reunion. Without Mason, the album marked a new direction for Winwood, the group, and for popular music.
With Winwood fronting the band, Traffic's sound shifted full force to jazz-rock and folk-influenced jamming. Showcasing Winwood's hearty vocal chops and instrumental expertise, Traffic would release three more studio albums, including The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys in 1971, and a live set, Welcome to the Canteen, (including guitarist Dave Mason,) before breaking up for good in 1974.
Spending the next few years relaxing and playing as a session musician, Winwood released his self-titled solo debut in 1977. The U.S. platinum selling Arc of a Diver was released in 1980 on which Winwood, always the consummate musician, performed all instruments. A similar release, Talking Back to the Night appeared in 1982.
Winwood's next hit came in 1986 with the carefully crafted pop album Back in the High Life. Selling over three-million copies, Winwood's first number one hit, "Higher Love," was culled from the album. The song would win the coveted Grammy for Record of the Year. Winwood's success would continue with a Top Ten hit for a remix of his 1982 song "Valerie," and the release of his first album for Virgin Records, his best selling to date, Roll With It.
Winwood collaborated again with former Traffic bandmate Jim Capaldi on "One and Only Man" for his 1990 collection, Refugees of the Heart. The two would reunite under the Traffic moniker in 1994 to release Far From Home, which was followed by a subsequent world tour.
Electing to stay out of the spotlight after the relative disappointment of Junction Seven in 1997, it would be six years before Winwood would release another album. The aptly titled About Time was released in 2003 by Winwood's Wincraft label. Borrowing themes from R&B and Latin-influenced jazz, the album brought new sounds to a Traffic-like lineup, helmed by Winwood and his unmistakable sound.