Steve Winwood

Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1  (1977)

- Reebop Kwaku Baah -- percussion

- Jim Capaldi (RIP) -- percussion, backing vocals

- Brother James -- percussion

- Julian "Junior" Marvin -- guitar

- Andy Newmark -- drums, percussion

- Alan Spenner (RIP) -- bass

- John Susswell -- drums, percussion

- Willie Weeks - bass

- Nicole Winwood -- backing vocals

- Steve Winwood -- vocals, keyboards, guitar


  line up 1  (2008)

- Richard Bailey -- drums, percussion

- Paul Booth -- flute, sax

- Tim Caufield -- guitar

- Eric Clapton -- lead guitar

- Jose Pires de Almedia Neto -- guitar

- Karl Vanden Bossche -- percussion

- Steve Winwood -- vocals, keyboards, guitar



- Ginger Baker's Air Force 

- Blind Faith

- Spencer Davis Group

- Traffic

- Stomu Yamashta's Go



Genre: rock

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  Steve Winwood

Company: Island

Catalog:  ILPS 949

Country/State: Birmingham, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: original textured cover

Available: 1977

Catalog ID: 2

Price: $10.00


I fell in love with "Steve Winwood" while a freshman in college.  My family was overseas and I was attending college in a different country.   Someone had given me a copy of this album and when a roommate and some friends accused me of listening to jazz (those criticisms coming from at least a couple of folks who owned "Saturday Night Fever"), I dubbed the LP onto a cassette and continued listening to it when nobody was around.  I ended up taking the cassette home for the Christmas holidays and must have played it a hundred times - there was just something incredibly appealing in these melancholy grooves.  It was nice to be back with my family, but everything was different ... and "Steve Winwood" captured the feeling of anxiety and disquiet perfectly.


1974 saw Traffic go out with a whimper and folks expecting front man Steve Winwood to jump into a solo career were disappointed.  It took three years for the man to get around to releasing a solo project.  Co-produced by Chris Blackwell and Winwood, I remember my initial reaction to the album was one of curiosity.  I owned most of the Traffic albums and, like many folks, was expecting Winwood's solo career to mark a continuation of that sophisticated, slightly jazzy sound.  Moreover, given he was supported by former Traffic compatriots Reebop Kwaku Baah and Jim Capaldi (the latter co-writing most of the album), why wouldn't this have sounded like a Traffic album ?  Well, to a certain extent it did.  Exemplified by tracks like 'Vacant Chair' and 'Luck's In', that, laidback jazzy component was still there.  On the other hand, the album reflected a calm, almost pastoral feeling.  Yeah, if you were a disco, or punk fan, this had no relevance, or interest for you.  And that's what probably kept it from being a mega hit.  Like Winwood himself, who's always seemed to struggle with protecting his private life and commercial success, this collection seemed to struggle with the same contradiction.  Lots of these tunes were catchy and commercial (check out the funky 'Time Is Running Out'), but Winwood seemingly avoided writing anything that was too outright commercial.  The end result was a series of six extended, almost meditative songs, that came across as almost a dry run for what was to come in his '80s career.  Nah, you weren't going to play this to rock out, but when you were in one of those calmer, more reflective moods, tracks like 'Hold On', 'Vacant Chair' and 'Luck's In' were the way to go.  


Forty years later and I still cherish this album.


"Steve Winwood" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Hold On    (Steve Winwood - Jim Capaldi) - 4:31   rating: **** stars

Ever wanted to hear a song that was slinky smooth, yet simultaneously funky ?  Well, 'Hold On' fit the bill.    This one had everything going for it - Wonderful melody; great Alan Spenner bass line; Winwood's always tasteful keyboards, and his amazingly soulful voice.  Island tapped it as a single in the Spain:

- 1977's 'Hold On' b/w 'Midland Maniac' (Island catalog number )

2.) Time Is Running Out   (Steve Winwood - Jim Capaldi) - 6:29   rating: **** stars

And if you didn't think the man could hold down a funky groove ... well 'Time Is Running Out' should change your mind.   Try sitting still through this one; particularly when the group chorus kicked in.  This one was released as a German and US single:

   German release

- 1977's 'Time Is Running Out' b/w 'Luck's In' (Island catalog number 11 523 AT )

   US release

- 1977's 'Time Is Running Out' b/w 'Hold On' (Island catalog number IS 091)

3.) Midland Maniac   (Steve Winwood) - 9:34   rating: *** stars

One of the prettiest ballads he ever wrote, though stretching out to almost ten minutes it would have benefited from a but of judicious editing.  Based on the performance credits, this one appears to have been a true Winwood solo effort.


(side 2)

1. Vacant Chair   (Steve Winwood - Viv Stanshall) - 6:50   rating: **** stars

'Vacant Chair' was apparently written in response to Graham Bond's 1974 suicide.  The pair were friends who had briefly worked together in Ginger Baker's Air Force. Winwood co-wrote the song with Vivian Stanshall of Bonzo Dog Band fame.  Smooth and calming, Winwood's performance was mesmerizing.   Julian "Junior" Marvin turned in the  dazzling guitar solo.  One of the refrains was sung in Swahili; the lyrics translating roughly as "the dead are weeping for the dead".  

2.) Luck's In   (Steve Winwood - Jim Capaldi) - 5:26     rating: **** stars

'Luck's In' opened up showcasing what an overlooked guitar player Winwood was.  It also showed you what a powerful voice the man had.  Built on a wonderful Willie Weeks bass line, this was one of those songs that crept up on you when you weren't expecting it - I remember finding myself humming the jazzy mid-section.  

3.) Let Me Make Something In Your Life   (Steve Winwood - Jim Capaldi) - 5:48   rating: *** stars

'Let Me Make Something In Your Life' was another pretty ballad (with a glorious Winwood guitar solo), although this one was a bit heavy in the schmaltzy department.   Surprising it wasn't tapped as a single.   





Genre: rock

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Nine Lives

Company: Columbia

Catalog:  886972225012

Country/State: Birmngham, UK

Grade (cover/record): NM/NM

Comments: double LP; sealed copy

Available: 1980

Catalog ID: 1

Price: $75.00

In contrast to the two previous studio sets which saw six year gaps between them, It only took Steve Winwood five years to record and release his ninth solo studio album.  For a guy who was 60 when he released 2008's "Nine Lives", you had to admit he sounded great (Winwood's one of the few rock singers who sounds as good now as he did in his youth), continued to be a phenom on guitar and Hammond B3, and looked remarkable for a senior citizen.   All those things aside,  I've got to admit to to being somewhat lukewarm to the album.   Self-produced this may have been Winwood's least commercial solo album.  Musically it offered up an odd mix of blues ('I'm Not Drowning'), African and Latin percussion ('Hungry Man'), Traffic-styled jazz-rock ('At Times We Do Forget'), and occasional nods to adult contemporary tastes ('Other Shore').  Don't get me wrong - Winwood sounded great throughout and his backing band were spectacular musicians.  Individually songs such as 'Fly', 'Dirty City' and 'Secrets' were all quite good.  Still if you tried to get through the entire album in one take (a double LP set if you bought the vinyl),  the collection's reliance on extended tracks (only 'I'm Not Drowning' clocked in under five minutes) with plenty of long instrumental jams and lots of Latin percussion reminded me of one of Traffic's duller offerings - say 1971's "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys".  I can remember putting on a brave face and trying to like "Low Spark", but finding it ... well kind of dull.   I'm older now and don't feel the same pressures to fit in ...  still, as much as I'd love to love this album, the same comments apply.  This one just sounded kind of plodding and samey.


"Nine Lives" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) I'm Not Drowning  (Steve Winwood - Peter Godwin) - 3:32  rating: *** stars

What can I say about the slinky 'I'm Not Drowning' other than it's a slice of blues for people who don't like the blues ...   A true solo effort, Winwood was apparently responsible for virtually all of the instruments.   Damn, he's one of those rarities - a man whose voice hasn't lost anything over the decades.   He literally sounds the same as when he was in Spencer Davis.   

2.) Fly  (Steve Winwood - Peter Godwin - Jose Pires de Almedia Neto) - 7:49    rating: **** stars

The first time I heard 'Fly' I dismissed it as a slice of throwaway adult contemporary lite-jazz.   Basically just this side of elevator music.  And then while I biking on a local trail I heard the song on my iPhone. I have to admit that hearing it the second time around led me to see the song in a totally different light.  Nice, breezy, slightly Latin-tinged tune with some nice Peter Godwin lyrics ... "Every winter has the sun within its heart And everything we think we knew we can forget ..."  Yeah, maybe a touch Hallark styled pretentious, but how come I didn't come up with those sentiments?   

3.) Raging Sea  (Steve Winwood - Peter Godwin - Jose Pires de Almedia Neto) - 6:17   rating: ** stars

The first song that I found disappointing ...  'Raging Sea' sounded like a series of demos that had never been fully flushed out.   Parts of it were quite good; the cool little guitar riff and the fuzz sequence, but the song just never went anywhere.


(side 2)
1.) Dirty City
  (Steve Winwood - Peter Godwin) - 7:44    rating: **** stars

With an able assist from Eric Clapton who turns in one of his best solos, 'Dirty City' was probably the most commercial tune on the album.  That's to say the tune had a nice melody, some excellent guitar, and a memorable refrain.  Columbia released the tune as a digital single, though that's not to imply radio was going to get anywhere near this tune.  Elsewhere Winwood released a promotional video for the tune.  One of the thematically darkest clips I've ever seen, you can see it courtesy of YouTube:    

2.) We're All Looking  (Steve Winwood - Peter Godwin) - 5:25 rating: *** stars

Winwood and his patented Hammond B-3 ...  the man at his pale, Englishman funkiest.  The problem is that in spite of a nice acoustic guitar solo, the tune simply never kicked into high gear.   It was almost as if Winwood forgot to include the killer riff that would have sent this one over the edge.     


(side 3)
1.) Hungry Man
  (Steve Winwood - Peter Godwin - Jose Pires de Almedia Neto) - 7:07  rating: *** stars

The opening of 'Hungry Man' sounded like Winwood had been listening to way too much of Paul Simon's "Graceland".   On the other hand, if you were a long time fan you'll remember Winwood was incorporating African and world beat elements into his repertoire well before Simon had a solo career.   Still, this was another tune that had a nifty groove (kudos to percussionist Karl Vanden Bossche), but the track simply never got beyond that groove and this one went on for over seven minutes.    

2.) Secrets  (Steve Winwood - Peter Godwin - Jose Pires de Almedia Neto) - 6:41  rating: *** stars

Santana-meets-Traffic ?   At least this one rocked out.  


(side 4)
1.) At Times We Do Forget
  (Steve Winwood - Peter Godwin - Jose Pires de Almedia Neto) - 5:57     rating: **** stars

Yeah the arrangement may have been a little bit adult contemporary (way too much flute), but it still managed to generate some energy making it another album standout.   It doesn't happen very often, but if you liked this one, then check out Matt Schofield's cover.   I'd argue his version is even better than the original. 

2.) Other Shore  (Steve Winwood - Peter Godwin - Jose Pires de Almedia Neto) - 6:41rating: *** stars

Pretty AOR ballad with one of the album's nice melodies