Dave Mason’s legendary rock career is one of many legacies keeping him rolling.
By Steve Houk
When I spoke with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dave Mason recently, I told him off the top that I used a few lines from his 1977 song “Takin’ The Time To Find” as my senior high school yearbook quote, oh 38 years or so ago. “I’m takin’ the time to find, some new roads into my mind, discovering things, and giving them wings, it’s time this boy learned to fly.” Works, right?
Mason paused, then softly said with a laugh, “Well, thank you. That was…that was a long time ago.”
Dave Mason’s official “heyday” may have been a long time ago as well, when he was playing killer guitar solos and writing classic rock songs like “Feelin’ Alright” as a member of the legendary band Traffic, or rolling FM-radio friendly tunes like “We Just Disagree” during a successful solo 70’s run, which was part of my own high school soundtrack. But the strength and substance of that revered legacy, and the fact that he still has his chops, is why he is still going strong at almost 70, out on the road with his “Traffic Jam” multimedia show that takes the audience from the early Traffic days all the way up to the present day, kind of a rolling rock history lesson taught by a professor of the craft. Mason pulls his “Traffic Jam” convoy into the Tally Ho Theater in Leesburg on Friday.
“I wasn’t quite sure how it would go over, but it’s been extremely well-received which is great.” Mason told me. “We started doing it in 2013, the way it is right now, so basically for all intents and purposes, it turned in to a musical and somewhat pictorial musical biography of my career, from Traffic all the way up until now. The band’s great, the music’s great, I’m as good as I’m ever gonna be at this point. From that point of view, it’s actually very good. And also I get to, as opposed to when I was younger, I get to remember what the hell I was doing.”
For Mason, being able to tap into a solid legacy like his (as well as being able to remember the gigs) is a true present day treasure, especially considering that he feels new music is lost in the vast wasteland of the internet, along with the absence of a true radio industry to push the record album type of presence.
“I’m lucky I still have live concerts that I can play,” Mason said candidly, “because doing new stuff to be honest with you is, if I compare it to what it was, it’s a lost cause at this point. There’s no music business. Everybody’s stealing everything off the internet, and you’re talking about a world wide shopping mall. The other big part that’s missing is there’s no radio anymore, no DJs. That’s probably the biggest hole in everything, more than the internet. It’s not like the days when there was a national radio situation, when you had DJ’s there, ya know, ‘Hey check out the new Dave Mason record,’ it’s gone. Unless you’re talking about hard core fans who are looking for stuff, the ability to reach a new audience or new people is gone because you don’t have that airwave promotion. I still write songs and we take those records to the live shows, but other than that, nobody even knows that there’s anything new out.”
In addition to continuing to share his powerful musical legacy with fans new and old, Mason has a very personal legacy that has led him to work tirelessly on the behalf of military veterans, including starting a new charity, Rock Our Vets.
“My father was in the first World War, and my brother was driving tanks in North Africa in the second World War,” Mason said softly. “I remember in England growing up, going to certain places with my Dad where there were still bombed out parts of cities. So I’m very cognizant of the fact there’s a price for freedom and it needs to be defended, so I support the vets. Frankly, it’s shameful the way the government deals with them, it really is. Somewhere around 22 suicides a day with the vets. About 50,000 homeless, which is criminal. With Rock Our Vets, we’re there to try and help vets support themselves, all with volunteers, trying to help with anything, even hopefully help them start their own businesses. Clothing, computers, tools, vans, land, that’s what we’re doing.”
Among Mason’s many important legacies are his many memorable collaborations with some of music’s biggest names like Paul McCartney, George Harrison, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix — he plays guitar on Hendrix’ version of “All Along The Watchtower.” When I asked Mason to relate one of those moments, he paused — “Gosh, there are so many” — then remembered recruiting a superstar with his own bit of Dave Mason history to help him with a backing vocal.
“I was cutting an album in one studio, and (Michael Jackson) was in the other, I think he was working on Thriller. They were on a break, and I needed somebody to sing a high part in the song (‘Save Me’), and I was like shit, I’ll go ask Michael, he can sing high. So I went over to their studio and he happened to be standing in the doorway and I explained to him what I was doing, and ya know, would you be up for coming and singing a part for me while you’re on a break. He kinda looked at me for a minute and then said, ‘Ya know, when I was 12 years old, I did this TV special with Diana Ross, and the last song we did on that show was a song called ‘Feelin’ Alright.’ So yeah, absolutely I’ll come sing it.’ ”
Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam performs Friday March 4th at the Tally Ho Theater, 9 W Market St, Leesburg, VA 20175. For tickets click here.