Future's Past: Dave Mason Talks Recording with Jimi Hendrix, New Album and More
Guitarist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dave Mason was a founding member of Traffic (along with Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood). He's also recorded and/or toured with the likes of George Harrison, the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and Michael Jackson.
Then there’s also the little matter of his historic performance on Jimi Hendrix’s iconic version of Bob Dylan's “All Along the Watchtower."
Mason’s new album, Future’s Past, pays homage to those early years by featuring new versions of songs from his Traffic days and solo career, including new interpretations of “As Sad and Deep As You” and “World In Changes." Rounding out the nine-track album is a new song, “That’s Freedom."
Mason is on the road with the Traffic Jam Tour, which pays tribute to his former band and his solo years. I recently spoke with Mason about Future’s Past, his days with Traffic and his experience with Hendrix.
GUITAR WORLD: How did the Future’s Past project begin?
There wasn't really a plan. I have a huge collection of material I've recorded over the last few years. Some of the songs applied to my Traffic Jam show (“Dear Mr. Fantasy," “You Can All Join In.") Then I had “World in Changes," which was from my Alone Together album but sounds absolutely nothing like the original. My original intent was to use these tracks for an EP of about four songs, but since I also had a few other tracks and everything sounded so good, I decided to just put them all on there. The thing I like is that the album doesn't sound dated. It all sounds fresh and new.
One of the highlights on the record is the version of “As Sad and Deep As You.”
That's basically a live cut. It has such a strong emotion and mood. To me, it's better than the original. That's why it's on there.
You also have a new song called “That's Freedom." How did that track originate?
A piano player who used to play live with me would always play this line when we were going into the slowdown/play-out of the song "Look at You Look at Me." I thought it was a cool line so I built the song around it. Lyrically, it's my own take on the State of the Union.
What can you tell me about your current tour?
Since the beginning of the year, I've been out doing my Traffic Jam show. The first part of the show is where I do some Traffic material from the early days, and then the second half of the show is my own stuff. We'll be out for about 120 shows this year.
How did Traffic originate?
Jim Capaldi and I had bands together when we were kids. We only lived a few miles apart and were both big fans of Spencer Davis and finally met up with Steve at a club and we all just started hanging out together. Over time it eventually got to the point where Steve wanted to do something new, and that's basically how it started.
Can you tell me the story of how you met Jimi Hendrix?
I was aware of Jimi when he first came to London, even before he had ever made a record. London was a conglomeration of great people all in one place. There were only so many studios and a few good engineers around at the time, so it was inevitable that people would run into each other from time to time.
I met Jimi at a late-night club one night and just started talking to him. He was a Traffic fan and I remember he got up and played with the band that was there that night and I just said, "Wow!" [laughs].
How did you end up playing on his version of “All Along The Watchtower"?
One night, Jimi and I were at a party listening to John Wesley Harding [Bob Dylan’s latest album at the time] when Jimi got it into his head that he wanted to do “All Along the Watchtower." I remember he said to me, “That’s the coolest song! I’m gonna go and record it! You want to come and do it with me?” That's basically how it started. He was just amazing.
You’ve worked with so many great artists and sat in for historic musical sessions. Were you aware at the time of the impact those experiences would have on people?
I knew they were great tracks that created attention, but it's hard to say what people would really think because at the time, I was living it. Looking back now, I was very fortunate to have ended up playing with so many great artists, even just for a moment.
Do you ever foresee something akin to a Traffic reunion?
Unfortunately, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood have passed away, so the only ones left are myself and [Steve] Winwood. But I'll give you the same answer that I give to everyone, “You're asking the wrong person.” Yes, of course. There's a great audience out there who would love to see it happen. But that's really a question for Steve.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.