Classic Rock Corner

Dave Mason is Still Feelin' More Than Alright

Dave Mason is Still Feelin' More Than Alright
Photo by Bob Ruggiero
While Dave Mason was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 for his co-founding and on/off again membership in Traffic, his solo career has long been underrated. From debut Alone Together though It’s Like You Never Left and Let it Flow, his songwriting is solid, and he easily straddles the line between fiery rockers and sensitive (but not sappy) balladry.

Three of his best live tunes opened a strong show that pinballed all across Mason’s recorded output, with some cover surprises thrown in. Accompanying him onstage were longtime bandmembers Johnne Sambataro (guitar/vocals), Alvino Bennett (drums), and Tony Patler (keyboards/vocals). A new and welcome addition on backing vocals is Gretchen Rhodes, adding some deep-throated sass and soul (though her floppy black hat, worn low, often covered up much of her face!).

Mason’s highest-charting single, 1977’s “We Just Disagree” (written by late bandmate Jim Krueger) shimmered with a sheen of mellow gold. “Time for me to be a sensitive son of a bitch!” he laughed while introducing the number. He also peppered some anecdotes in between songs, noting here that when he arrived in America from his native England in 1969, he slept on the couch of Flying Burrito Brother and country rock pioneer Gram Parsons. Welcome to the U.S.A.!

It was a bit perplexing that with such a rich and deep solo catalog – and with the tour titled “The Very Best of Dave Mason” - the set list included so many covers, including some by frenemy Steve Winwood. It was a mixed bag.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BOB RUGGIERO
Photo by Bob Ruggiero
Of the two Traffic A.D. songs (which he explained meant “After Dave” left the band), the Patler-sung “Rock ‘n Roll Stew” proved a funky workout, while a slow-burning blues take on “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” didn’t quite ignite. A welcome out-of-left-field take on the Shadows’ early ‘60s surf instrumental “Apache” was fun and a joy to listen to, eliciting Mason’s biggest smiles of the night. But a Rhodes-belted cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “Gypsy In Me” seemed superfluous and was likely included as her showcase.

The set included one relatively recent song, written by his late Traffic bandmate Jim Capaldi. Likely the only rock song ever inspired by Alexander the Great and name-checking ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes, “You’re Standing in My Light” was an upbeat earworm. It also gave Dave a chance to talk a bit about the fact that he (and contemporaries) are still producing new music, noting he’d be at the merch table after the show to “shake babies and kiss hands” while signing and greeting fans.

The show’s home stretch was all-killer and no filler. Sure, the 72-year-old Mason has likely played Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” his own “Only You Know and I Know” and his cover of Jimi Hendrix’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” (Mason played acoustic guitar on Jimi’s version) at every show. But he was absolutely not phoning it in, and his trademark grit-growl was at full roar and the wah-wah wowness of his Fender Stratocaster soaring.

Closing the set was what Mason has called his “Energizer Bunny” of a song. While Traffic’s original version of “Feelin’ Alright?” was a modest hit, the tune that Mason wrote when he was all of 19 shot into the stratosphere with Joe Cocker’s 1969 version on his debut album. It’s been since covered dozens of times by acts ranging from Grand Funk Railroad and Three Dog Night to Gladys Knight and the Pips and the Jackson 5.

Fittingly, the audience was up on their feet, dancing, and pumping fists for the anthem whose actual lyrics are about not feelin’ alright. But don’t tell that to anybody.

Set List
Dave Mason Band opening covers set
Crossroads (Cream)
Will It Go Round in Circles (Billy Preston)
The Sky is Crying (Stevie Ray Vaughan)
Leather & Lace (Stevie Nicks/Don Henley)
Pride and Joy (Stevie Ray Vaughan)

Dave Mason with Band
World in Changes
Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave
Look at You Look at Me
Rock ‘n’ Roll Stew
We Just Disagree
Can’t Find My Way Home
Gypsy in Me
Apache (instrumental)
You’re Standing in My Light
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
Dear Mr. Fantasy
Only You Know and I Know
Feelin’ Alright

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero