Inquiring Minds: All Along The Watchtower With Ex-Traffic Cop Dave Mason

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Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dave Mason has certainly had a storied career: Founding member of Traffic, guest appearances on records by Hendrix, the Stones and various Beatles, a solid solo career, stint with Fleetwood Mac, and writer of at least one Classic Rock Warhorse in "Feelin' Alright." And while he unfortunately doesn't get the attention that some of his contemporaries do, Mason and his band still play around 120 dates a year. In 2008, he broke a 20-year studio record drought with the fine 26 Letters, 12 Notes (Out the Box Records). The varied effort features Mason's trademark blues-rockers ("Good 2 U," "Let Me Go"), pop ("One Day"), a bit of humor ("Pink Lipstick," "Ain't Your Legs Tired Baby") and ballads ("How Do I Get to Heaven?" "Full Circle and Then"). Rocks Off spoke with Dave Mason about past friends, current projects, and a certain Red Headed Stranger. Rocks Off: The last time you played Houston, you were leaving the next morning to record with Willie Nelson, who ended up playing on "How Do I Get to Heaven?" What was that like? Dave Mason: It was interesting, but a little rushed. I thought it was a great idea, but we should have recorded the whole thing together. It was mostly done when I brought it in. He did a whole bunch of guitar noodling, and I used a lot of it for the solo. He said to me (taking up Willie's voice) "You know, we should do some writin' together, Dave." And I said that would be great. My connection down there was [Nelson's longtime right-hand man] Poodie Locke, but he passed away last year. He did take me to one hell of a barbecue place, though!

RO: The record definitely has a more blues-rock feel like your pre-Mariposa de Oro releases. Was that a conscious decision?

DM: Well, it's also pretty eclectic in terms of sounds. I only started doing it for my own amusement in the first place, because I'd pretty much given up on having a new record. It's pretty tough for older classic-rock artists like myself to get new music out. And radio is so...even though the internet is there, I still think that [radio] is very powerful. There's one in every car! But [people] have got to hear the music first, and then if they like it, they'll go out and get it. Even on classic rock radio stations, they won't play new music by the artists they're already playing!

RO: The place you're playing here in Houston, the Dosey Doe Café, is an intimate venue, but you'll be playing to really hardcore fans.

DM: Well, there's a base of my fans out there, and thank God there are and I can still get up and do this. I'm as good at being Dave Mason today as I ever was!

RO: You often introduce the song "Feelin' Alright" in concert as your "Energizer Bunny of Songs" because it's your most recognizable composition. And yet, you wrote it when you were 19 years old.

DM: And that amazes me! (laughs). I mean, it's a two-chord song!

RO: You played acoustic guitar on Jimi Hendrix's recording of "All Along the Watchtower." What is one thing you could say about him as a person that might surprise people?

DM (thinking): Well, for the most part, he was a very quiet guy, and very, very polite. Soft-spoken. The guy offstage wasn't the same as the guy onstage. But, my God, he must have been born with a guitar in his hands!

RO: In all the rock books I read, they talk about his first shows in England when [former Animals bassist] Chas Chandler brought him over from the U.S., and all the guitar gods of the day - Clapton, Beck, Page - were just left dumbstruck at his live shows at clubs like the Bag O' Nails club.

DM: That's where I saw him!

RO: Is that poetic license, or was it true?

Mason: No, it was true! All those moves that he did on stage...incredible. And Chas Chandler was very smart. He brought him over, this tall lanky guy with the frizzy hear and the brown jacket and the jeans. And he's playing with these local bands and playing the guitar with his teeth and behind his head and doing all this shit! And I just thought, "Well, maybe I should start thinking about playing a different instrument!"

RO: Well, he did cop a lot of those moves from T-Bone Walker and even Charley Patton.

DM: Yeah! You know, everything stems from plagiarism! But you build on the back of what's been done before, and make it your own somehow. There are a lot of great guitar players around, but there will never be another Hendrix.

RO: When you were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 as part of Traffic, you didn't play with [surviving members] Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi because of an instrument disagreement. Instead, you led the all-star jam at the end with "Feelin' Alright." Has anything changed in your relationship with Steve since then?

DM: Nope. Nah. It's still high school, evidently.

RO: The Hollywood Music in Media Association recently gave you a Outstanding Career Achievement Award. How was that?

DM: It was out of the blue and very nice. It's nice to be recognized.

RO: And you also are involved with the Work Vessels for Vets program, which provides vehicles for returning servicemen.

DM: I have always been passionate about [veteran's] issues. In this program, we give the returning vets - especially disabled ones - the tools they need to start a business whether it's boats or trucks or fully-equipped vans. And we also give them laptops. It's just the right thing to do, and it's non-political. Taking care of guys who are trying to take care of us, and who should be better taken care of by the government. I'm more or less the spokesperson for it, and I use by "celebrity" blatantly and without shame to promote it! (laughs)

RO: Finally, you've got Gerald Johnson back in the band, who was your bassist on most of those great '70s Columbia albums.

DM: Yes, I'd been trying to get him back in. He and [drummer] Alvino Bennett play great together, and, well, he's just a show of his own. It's become "The Gerald Johnson Revue Featuring Dave Mason!" (laughs)

Dave Mason and band play the Dosey Doe Café on Thursday, February 18. The $84 ticket price includes three-course dinner. Food starts at 6:30 p.m., show at 8:30 p.m. 281-367-3774 or www.doseydoescoffeeshop.com.

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