In his decades-long career, Dave Mason has been a lot of things. Founding member of the seminal band Traffic (which punched his ticket into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), hit-producing solo artist in the ‘70s, and collaborator and friend to a who’s who of rock royalty including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison.
But on his current tour that finds him in a buddy act with another Rock Hall of Fame member, Mason gets to be something he’s always wanted to be: Wicked. As in just like Wilson Pickett.
“I get to sing ‘In the Midnight Hour’ with the original guitar player!” Mason laughs. That six string virtuosos is none other than Steve Cropper, founding member of Booker T and the MG’s and member of the Stax Records house band who played on scores of massive soul hits. When you hear Sam and Dave or John Belushi of the Blues Brothers yell “Play It, Steve!” on either hit version of “Soul Man,” it’s Cropper they’re talking to.
So in addition to that and other Cropper-penned and/or played Stax gems like “(Sittin’) On the Dock of the Bay,” “Green Onions,” “Knock On Wood,” and “Try a Little Tenderness,” the set list will include Mason staples like “We Just Disagree,” “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” “Every Woman,” "All Along the Watchtower" (he played acoustic guitar on the original and his two signature songs: “We Just Disagree” and “Feelin’ Alright.”
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In a bit of irony, “We Just Disagree” was Mason’s biggest solo hit, but was written by singer/guitarist and Mason collaborator Jim Krueger. The soft rock standard reached No. 12 in 1977. Conversely, “Feelin’ Alright” – which Mason penned when he was all of 18 and was originally released by Traffic – had its biggest success in Joe Cocker’s 1969 version. And that hit even higher on the charts when it was re-released three years later.
In concert, Mason calls “Feelin’ Alright” his “Energizer Bunny of a song,” and artists as diverse as Three Dog Night, Lou Rawls, the Jackson 5, and Paul Weller have also covered it.
Mason says that he and Cropper first met in Los Angeles in the late ‘70s, but reconnected three years ago when they had lunch together in Nashville. Cropper later performed at a New Year’s Eve benefit show which Mason puts on annually in Hawaii with fellow musicians including Mick Fleetwood and Steven Tyler.
“After that show, I said to Steve ‘How do you feel about getting your tired old ass on the road with my tired old ass!” Mason laughs. “I mean, I was listening to him when I was 16 and 17 years old. It’s the music that all of us Brits learned from and made our own version of. It’s a great honor to stand up on stage with that man every night.”
Indeed, Mason is quick to note that much of the success of many of the British Invasion bands and performers stemmed from their own takes on American music. The early set lists and albums of just about every band that made the trek across the Atlantic were riddled with covers of this material.
“Without that American music, that blues and R&B and country, there would be no Eric Clapton and no Rolling Stones. And no me,” Mason offers. “That was our basis to learn from. You did have to go out of your way a little bit to find the music, but in England, we didn’t have radio that was segregated by [genres]. So we heard it all.”
In addition to Mason and Cropper, the other players in the “Rock and Soul Revue” includes Mason’s touring band of Johnne Sambataro (guitar), Alvino Bennett (drums), Tony Patler (keyboards), and backup singer Gretchen Rhodes. She will open the show with her own set, and sings lead on some of the Stax material while Mason exits the stage.
“Steve’s guitar style is such an integral part of those songs, I don’t want to get in the way!” Mason laughs. “But he then also sits in on parts of my songs that he feels will work for him.”
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After this leg of the tour ends in March, the 72-year-old Mason says he’s happy to have a few months off before hitting the road yet again. He also hints at a possible gig as the musical director of an unnamed TV series, which he says would be a “new challenge” for him.
Dave Mason is also creating new music. But like so many other classic rock-era artists, finds it nearly impossible to release or promote, even if they have a current recording contract. And radio stations – both terrestrial and satellite – aren’t interested in playing a new Dave Mason song when they can spin “Only You Know and I Know” or one of his other hits for the millionth time.
“There is no putting out anything anymore, so I make CDs to basically sell at shows,” he sums up. “Making new music is an exercise in futility and the biggest problem is radio. It’s just wallpaper for selling products, regurgitating the same shit over and over again. And then with [new music], people can just go on the internet and steal it. But this our livelihood. It’s what we do to make a living.”
Dave Mason and Steve Cropper play 8 p.m. on March 1 at the Heights Theater, 339 W. 19th. $36 and up. For information, call 214-272-8346 or visit TheHeightsTheater.com. For more on Mason and Cropper, visit DaveMasonMusic.com or PlayItSteve.com