At the heart of the near 50-year career of Dave Mason — a remarkable run that has included collaborations with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Fleetwood Mac, in addition to a successful and extensive solo career — sits the sound of Traffic.
It was with the legendary British band that Mason's musical teeth were cut. It was with that troupe, alongside fellow members Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and the late Chris Wood that Mason was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. And it is the music of Traffic that the singer, guitarist and songsmith returned to this year for a concert program called Dave Mason's Traffic Jam.
That tour brings Mason back to Central Kentucky for his first performance here since a 1978 show at the University of Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum when he plays Friday at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort.
"I look back on Traffic and regard it as one of the original alternative bands," Mason says. "I didn't start writing until Traffic started. There were a lot of diverse tastes in that band, which in the end led to me having to go solo. But during the time of it, I was 19 or 20 years old. When you're that age, there is nothing really you can't do."
Mason cut two psychedelic albums with Traffic before the band initially disintegrated in 1969. A critically acclaimed 1970 solo album, Alone Together, followed, interspersed with guest guitar work on such landmark records as Hendrix's Electric Ladyland, the Stones' Beggar's Banquet and Harrison's All Thing Must Pass. Mason reteamed with Winwood for a handful of 1971 concerts (chronicled on the live album Welcome to the Canteen), but quickly parted ways again to resume a solo career that would eventually yield the hit 1977 album, Let it Flow.
"The show is, I guess, kind of a condensed history of my music from Traffic all the way up to today." Mason says. "It's just a travelogue of my career.
"The show is in two parts. The Traffic set has a cool, reworked Dear Mr. Fantasy, (the title tune to Traffic' 1967 debut album). You Can All Join In and Pearly Queen (the first two songs from the band's self-titled 1968 sophomore recording) are in there. Then there are things like Medicated Goo (a December 1968 single that wound up on the 1969 compilation Last Exit). Mostly I'm sticking to stuff that was done when I was with the band, but I also worked up my own arrangement of The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (from the 1972 album of the same name), even though that was not part of my time with Traffic. Usually, we take a break after that and come back to do stuff from Alone Together, Let It Flow (which included the radio hit We Just Disagree) and then some new stuff."
The "new stuff" leans to Future's Past, a 2014 recording fashioned very much along the lines of the Traffic Jam shows. There are new tunes (including Good 2 U and How Do I Get to Heaven) along with retooled Traffic and Alone Together songs.
"It's more a collection of what I considered to be really cool sounding tracks," Mason says. "I put them together in the hopes that people would enjoy it, obviously. But it's also for people who maybe have never heard anything by me before. To a lot of them, all this music is going to be new.
"But to other audiences, there is a whole different scenario going on. I am part of the soundtrack of their lives. So a certain song will trigger certain memories for them on where they were, what they were doing. There are a lot of ways the music touches people on a very deep level that, to me, is very interesting."