For a time, the mightiest Blues shouter in the UK was a teenage Steve Winwood. Aside from being the singer for the Spencer Davis Group, Winwood also played organ, piano and guitar. When the Spencer Davis Group's limited scope became too confining Winwood served notice. Eric Clapton and Winwood talked about forming a group but Winwood had just started another project. Joining up with guitarist Dave Mason, drummer Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood on sax and flute, Winwood launched Traffic. But Mason seemed to be the odd man out with Traffic often operating as a trio. (Clapton didn't suffer. He started Cream.) .
After three brilliant but under appreciated Traffic albums Winwood finally hooked up with Clapton for the brief and unsatisfying Blind Faith. Following Blind Faith, Winwood began work on a solo album but instead, he re-formed Traffic with Capaldi and Wood. The trio produced the excellent "John Barleycorn Must Die." The group then began adding members so by the time of the live "Welcome To The Canteen" album Traffic had Blind Faith vet Rick Grech on bass and percussionist Reebop Kwaku Baah, to name a few. They released strong albums that managed to sell even without any hit singles. "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" (the title taken from a comment made by actor J. Michael Pollard), "Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory" and "When The Eagle Flies," released in '74, brought Traffic a measure of commercial acceptance. The group then splintered with members working on solo projects. Wood died of liver failure in '83.
Traffic's acoustic-oriented Rock is masterfully displayed on the group's first three albums ("Mr. Fantasy," "Traffic" and "Last Exit"). The songwriting is sharp ("Dear Mr. Fantasy," "Pearly Queen" and "Shanghai Noodle Factory") while the musicianship is top drawer. However, the group's premier achievement is "John Barleycorn Must Die," with the opening tack, "Glad." The follow-up "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" is nearly as good. In the mid-70s, Traffic produced a pair of solid albums, "Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory," that struck a chord with the record buyers. "Smiling Phases" culls the best from Traffic's storied career while "Welcome to the Canteen" is a listless live set.