Sarasota Herald Tribune (FL) Sarasota Herald-Tribune

June 17, 2005

Dave Mason's not feelin' 'alright'

Dave Mason's coming to town this weekend. But he's not happy about it.

Oh, it's not that he has anything against Sarasota in particular. But after some 40 years of a high-profile career in rock and pop music, Mason just doesn't find any glamour on the road.

"I like playing and I like to keep this band together," Mason said in a phone interview from his California home. "But I don't like the traveling. It was difficult before 9/11, and it's even more difficult now. It's just draining."

Maybe he has a right to be a little cranky. Mason -- who is playing the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall with Mickey Thomas' Starship after illness forced him to cancel a show with Rita Coolidge at the venue last December -- has built a career of almost staggering longevity.

He's written a slew of classic songs, including the oft-covered "Feelin' Alright," and he's been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He's been a member of Traffic, Fleetwood Mac, and Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, and has a respectable solo career.

And he has played the opening acoustic guitar riffs on such monumental records as The Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man" and The Jimi Hendrix Experience's "All Along the Watchtower."

But in a lot of people's minds, Mason's a one-hit wonder, the guy who did "We Just Disagree" (No. 12, 1977) -- a song he didn't even write.

Mason came to prominence in the '60s as a founding member of Traffic, one of the most musically adventurous bands of the era. He was in and out of the band through the early 1970s, playing last with an expanded Traffic lineup on the great live LP "Welcome to the Canteen" in 1971.

Meanwhile, he had moved to America in 1969 and began a solo career, starting with "Alone Together," a semi-classic of the era. He's had a string of successful solo albums since then, but he's been all but forgotten at home.

"My solo career is in this country," he said. "I'm not known as a solo artist in England at all."

He also participated in a number of one-time collaborations, including a record with Cass Elliott and a none-too-successful stint with Fleetwood Mac in the mid-1990s, after Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham left and before they came back.

"Christine McVie did the record but wouldn't come on the tour," he said. "It was me and Mick Fleetwood and John McVie with Bonnie Bramlett's daughter (Bekka) and Billy Burnette. It became like a Fleetwood Mac cover band."

Mason said that he had always hoped the original Traffic -- the quartet that also included Steve Winwood, Chris Wood and Mason's boyhood friend Jim Capaldi -- would reunite.

"Steve just didn't want to do it," Mason said.

Wood and Capaldi have died, so obviously a reunion is impossible. But assumptions that Winwood and Mason were hostile toward each other -- assumptions fueled by Mason's failure to perform with his bandmates when Traffic was inducted into the rock hall last year -- just aren't true, he said.

Mason would have loved to play with Traffic again, but the details, which included that he play bass in Traffic during the induction ceremony, couldn't be worked out.

"There were dictates about all sorts of things that I couldn't agree to," he said. "I'm not a bass player. I haven't picked up a bass in years. The dictates came from Winwood's camp. I never got to talk to Steve directly."

So Dave Mason continues to perform solo -- even if he dislikes the travel.

"I tell people that I'm not getting paid to play, I'm getting paid to leave the house," he said.