70 FROM ’70 — THE TOP TEN — #9

9.  TRAFFIC — John Barleycorn Must Die

As Steve Winwood, a rock veteran at 20 years old, started work on his first solo album, he found himself accumulating members of Traffic to help out. First came drummer Jim Capaldi, then flute and woodwind player Chris Wood. The result was an album embodying both post-WWII angst and English pastoral mythology. Often the winds of Chris Wood cue us—rollicking sax on “Glad” (the opening instrumental) mellowing to questing flute and rustic sax in “Freedom Rider”. The homespun feel of the rough brown cover enhances the ‘lost Albion’ feel of the package, adding to the satisfaction of this excellent album, one which ushered in the second phase of Traffic’s career. John Barleycorn lives.

"And little Sir John with his nut brown bowl

And his brandy in the glass

And little Sir John with his nut brown bowl

Proved the strongest man at last"

*

Where do you stand with Traffic?

(‘On the curb’?)

Where do you stand on John Barleycorn

(‘On the wagon’?)

28 comments

  1. I love Steve Winwood and pretty much dig all of his music I know, especially from his time with Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith and Traffic.

    And he hasn’t lost his mojo! I saw him in March 2018, where he mostly played “old stuff”. I was scheduled to see him again this year, together with Steely Dan. The concert has been rescheduled until July 2021 – can’t wait!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Big Winwood fan too, Christian.
      I was fortunate enough to catch Steely Dan’s “Shuffle Diplomacy” tour in Melbourne, with Winwood opening the show. Brilliant. At the end., expectations for Steve joining the Dan for an encore were high. Tinglingly high. When roadies wheeled. B3 onto the stage the crowd went nuts. They did Pretzel Logic. Fabulous.
      Hope the ‘21 show comes off.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    So, we had a 5-CD disc player in college and four guys living together. We each got to put a CD in the carousel and then put it on shuffle. Shuffle was magical! Insane, the permutations! The unthinkable transitions! And this is one of those that got into the tray often. Can still hear that assertive Empty Pages while we did the hackey-sack thing (you may not know this in AU) with the shuffle going and our vodka tonics in mason jars. There, mine…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great images there Bill. Thank you. Was there a particular CD you loaded regularly?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. pinklightsabre · · Reply

        So this was ‘91 going into 92 and I was living with a mainly classic rock crowd. And didn’t own any CDs myself at that juncture! I would have picked from my roommates collection. Standard fare. The music I liked and enjoyed then I listened to on cassette. I do recall the very first CD I bought was at the end of 92, the Tom Waits one where he’d just gone sober. And I had not. Can’t recall the title…ironic, right? I can see the cover but I’m drawing a blank. Freedom Rider goes nicely now with the summer scene here though, thanks…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think you’re probably referring to Bone Machine!

          Liked by 2 people

        2. pinklightsabre · ·

          Yes! And thank you for that! I could see the blue faded cover and his insane goggles and scream! God I love that man. I would move to that town in Northern California where he lives but then feel like a dork cornering him in a coffee shop, gushing…

          Liked by 1 person

  3. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    And so I’m playing this record again and thinking what a show it would have been to see this record played with Van Morrison, whatever the hell he would have been doing then (TB Sheets?!) and sign me up for that over any Dead show. Well, strike that. Alongside any Dead show. Both, please!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL. In a few days time you will see what Van was doing. (Tension building teaser)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. pinklightsabre · · Reply

        So Bruce: next week we are doing Zeppelin IV. Try to hold your schedule so you can join us! And the book is quite good.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    I’m through and through “Van.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This one’s great – although sometimes I keep playing the title track and don’t listen to the rest enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s nicely balancing, sometimes I play the rest and forget the title track!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. There are many versions of this song. Martin Carthy or Fairport Convention also made interesting arrangements And, well yes, Mr. Bru, a little of this mysterious John Barleycorn „prove the strongest man at last“.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Prost, hf! Yes, it’s a folk standard. Even in my modest collection there are versions by Steeleye Span, Fairport (as you said), Jethro Tull and Oysterband. And I’m certain others abound.
      If you listened to them all with a drink for each you’d be hammered. 🥃

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, it’s years since I’ve listened to this. Listening today, the title track seems pretty and lyrical yet with enough melancholy to make it engaging. First time I’ve got into the lyrics – thanks Google. And thanks Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a really good point about the lyrics, DD. And one that holds true for much folk music. I’m thinking particularly of some of the stories like Steeleye Span’s Sir James the Rose or Fairport’s Matty Groves.The music rolls around a predictable circuit like a carousel but the story advances in linear narrative.
      And my pleasure.

      Like

  8. Besides the song ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy,’ this is my favorite Traffic. I remember playing it in Colorado for a friend as we drove through the towering formations at Red Rocks Mountain Park. It was one of those moments when I sooo much wanted someone to comprehend and be moved deeply by music that was reaching me at the time… He thought it was ok.

    I also note that, besides the album Heaven Is in Your Mind, this is my only Traffic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I wrote the brief ‘summary’ I noticed how drawn I was to the organic nature of the album. I guess nature is by definition organic. Anyway, that image sounds glorious.
      May I gently (but insistently) recommend Low Spark of High Heeled Boys?

      Like

  9. I’m 0 for 2 in your top ten so far, Bruce. Unfamiliar with both Black Sabbath’s Paranoid and Traffic’s John Barleycorn. Color me hopeless!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not at all, JDB. Although if you are partial to Steve Winwood’s voice, that Traffic album is excellent. Perhaps you still have the cassette of Back In The High Life in a cupboard somewhere? It could warm you up to Traffic, perhaps. 🙂

      Like

      1. So here’s the God’s honest truth: I did, indeed, have BITHL on cassette…it—Wake Me Up On Judgment Day, in particular—got me through 3rd year of medical school!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I cheated Jeanne. I went back to a very very long series on Winwood‘a career to see if your testimony was reliable and found a comment referring to Steve’s study companionship. 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  10. On the 1001 list – as it should be!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Yup. Check out Steve doing a solo take of ‘John’ recently. Looks like he did it at his home studio. Amazing Bruce. The guy just doesnt age. Great album a CB gave. Woods sax is a topper.

    Like

  12. Great choice. This one and Low Spark are the two Traffic albums I can listen to over and over

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Likewise, dcw. ‘Low Spark’ is one I keep pushing towards people… Nice to know there are other long-haul fans out there!

      Like

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