Dave Mason Interview


By Barb Fara





MI: Hi Dave! I want to tell you I love you.


DM: Hi Barbara! (laughs) Thank you!


MI: I grew up listening to you with my mom when you were with Traffic, right? God, when I heard Dave Mason and the new cd, I just lost my mind.


DM: (laughing) Thank you, thank you.


MI: Tell us the meaning behind the title of your new album, 26 Letters ~ 12 Notes.


DM: Well, there are 26 letters in the alphabet and 12 notes in music. That’s the tools I’ve got to work with.


MI: Why did it take you six years to complete this album?


DM: Well, because I wasn’t really making it for any other reason than just my own entertainment. I didn’t think anybody would care about putting it out, so I was basically just making it for myself.


MI: So did you put it out through your own label or did you go through a…


DM: No, it’s a label out of Chicago. Actually a friend of mine is one of the owners – Out The Box Records. It’s distributed by RED, which is Sony.


MI: So you’re happy with it then. The album cover is beautiful – who did the work on that?


DM: Actually, I did.


MI: What inspired you to start doing this on your own – the album.


DM: Basically, I was out in California, just overlooking a lake and living on my own, so it just sort of…I didn’t have anybody around to worry about the when or where or how or what or should or shouldn’t so I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted. It was a little bit like the Traffic days in the cottage. I had all the time and like I said, it’s not like I was making an album because I had a record deal and there was a commitment to make an album so there was no pressure.


MI: What’s your favorite track off the new album?


DM: (laughs) I like all of them, that’s why they’re on there. I tried to make an album with no dead weight on it, basically. Favorites? Gosh, there are a bunch of them…”Good 2 U” I love that…”How Do I Get To Heaven” is a great song. “Full Circle” I love because it’s a little left field for me and it’s just an album that I really like. There are no throwaways on there – there is something on there for everybody. I didn’t want to make something where there was one good song and the rest were just throwaway jams.


MI: Now you got so many people with you on this album – Sheila E., Willie Nelson. How did you get all these people involved?


DM: Well, with Sheila I just made a call and asked her if she would like to do it and she came – she lives in LA and I guess I’m about 70 miles away from where she lives – I live by Santa Barbara – and she said yeah, I’d love to do it. So she came over and did her part!


MI: And what about Willie?


DM: Well, Willie was a little more elaborate. A friend of mine thought that “How Do I Get To Heaven” would be great to do with someone else and someone said, “well what about Willie Nelson?” I thought…that would be kind of interesting, I mean, I love Willie’s stuff. So I got in touch with him to do it, he got a copy of the song, he loved the song and almost a year later I finally got to go down to Austin and try to….the thing is, I would have loved to kind of do it like a real duet with him but as it is, all I got was some of his guitar playing. The thing was that the track by that time was so far along and so finished and vocally it didn’t fit in with the way I ended up doing the song. I think if we’d have cut it together at the time, it would have probably worked. But it didn’t seem to quite work after going so far along with the tune, so we settled with just some guitar work on there.


MI: Do you see yourself making a video with the album?


DM: I don’t know. (laughs) I don’t know, you know? Like anything, after awhile it’s all money. I don’t know if there will be or not. I think with the label, it’s officially coming out on the 14th of the month and I think personally, in a way, I would have rather held it back until January. I think trying to chase it at this point with a lot of money is not a good idea because it’s Christmas time and there’s no way I’m going to compete with all that stuff. At this point, we just put it out there and do what we can to keep it alive for awhile so we can get a little more into it in the new year with the label really going after stuff.


MI: Now, are you working on a new album as we’re speaking?


DM: Oh, god no.


MI: So we have to wait another six years?


DM: You’ll have to wait another 22 years. (laughs) No, I won’t be working on another one – this one hasn’t even officially come out yet.


MI: Tell me about the non-profit you are involved with – Little Kids Rock – how did you get involved?


DM: Well, basically that was really just them coming to me and asking me if I would be on the Board. I said, “Yeah, of course I’ll be on your Board.” It’s a good cause and there are a number of organizations that supplement the arts because they don’t teach it as a curriculum in school. I’m English, so that was all compulsory stuff when I was in school. It’s a shame, but it’s the way it goes, I suppose.


MI: What fueled your creative inspiration as an artist? What gave you that inspiration to become a musician?


DM: Well, I figured out that I was never going to work 9 to 5. I just got drawn into it and made my mind up that that was what I was going to do and things just worked out. That’s all I was focused on, there was nothing else. I was going to do whatever it took, go wherever I had to go, sleep on basement floors, whatever. Luckily, I got the opportunity with Traffic for me and starting writing some things that became pretty significant songs, especially “Feelin’ Alright” and then it just became a rub with the music that I was writing and what Steve Winwood wanted to do and they didn’t really…they sort of said “We really don’t feel your music works in this band anymore, Dave.” So I had no choice but to go out on my own, basically. Unfortunately, what can I tell you, it was a shame but marriages break up. (laughs)


MI: Do you play any other instrument besides guitar?


DM: I noodle around on keyboards a little bit but I’m not proficient enough to play it.


MI: How did you get involved with the new guitar company, RKS, what is your role there? And tell us about your beautiful signature guitar. How did you become a beta tester for their guitar lines and…do I get a free guitar? (laughing)


DM: Well that came through somebody who is from a rather successful industrial design company, which RKS are its initials in California. They got some little designs someone’s come up with for a guitar and I stopped by to take a look at it and that was 6, 7 years ago now and I saw the design and said, “well, that’s kind of interesting but do this and this and this and this” and it finally developed into a guitar design with really no intention to ever produce them, but rather to sell to another company. Then we took it to a couple of companies; Gibson was very interested at one point, and things just sort of petered out and so Robbie and I decided well, let’s start making guitars, I guess. I’m an owner of the company, I’ve got some significant money invested in it and then I brought in a friend of mine, a man named Dale Jensen, who is actually the majority own of the Diamondbacks in Phoenix and Dale invested a significant amount of money and the thing was Dale and I weren’t day to day running the company so the problem at this point is that it’s closed; it’s at a standstill because things were just not working out the way they were set up. I’m actually at the moment talking to some different people, different investors and seeing about trying to resurrecting it. It’s just dormant, that’s what’s going on. They’re beautifully designed, cool guitars. Hey, I’m not one to give up so we’ll see what we can do about resurrecting it.


MI: How did it feel for you to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in ’04 with Traffic – with Dave Matthews inducting you!


DM: More on a personal level, I thought, well, it’s about time – took you long enough. (laughs) And then it just became – I mean, it was a great night; it was great to have that happen – probably one of the best inductee shows they’ve had because Prince was there, ZZ Top, Bob Seger and Traffic. So it was a pretty heavy musical night. The only that spoiled it was again, because of this whole nonsense with Winwood – it just became sort of…they were dictating what was going and what wasn’t going to happen and how it was going to go and how it wasn’t going to go and it basically became a showcase for Steve and they wanted to do “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and I said that’s fine, okay, great, whatever. I said why don’t you and me just get up, do Fantasy, and just jam some guitar and just do it. Well, no, that’s not going to happen. So I said, well I’ll just play acoustic guitar then. No. That’s not going to happen – no, you will play bass and do it just like the record. Well, I haven’t owned a bass in over 40 years and I’ve only ever played one twice and I don’t really play bass, I play guitar. It became…(laughs) I had people calling me, “Dave, you’ve gotta…” I said, man, it’s not my instrument. Why do that? Why not make it fun and just get up and jam and make peace out of it. So, nobody was going to let that happen. That’s the bottom line. So unfortunately, I said, you know what, you guys have at it. Get up and do it. So I didn’t play with them. Then I had Paul Shaffer finished up with the dirty job with calling – he said, “Dave, I’ve been asked to call you. I don’t really want to do this, but is there anyway we can work this out?” I said, you know, I’m tired of explaining this to everybody. Somebody should be calling Winwood, not me, and bugging his ass. So he finally got the picture and said “Well, you know at the end of the show we all do a jam, where everybody gets up and plays a song”. I said, “Personally, I want to do “Feelin’ Alright” (laughs) So I finished up the end of the show with everybody backing “Feelin’ Alright”. It was a shame; it was a terrific opportunity for a reunion and a reunion tour. If I had a dollar for everybody who’s ever asked me about there being a Traffic reunion tour…it would be crazy. You know, it’s like when they went out in ’94, I didn’t get asked if I wanted to…nobody was going to call me and ask if I wanted to be a part of it. It’s a bizarre situation. I’ve never quite understood it.


MI: How do you think the music industry has changed since you began with Traffic?


DM: I mean, I suppose, the industry, you could liken it to the days of the old movie studios – they could be the record labels. You know, there are some great records out there; passionate, really great record guys and of course everybody bemoans it like it a slavery contract. It’s all out there for grabs and the problem is the internet out there and everybody is stealing everything. What I think is probably the worst is the radio, I thinks it’s just one big massive disconnect.


MI: I remember as a kid, DJ’s could play anything they wanted.


DM: It’s all been homogenized and corporatized and the few things that are left, classic rock radio for instance, somebody explained to me that they will play all our music, but they won’t play something new from the artists.


MI: I remember as a kid, there was no such thing as a setlist and the djs could play anything they wanted. A DJ friend of mine said to me, “You know what the bitch is, Barb, we get a setlist and say we’re given Kid Rock and I want to play The Ramones or something. If The Ramones aren’t on that setlist, I’m automatically fired. We have no freedom”   


DM: Well the problem is there is no personality, it’s all on a card; there are no surprises because it’s like, “What’s the second half of the show going to be like?” Well, just like the first half of the show. So, for the most part, the kids are turned off to it – they don’t want to listen to it because it’s the same homogenized stuff. People our age, adults, have gravitated to talk radio because at least there’s a personality there. It’s taken all the personality out of radio; I think radio could still be very relevant. Everybody’s got one in their car – I know everyone is Ipoded out – but nevertheless, there are more radios than Ipods out there. It’s still a very viable media; it’s just been raped and pillaged – lost its character.


MI: Do you think that the internet has helped in any form with the industry?


DM: Well, I suppose it has for the kids. It doesn’t do much for me – it’s not really helping me because for the most part, the majority of people that are hip to it and using it are young people and they go, “Dave Mason? Where’s Dave Matthews?” So I’m just lost in the massive millions of stuff that’s out there. And then the other part of it is like I said, everybody is just taking it for nothing. It’s a shame because especially in this day and age, this economy, I still think a cd is the best value for your money that you can get out of it. It might be 13 bucks, but you’ve got something that you can play again and again. I don’t know where else you get that kind of value.


MI: No. I’ve noticed a lot of artists are going back to vinyl now, too.


DM: Well, there’s a vinyl craze, because there are a small percentage – especially high end audiophile people, so there is a small niche for vinyl now, not a huge market, but a significant enough amount of people to start doing it again. Problem is there are only two plants left that actually press vinyl so it’s kind of difficult to try to get it done.


MI: Tell me about your history with Jimmy Hendrix.


DM: Well, basically…


MI: I know you did Watchtower with him, but did you guys remain friends after that?


DM: Well, around the time I did that, we were kind of loosely talking about me joining the Experience on bass, because at the time there was a problem between him and Noel. If you notice on Electric Ladyland, Jimi plays bass on everything, on all those tracks, pretty much. I got to know him, we were hanging around. He was a big fan of Traffic and vice versa. It was very easy to run into to people in London in those days. So we got to know each other and I got to do some things with him, like play the acoustic guitar part on Watchtower, a thing on Crosstown Traffic…and two or three other tracks that I played that I have no idea where they disappeared to where I played bass and guitar. I have no idea what happened to those. But after Traffic and after the situation after the second album… I was a kid then, I just started writing; I was trying to find out who I was. But I wrote half of those first two albums. After that second album, and I don’t know, I can only surmise that… the songs I kept writing kept being picked as singles and I can only surmise that that may have kicked up a little irksomeness somewhere.


MI: When I was reading your bio, I saw that you left Traffic, went back, and then left again totally.


DM: Well, I left the first time because I was so young, and frankly I left because I couldn’t deal with…


MI: ..A certain person?


DM: No, no, it had nothing to do with a person the first time. I left because I couldn’t deal with the popularity. I couldn’t deal with the sudden…


MI: …rise to Stardom?


DM: Exactly. So I left, I just stepped out of it. It was just too much for me, I mean, I was eighteen. And then, I took some time off and did things like play on different peoples sessions…


MI: Like Beggar’s Banquet?


DM: Like Beggar’s Banquet and I produced an album for a band called The Family. Sort of goofed off and then I wrote some songs, one of them being “Feelin’ Alright” and then I met up with them in New York where they were working on the second album, the album just called Traffic, and they had five tracks. That was all they had. And I said, I’ve got five songs, what do you want to do? So they were like, cool, let’s get to work. So we cut the songs and sort of got that second album which to me was kind of, I thought it was a really good album. It was becoming more cohesive; then after that was when it was sort of Dave, we don’t really think you fit in this band anymore. That’s how that all came down. After that I looked around and it was like you what, I don’t need to stay here in England. There were a couple of reasons, it was at this point 95 cents on the dollar taxes and I said you what, the hell with it. I’m just going to go where this all started – I’m going to go to America – where rock and roll and blues and jazz and all that started. I think I’ll just go to the source. So I took an acoustic guitar and a little bag and got on a plane and flew that 7000 miles to Los Angeles.


MI: If you were to recommend anything for any young musician out there, what would you recommend they do if they were going in to sign with a label?


DM: Get a business education. (laughs) And make sure you’ve got someone around you that’s a really good friend to look over your back.


MI: Do you have a message for your fans out there?


DM: Just thank you for being there all these years and I hope you enjoy the new album.


MI: And where can they find…


Dm: Right now the album is available on Amazon and I guess it will be in stores… I know mostly that it will be in Best Buy.


MI: I bet you’re excited about the tour.


DM: Well, it’s a never ending tour.


MI: What’s your favorite quote of all time?


DM: Gosh, I don’t know. You’ve got me there. I keep a batch of them on my computer but I can’t bring them up!


MI: It was great talking to you. Have a great show.


DM: It was great talking to you, Barbara.





About Author

My name is Barbara Fara. Musicincider.com is my baby. I am a psychic and a photographer-and a writer! I am more than a little crazy, because I love taking pictures with people body surfing over my head

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