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I Thought
You Knew...

an interview with



left - Dave with his RKS design guitar
Photo by Bill Westheimer

Part 2
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Robert Silverstein: RS
Dave Mason: DM

RS: I was reading that in 1963 you were a member of a guitar combo called The Jaguars?

DM: Oh that was my very first band.

RS: And you had a single out in 1963 called...

DM: “Opus To Spring”.

RS: Speaking just for a minute of ‘60s pop instrumental music, were you influenced early on by Hank Marvin and The Shadows?

DM: When I started I used to think the vocals got in the way.

RS: So The Shadows were a big influence.

DM: Oh, huge. Shadows, Ventures, The Hunters...Rhett Stoller.

RS: Can you mention any of your other early musical influences growing up?

DM: From the get-go my musical influences come from hip pop, popular stuff. And then I backtracked into the blues, jazz and classical. I always had a pop sensibility. I mean I’m making records to sell ‘em! (laughter) Otherwise I would just stay at home. (laughter)

RS: Any other early influences growing up?

DM: The Shadows and The Ventures. “Walk Don’t Run”, “Rambunctious”, “Perfidia” by The Ventures. The Shadows...“F.B.I.”, “Man Of Mystery”, “Apache”. There were other more obscure things. A guy called Rhett Stoller. The Outlaws was a great instrumental band that Joe Meek produced some great instrumental records for. Great sounding records.

RS: I remember Joe Meek’s song “Telstar” and his work with The Tornados.

DM: Tornados, Johnny & The Hurricanes, Duane Eddy. Well Duane Eddy was the first thing I ever wanted to be because the first thing I ever played on the guitar was “Peter Gunn”. (laughter)

RS: After The Jaguars you and Jim Capaldi were in an early band called The Hellions. Did that change the sound?

DM: That was a little more jazz. We were doing stuff like...it was musically, very eclectic. We were doing Beatles, Martha & The Vandellas, Oscar Brown Jr. It was pretty eclectic. And the The Deep Feeling was the next band. Actually that was the first recording we ever did. And actually the first song I ever wrote was song with Jim. It’s on the flip side of a record...as The Hellions we did a record for Pye Records with Kim Fowley as the producer. (editor- for an interesting website discussing this band go to: www.brumbeat.net

RS: Really?

DM: He was the guy who did “They’re Coming To Take Me Away! (Ha Ha)”. We did this Jackie DeShannon song called “Daydreaming Of You” and the song on the flip side of it was the actual first song that I’d written, Jim and I wrote, called “Shades Of Blue”.

RS: Another highlight of both the 40,000 Headmen and, the Live At Sunrise DVD is your cover of “All Along The Watchtower”. You’ve been playing “All Along The Watchtower” for quite some time.

DM: Now I understand everybody does it! (laughter) Dave Matthews does it. A whole bunch of people.

RS: I know you’ve probably told this story a thousand times by the story I heard is you played the song for Jimi Hendrix at a party here in NYC and he freaked out and you recorded it with him that night.

DM: No, no...Jimi and I were with some small group of people at some girls apartment in London. Viv Prince was there with this band called The Pretty Things. Viv Prince was there and he had spiked everybody’s drinks, ‘cause everybody was going, ‘whoa! new album’. And somebody had a copy of John Wesley Harding. So we were listening to John Wesley Harding and “Watchtower” came on and Jimi and I were listening to it and at some place he said, ‘We gotta cut that song’. ‘Cause at the time I wasn’t with Traffic anymore. Mostly because the others really didn’t believe...they just didn’t want me in the band anymore. So I was out and there was a point actually where Jimi had started playing the bass on most of his recordings and Noel (Redding) was kind of on the way out and I was going to join The Experience.

RS: And that’s how you came to record “All Along The Watchtower” with Jimi?

DM: See, my whole thing with Traffic was, or my thoughts about it were that we had a unit that could come together. And I was still learning. I was still young. So I used to seek out my contemporaries, all my peers. Jimi was at a club. See, the thing about the ‘60s in London...you’d go out to the clubs, and the clubs were kind of private clubs. Blazes, The Bag O’ Nails. But you’d go in there and some nights there’d be Jagger or Lennon and McCartney, there’d be Hendrix. They’d just hang out! So I’d made it just a point of sitting down and just saying, ‘Hi! I’m Dave and I really dig your music’ and that’s basically what I did with Jimi. I mean, we kinda hung out a little bit. There’s actually some recordings—I have no idea where they are—where I’m playing bass and sitar with him. And out of one of those sessions was “Watchtower”.

RS: Do you remember the acoustic guitar you played on “All Along The Watchtower” with Hendrix?

DM: No. It was a 12 string. He did such a great version of it. I find it amusing when people tell me, ‘I like your version much better than Hendrix’s.’ (laughter) I go, ‘well that’s really nice of you to say!’

RS: Well you play it in the spirit in which it was made.

DM: I don’t know. I just did it the way I did it. But musically if I was going to pick a version it would be his version.

RS: One last question about Traffic’s Last Exit album. Do you remember the instrumental track “Something’s Got Hold Of My Toe”?

DM: Kind of.

RS: It credits you and Steve and Jimmy Miller as the writers.

DM: Yeah, okay. (laughter)

RS: But for me the best song on Last Exit was the lead off track, “Just For You”.

DM: (pointing to the CD cover of Last Exit) The thing about this is it’s just a label compilation of stuff that was laying around.

RS: But “Just For You” was actually a b-side of a single you had released.

DM: That was the b-side of “Little Woman”.

RS: And all the other guys from Traffic were on it.

DM: They were all on it, yep. It was a solo thing but it was all them playing on it. (laughter)

RS: Any other memories of “Just For You”?

DM: It’s like asking me about sessions on Alone Together. If you asked me I couldn’t recall one of them. Vaguely, certain parts of it I can remember.

RS: The albums you made on Columbia are all out of print now?

DM: No. Some of them you can’t get. Let It Flow is not out of print.

RS: I called One Way in Florida and they said they’re no longer in their catalog.

RS: (Ramesh Sawhney) Some of David’s records are no longer available and there is some negotiation or preliminary negotiation with Blue Records to try to retrieve that, repackage it, put some bonus tracks on it and reissue it. And in that special format, which would make it a special collector’s edition it will be represented. Now is the time because people are now seriously looking at David’s music and saying, ‘wow’. Not only is it history but you’ll listen to George and you’ll listen to Eric...you’ll listen to Dave just as easily. You pick up All Thing’s Must Pass you’ll see, who’s on guitar? It’s George, it’s David and it’s Eric. And that tells you who are the three leading guitarists in the opinions of most people in my age group, which is the 40+ age group. I want to listen to Dave, I want to listen to George and I want to listen to Eric.

RS: It would be great to see Alone Together come out as a mini box set with bonus tracks and maybe an interview.

DM: Yeah, yeah... Actually for long time that album, up till the early ‘80s, I remember it was on Rolling Stone, Alone Together was the most valuable collectors album.

RS: The Lp.

DM: Right. The colored one. But then rap came along and that was the end of that! (laughter)

RS: And they I saw on Ebay that the album you made with Mama Cass Elliot it going for big numbers.

DM: I just did an A&E biography they’re gonna do on her. Well they should I spent a long time with her.

RS: Being that the CD is going for fifty dollars it would be nice to see a reissue that sets the story straight.

DM: Actually, right now if they’re going to do a Cass on A&E Biography it would be very wise for somebody to have it ready to go...here. Cass was cool. Cass actually could have been the contemporary Sophie Tucker. That’s who Cass was. She had a very quick wit. Nobody really ever saw who she really was, unfortunately.

RS: What about BBC recordings. Did you do anything for the BBC?

DM: Yeah, with Traffic. BBC, Ready, Steady, Go, Top Of The Pops. All kinds of stuff unreleased somewhere.

RS: You also worked with Family back in the ‘60s, working alongside Jimmy Miller and Eddie Kramer on the first Family album.

DM: I produced the first Family album, Music In A Doll’s House.

RS: You played a lot of mellotron on the first Family album?

DM: Well no...mellotron is on “Hole In My Shoe”.

RS: Do you still own a mellotron?

DM: I didn’t know what we should do. It’s great to know what you should not do.

RS: The first Family album was extremely experimental.

DM: Well it was the time and the fact that we did it all on four track. The main thing about doing things back then is that you had to know what you were doing before you went in there, in a way. And it was all experimental. We’d try shit out. We’d do whatever was necessary.

RS: For music, it seemed like the years 1966-71 were impossibly brilliant. Nothing’s even come close since.

DM: Listen, 1960 was 14 years after...you’re talking about two major world wars and you’re talking about kids that were born...parents who had children who came out of that era. And you had major stuff going on. You had a man, named Hitler, and the free world was fighting for a sense of freedom as we are having to do right now. All too quickly, America seemed to get sloppy with their thinking. It’s become like 9/11, maybe that was just another disaster movie. In other words, it’s just getting too easy for everybody to forget here in America. Freedom is a responsibility. It’s not just a God-given right. Let’s face it, 9/11 was the first time this country’s ever been attacked, physically attacked, okay? And I sit here in amazement watching certain factions of philosophers and politics backpedaling here. And I’m watching people backpedal and backpedal. And the reality is if you don’t do it now you’re gonna have to do it eventually. Because we have a certain lifestyle. We have a lifestyle that we’ve made for ourselves. We have alot of wonderful toys (laughter) and have alot of nice living and we need to defend it. And alot of people are very resentful about that. C’mon, I mean American’s every race. I mean the comments made by...I was listening yesterday about this thing with Columbia (the ill-fated space shuttle) and some comments that were made on Canadian radio about America’s arrogant with this and with that. The fact is that there was an Indian woman on that shuttle. There were about four or five different nationalities for God’s sake. America is a melting pot. Every nationality in the world makes up America. There was an Israeli on there. So the point being to go back to your question is that the ‘60s were, you’re talking about something that came out of two major world wars. And of course people wanted a better world and a better life. We were sort of the forefront of all those...I’m one of those war babies. I was born in 1946. My father was in the 1914-18 war. My father was born in 1898. So when I came to America and we talk about history...most people here have no sense of history whatsoever. And as they say, those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. Basically that’s that whole thing with the ‘60s. There was great world-wide communal sense of making something better of the planet.

RS: I interviewed Mike Pinder, the founder of The Moody Blues, and he said the blues had a big influence on the kids born in England during the WWII years.

DM: Just as an aside here, basically we turned you back on to your own music. See I regard rock and roll as basically an American folk music. The black guy taught the white guy how to clap on the backbeat. White people don’t clap on the backbeat, trust me. If you ever played in Germany when you were 16 years old, they were all on the one and the three. That’s a white people clap. So, there’s a whole rhythmic thing that you got from African-Americans who were born here. Basically the English turned you back on to your own music. Back in the ‘60s pop radio wasn’t going to play R&B artists. It was very white bread, milquetoast stuff. That’s what American radio was for a long time. So we discovered all that back then.

RS: In essence, Mike Pinder told me that after WWII, the English identified with the suffering the blues spoke of.

DM: I don’t know whether it was that or not it was just the feel of it. Maybe for him, yeah. I never really got into it that much. That’s a whole other discussion. (laughter) It’s for another time. But the music, the blues, especially R&B stuff...I mean Motown for God’s sake! We had to turn you back on to Motown.

RS: Well The Beatles turned me on to Motown.

DM: Right!

RS: Before The Beatles I was listening to The Beach Boys and The Four Seasons...

DM: And we were listening to all that too. We all dug a little deeper. Someone like Mike Pinder, or myself, or Eric or all those guys...you gotta understand. We grew up in a country where there was basically one TV station that didn’t really start doing any real broadcasting till 6 o’clock at night and then you had the epilogue at 12 and that was the end of that. And there was one radio station, the BBC. And that’s what we all grew up listening to and frankly, you wanted to scream. So you had to go really search for things like the blues, like R&B. So it became like a personal quest when we were young, ‘cause we didn’t have it. And the first time we came to America when I was 13 or 14, it was like wow, there’s more than one TV station here. Wow, there’s more than one radio station. This is cool! (laughter) Now, there’s just too much. Too much and it’s too easy. For us, when we were kids we had to go really out of out way...if you wanted to do this...it was dedication.

RS: Anything else you can add about the ‘60s group Family. You told me there’s something new coming about them?

DM: No, the wild thing is out of the blue this guy from England who’s doing an article on Family started emailing me about two weeks ago...questions about Family.

RS: Music In A Doll’s House is such a great album. It’s sort of reminiscent of Mr. Fantasy.

DM: Well, it’s sort of that same era.

RS: In 1969 Steve Winwood stunned the music world by leaving Traffic to join Clapton and Baker in Blind Faith? I saw Blind Faith at Madison Sq. Garden that show they played in early July, 69 with Free opening and Delaney & Bonnie second on the bill.

DM: So you saw me playing guitar.

RS: So you were with Delaney & Bonnie that night?

DM: Yeah. Well they had that big hit with “Only You Know And I Know.” I was the guitar player for Delaney & Bonnie.

RS: I remember the stage at the Garden for that Blind Faith show was in the round and Free were amazing. I was thinking, wouldn’t it be amazing if Clapton, Winwood and Capaldi would join you in a supergroup based around the Traffic / Blind Faith legacy?

DM: Well, they’re older, they’ve got families, they’ve made their money...they’re not hungry in the same ways. Who knows? I don’t know. But I can’t answer for them, not them

RS: Can you record when and how you first met George Harrison?

DM: Actually the first person I knew was McCartney. And then I got to playing with The Stones and those guys on Beggar’s Banquet. It was the same thing. I just wanted to be around. I wanted to learn from everybody. And then I got to know McCartney ‘cause the girl I was with at the time was designing some furniture for him. And so I got to know everybody through that. I’d go down to Abbey Road. I used to go to a number of the Sgt. Pepper sessions. And that’s basically, really how I got to know them. And then I’d go down to, what the heck was where George... George had a house down in Esher, by the golf course. And that’s where I first heard the Sgt. Pepper album when it was just finished. I went down there. And then George gave me a sitar.

RS: So George Harrison was the influence behind your sitar playing?

DM: I was into it because they started using it and it was new and it was different. They sort of embraced the whole aspect of the religion, the whole culture. Me, that was not my thing. But the music...I was very fascinated with the music.

RS: George was the first one to really explore the sound of the sitar in pop music.

DM: And George was the first one to really use it and make it work. And he was just a...nice guy. Really Paul and George were the only two that I really...John I never...

RS: Did you ever meet John Lennon?

DM: Oh yeah, yeah of course. I never spoke to him! (laughter) He was sitting around with a scowl on his face or something. John liked to intimidate. A couple times I met him though when he was...once in Hollywood there was a party he was on his way out and I was coming in, he goes, ‘Ah, Mason, good let’s go back in!’ (laughter) But then, see, early, early, early on when I came to America I was 23 or 22 and that’s when I got to know all the guys from Delaney & Bonnie. So I really was sort of one of the first one over here and got to know all those people and then eventually Eric got involved with them and everybody got involved with them. And there was a song, there was a record that Delaney & Bonnie did called “Coming Home”. It was a single. And on that single I had played the slide part, not that I can really play slide but if you give me few minutes to sit with it I can come up with something. I played the slide part and then I also actually replaced a Clapton solo on that record. On that single, “Coming Home”. For some reason, Delaney said, ‘I don’t like this solo, come down and play another solo.’ So I played that. But then anyway, when we came back to England and there was a show at Croydon Fairfield Hall, which was a live album. And George was there, and Eric played and I played. And how George started playing slide guitar is because Delaney said, ‘Play that part that Mason played on the thing.’ And that’s how he started playing slide guitar. From learning...and somewhere in an interview he did where he says, ‘I started playing slide guitar because of Dave Mason.’ (laughter) But he had to learn that part and that’s when he started doing all the slide stuff.

RS: I guess you heard George’s Wonderwall soundtrack.

DM: I probably did.

RS: I don’t know if you want to hear it. (our trusty interviewer happens to have a compilation CD of Wonderwall and some Beatles’ Mystery Tour outtakes)

DM: Put it on.

RS: Eric played on Wonderwall.

DM: See I like stuff George did like “Within You, Without You”...and he’s sort of the last one to emerge. I used to talk to McCartney, we’d be hanging out and I’d say, ‘y’know why does George keep burying his vocals? Like he was afraid for anybody to hear him sing?’ He’d say, ‘I don’t know why he keeps doing it.’ But then he started getting more...I really loved all that early stuff. And then he was like that last one to come out with those great songs—“Here Comes The Sun” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Some really cool songs. (While The Beatles’ song “Flying” is playing in the background and Dave gets a big grin on his face) This all flows into one big thing for me in the ‘60s. This sound? This would be very easy for me to confuse with that Rolling Stones album.

RS: Satanic Majesties Request?

DM: Right.

RS: Yeah?

DM: Yeah. That era. The Stones wanted to be The Beatles. Everybody picked up on all The Beatles’ stuff. Especially The Stones when they did that...but that was mostly alot of Brian...Brian Jones.

RS: I just want to ask you a little about recording with George Harrison on All Things Must Pass.

DM: I don’t remember very much about it. (laughter) Most of what I did on it was actually just playing acoustic guitar with maybe two or three other people. But like specifics, it’s just...It’s like if you asked me the specifics of me being in the hospital for a year and a half of my life, I couldn’t tell you one minute of it. I was fascinated by people that can actually remember things when they were that young. I can’t. You know what the sad thing about certain aspects of today is? When Traffic first came over to America and we played here at The Fillmore East, we asked specifically for The Staple Singers to open for us. Because that’s who we listened to. Those were the people we listened to. And the sad thing about today is there’s very little heritage recognition. There’s not going to be many of us left eventually. And that’s the legacy. Nobody’s tying legacies together. I don’t see any tours being put together where there’s some hip, young act that’s actually acknowledging where it all came from. ‘Cause it all stems from plagiarism. There’s 26 letters in the alphabet and there’s 12 notes in Western music (laughter) so out of that combination...it’d be nice to see some tours like these Lollapalooza tours. But the other part about it is, the sad thing about it is that, essentially, i.e. the music “business”, I’m a dead issue. Me and alot of other people. And radio is so screwed up there’s no room for an artist like myself, even though I may be at the peak of everything I’ve ever done. I may be doing some of the best stuff I ever did. It’s just that I’ve got to work with the fact that age is working against me. Except for the fans, the die-hard fans, the people you already know. To breakout new, to reignite it is not an easy thing to do at my age. Not because I can’t do it. I mean I can rock and roll one on one with the best of them, I don’t care who you put up there with me, I don’t care how young they are. It’s just the perception. I’m working against a constant perception. It’s mostly to do with age. Which is ridiculous. Really.

RS: So if you could make any record you want...

DM: I’m making the album I want to make! The question is, is how?... Off the bat, I’m locked into rock radio. I’m locked into classic radio, okay? Or I’m locked into AOR. But to transition over to the next step is not easy. When we were making music, there were two or three radio formats. Now it’s all on carts. There are no radio personalities anymore. They don’t even tell you half the time who the artists are you just listened to. So you’ve got to figure out alternate ways unless you’re an Eric Clapton or an Elton John or those people who manage to keep going and stay on that level. I’ve always constantly been below the radar. But then I’m sort of the reluctant rock guy. (laughter) I’m the reluctant rock star.

RS: Well, I keep going back to the ‘60s for inspiration.

DM: I mean, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I wrote a song because I thought it would be a nice idea to try and write something simple called “Feelin’ Alright”. I was just a simple little song. And then Joe Cocker did a version of it and now there’s 80 cover versions of it! I didn’t know it was gonna do that. If I’d have known I wouldn’t have given Chris Blackwell the publishing on it! (laughter) I didn’t know what I was doing. I was a kid! I guess everybody has their thing. Our grandparents would go back to Glenn Miller or whatever. I like Glenn Miller! I like Andy Williams, I like Frank Sinatra. I like all kinds of music. My whole thing about playing live is to send them out of there in a better place than when they walked in. Elliot Roberts said the best description about a concert when David Crosby said, ‘Y’know, I don’t think I’m going to sing “Almost Cut My Hair” tonight’. He said, ‘let me explain something to you, okay?’ He said, ‘Let’s see, the guy is in for about 25 bucks a ticket. He’s got his girlfriend. That’s 50 bucks. He’s probably gone to dinner. That’s another 40 or 50 bucks. There’s also the parking. That’s probably another ten dollars. And if you don’t sing “Almost Cut My Hair” tonight, he ain’t gonna get laid! You better sing “Almost Cut My Hair”. (laughter) That’s the bottom line!

RS: That’s a good way to end the interview! (laughter)

DM: In other words, you want people to walk out feeling better than they did when they walked in. I mean here’s the bottom line about anything in life...if you can leave things in a better place then you found them. My stuff has been about more than just music. I’m on a personal journey. I have a personal journey because I’m passing through and I don’t aim on coming back. Once is going to be enough for me. (laughter) My whole journey is not about the music. The music’s just an expression of something that I’ve been on since I was very young. And that’s just a personal journey. And every thing that I do reflects on that.

Thanks to Dave Mason - www.dave-mason.com, Ramesh Sawhney - www.bluelabelrecords.net, Spencer Savage and Cliff Greenough @ Image Entertainment, Thanks to photographers Bill Westheimer @ www.billwest.com and Richard Cervone: richardcervone@rcn.com



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