After more than 50 years in the business, Dave Mason realizes his job falls into two completely separate categories: art and sales.
“As much as I’m in the business of making music and playing music, I’m also in the business of selling memories,” says Mason, a founding member of the 1960s British rock band Traffic.
These days, the memories he’s peddling are comfortable and familiar wares, especially to an audience of a certain generation. He’s taking the crowd back almost half a century to 1970, when he finally cut the cord for good with Traffic and launched a solo career with his debut album “Alone Together.”
The LP was more of an artistic success than a commercial one. But it’s still considered a classic by some rock music purists, and on his current “Alone Together” tour, Mason is playing all of the album’s eight tracks.
Mason will perform 7 p.m. Monday, June 19, at the Ocean City Music Pier as part of the city’s summer concert series.
Out of order
While he’ll play the entire album, he won’t present it in the track-by-track order people remember from the vinyl version.
“We’ll be spreading (the songs) out through the show,” he explains. “I just think it works better that way. But we will do all of the songs.”
Most of the songs will sound like the originals, Mason says during a recent phone call as he drove through the Florida Keys headed for a gig in Key West. He admits taking a few liberties on some of the numbers, but nothing so drastic his fans won’t recognize them.
Mason isn’t the first artist to perform an entire album live — The Who are among the many bands that have done the same thing — but he’s one of the few artists of his era who actually recorded the album a second time.
Last year, Mason remade “Alone Together.” Compared to the original, it isn’t enough close.
The remake, Mason says, surpassed the original.
“Nothing radically different. The (new) version of ‘Sad and Deep As You’ is way better than the original,” he says. “The extended guitar solo at the end of ‘Look at You Look at Me’ includes not only the guitar part, but also my keyboards player. It’s the little things (that makes it different).”
The biggest change between the original and the remake 46 years later is the vocals, Mason says.
At 71, Mason considers himself a much better singer today than he was at 22, when he recorded “Alone Together.”
Some might say today’s music technology can make any album sound better. But Mason says technology had nothing to do with the improvement.
Come summer, the amount of live music in South Jersey seems to quadruple. With so many music…
“Look, I did my first (recordings) on 4-track, so whether it’s 4, 8, 16 or whatever, that really has nothing to do with it,” he says. “It’s just the performances. That’s what makes it better.”
In addition to his solo material, Mason will also channel the music of Traffic during his live show. The band formed in 1967 with Mason, Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood.
Over the next four years, Mason would leave the band — and then return — at least three times before finally making the split permanent.
Like the songs of “Alone Together,” Mason has made some subtle changes to the Traffic material.
“We have a version of ‘The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,’ but I do it as a slow blues (song) and it goes over really well,” he explains. “On ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy,’ the melody is the same but I’ve changed the chord sequence so that it’s not in an A-minor any more, it’s an A-major. I don’t think (the audience) so much cares about whether it’s exactly like (the original) was. I’ve had a lot of comments about ‘Low Spark,’ and most people are saying it’s better than the original.”
Besides his solo work, Mason was also an exceptional sideman who played session gigs Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, The Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac, to name a few of the major artists with whom he’s worked.
Still feelin’ alright
As a composer, he’s written his blues-flavored rock for both himself and other artists. Of all his material, his best-known tune is probably “Feelin’ Alright,” which has been covered by dozens of performers.
But the best performance of the song belongs to Joe Cocker, he acknowledges.
“That’s the version that gets constantly used in movies and commercials,” he says. “There are 50 or more major artists who have recorded it, but Cocker’s got the definitive version of it.”
Mason says he performed the song with Cocker on several occasions. Another duet partner on “Feelin’ Alright” was the late comedy actor John Belushi, who did a spot-on visual and vocal impression of Cocker singing the song.
“(Belushi) did a great job of capturing Cocker during an interesting period in his life,” Mason recalls.