By Jason M. Rubin
A talk with Dave Mason, a R&R Hall of Famer who will be performing with Electric Hot Tuna at the Wilbur.
Though the rock world is focused on the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, the failure of the organizers to launch another massive festival to mark the musical milestone turned out to be a short-lived story. Perhaps this is because artists of half a century ago are still going strong and reaching the faithful on a nightly basis, one venue at a time.
Case in point: Electric Hot Tuna (comprising Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, original members of Jefferson Airplane, who did play Woodstock) and Dave Mason (original member of Traffic, who did not) are filling out a powerful double bill at the Wilbur Theatre on Wednesday, August 21. The two acts are together for only a handful of dates; Mason is taking his “Feelin’ Alright Tour” across the U.S. through October and then starting up again in April 2020.
At age 73, Mason says he doesn’t make many compromises in terms of his life as a touring musician.
“Touring is touring,” he says with a laugh. “The only thing I’ve changed is that I don’t do five nights a week anymore. Years ago, I would do something like 48 cities in 52 days. Not anymore. But I still play about 100 shows a year; I’m on the road so much that I don’t really have to practice. It’s like riding a bike.”
Speaking of milestones, next year will see the 50th anniversary of Mason’s debut solo album, Alone Together (which this writer considers one of the all-time great rock albums), a recording that belongs in everyone’s collection. The album features musicians who also played on Derek and the Dominoes’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (on which Mason also played). All three albums were released in 1970, ushering in the post-’60s trend of virtuosic musicianship and complex productions.
Like Harrison, Mason had felt constrained in his former group, Traffic, frustrated that there were few opportunities for his songs to be recorded. And, like All Things Must Pass, Alone Together reflected what happened when the floodgates opened and a slew of great songs — “some of which would likely have ended up on the next Traffic album if things hadn’t gone as they did,” he says — reached the masses at last. I asked Mason what he remembered from those sessions.
“It was recorded at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles with Tommy LiPuma co-producing, and a bunch of great players. I had these eight songs and I played them to the guys and let them throw in their own things, how they wanted to interpret it.”
Mason says that he has recently re-recorded the album and will begin selling it in January at his shows and from his website. The original LP release featured marbled vinyl and a fold-out cover with a hole so you could hang it on your wall. Mason says that not only are the re-recordings true to the originals, but he is also planning to duplicate the packaging and make the CD multi-colored as well.
Another anniversary: It’s been 15 years since Mason was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Traffic. His relationship with the other members, particularly Steve Winwood, continued to be acrimonious. In fact, Mason did not perform with the group at the ceremony, though he did participate in the closing jam of “Feelin’ Alright.” He has not seen Winwood, the only other surviving original member, since.
That his signature song was chosen for the all-star jam (the 2004 Hall of Fame class included such heavyweights as Jackson Browne, George Harrison, Prince, Bob Seger, and ZZ Top) is indicative of its anthemic, it’s-not-a-party-until-you-play-it quality, but Mason credits Joe Cocker’s version with its enduring popularity.
“Of course, what people usually miss is that it’s not about feelin’ alright,” he says. “The guy’s asking the other person if she’s feelin’ alright; he says ‘I’m not feelin’ that good myself.’”
Back in 2015, Mason and his friend Ted Knapp founded a nonprofit called Rock Our Vets that supports men and women in uniform — all branches of the military, as well as law enforcement and firefighters — providing food, toiletries, clothing, cars, computers, whatever they need.
“I’ve never served,” says Mason, “I’m just an English guy who was born a year after World War II ended. But my father was in World War I, and so I’m very supportive of service people, especially in light of the way they’re treated when they return. No matter what political party you’re aligned with, we should all give respect and support to our people in uniform.”
With his music and his charity work, Dave Mason helps others feel alright, and hopefully he’s feelin’ pretty good himself these days, too.
Jason M. Rubin has been a professional writer for more than 33 years, the last 18 of which as senior creative associate at Libretto Inc., a Boston-based strategic communications agency where he has won awards for his copywriting. He has written for The Arts Fuse since 2012. Jason’s first novel, The Grave & The Gay, based on a 17th-century English folk ballad, was published in September 2012. His current book, Ancient Tales Newly Told, released in March 2019, combines in a single volume an updated version of his first novel with a new work of historical fiction, King of Kings, depicting the meeting of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Jason holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.