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Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die (1970)

September 21, 2019

[Album 672/1001]

Question: during the 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame performance of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, who was in the band?

Let’s see, there was Prince of course.

And Tom Petty sang.

Then there was George Harrison’s son & Jeff Lynne from ELO.

I think that’s…oh, and the video title says Steve Winwood is up there too? Is that him, maybe playing the organ?

Though he’s listed third in the video title, I don’t seem to notice him during the performance. Yet if his organ part was actually missing, there would be a glaring hole in the song.

Perhaps I got distracted by everything else going on (just where did Prince’s guitar go?!)…or perhaps Winwood’s lack of front & centre visibility may be evidence of his greatness.

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There’s a chance Steve Winwood is the Niklas Lidström of the music business.

You’d be forgiven for not being familiar with Lidström as outside of the world of hockey, he’s hardly a household name. Throughout his 20 years of service in the NHL, you could even argue he was barely noticeable on the ice.

Though not because of any skill deficiency; on the contrary, he was so sound positionally, always making the right play from the right place at the right time, that his flashier teammates would be the ones featured on highlight reels.

Sometimes the greats have a knack for sharing the spotlight. Even though he served as the Captain & undisputed defensive leader of the team, his contributions made those around him better.

Unsurprisingly, with such a talented leader at the helm, the team enjoyed unparalleled success, qualifying for the playoffs every year of his career.

However, since his retirement, his absence has been painfully visible in Detroit. Without him, the team has tumbled to the bottom of the league standings.

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Does John Barleycorn Must Die support or disprove the Winwood = Lidström theory?

Although my theory is beyond under-researched (at least for the Winwood part of the equation), I’d say the Traffic album doesn’t completely disprove the notion. Not immediately, at least!

Although Winwood wrote/co-wrote or arranged each of the tracks, he doesn’t necessarily give himself all of the flashiest parts.220px-Traffic-John_Barleycorn_Must_Die_(album_cover)

I found that on the first two tracks, rather than noticing Steve Winwood, I was captivated by the Woodwin(d) player.

Like Niklas, Steve wasn’t completely invisible of course. From time to time, you can’t help but notice his versatile playing, with his acoustic guitar work on the title track being a particularly noteworthy/noticeable performance.

Overall, based on this extremely small/almost certainly unrepresentative sample size, I’m pleased my theory (that great musicians can be more effective by being noticed less) isn’t entirely invalid just yet!

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Untitled presentation (11)

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Verbalize the Positive

For my school’s Girls Ice Hockey Team, we give out a Nicklas Lidström award (for best decision-making/quiet leadership/positional play) at the year end lunch party – it’s likely my favourite award, as those types of players are so valuable & typically so underappreciated!

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From → 1970s

14 Comments
  1. Bruce Jenkins permalink

    As a long-standing Winwood fan, I was intrigued and amused by your take, especially citing that world-dominating sport of ice hockey. Suffice to say, Geoff, you may have something. Even allowing for your puck being firmly in your cheek, Steve has always had a talent for creating a detailed yet understated sound palette. JBMD started life as a Winwood solo project but after inviting Wood et al to the sessions, it became the first of the “reborn” Traffic albums.
    May I recommend taking it round the rink a few more times?

    • I would be happy to invest in a seasons ticket package to the Traffic arena, Bruce!
      My thanks as well – there are very few players I admire more than Lidstrom & I have a feeling that the more Traffic I hear, the more I’ll appreciate Mr. Winwood.
      The good news is – though this is round 1 of my Winwood journey, I both appreciated & quite enjoyed Mr. Barleycorn!

  2. I love the title track. There wasn’t a whole lot in his previous work that suggested a brilliant acoustic folk rock cover of a traditional song.

    • I quite liked the opening instrumental too – though I’ve found myself singing ‘funky town’ a fair bit this week, I think Lipps Inc. may have borrowed that traffic saxophone hook!

      • Talking of sports metaphors, our countries are meeting in the Rugby World Cup next week. I think the odds of a Canadian victory are minimal.

      • I imagine that’s the case!

      • You’ll get your revenge at basketball or ice hockey I imagine….

      • I believe our Women’s team is quite good – they might be able to make it competitive!

  3. I still haven’t heard this one, but I do think the best musicians and songwriters have a way of playing something integral without always standing out.

    • I’m glad to have heard this album J – and even happier that you agree that the true greats can make quietly essential contributions!

  4. I bought this in Amsterdam earlier this year. I still can’t quite get a toehold on it.

    • I like those LPs that were bought elsewhere – I find even if I’m not crazy about the album itself, I’ll have fond memories of the record purchase, which boosts the overall experience!

  5. As a baseball guy, Lindstrom sounds like Mike Trout. He is on pace to become the greatest baseball player of all time but no one outside of baseball seems to know or care about this. I have a bootleg around here somewhere with Traffic jamming with Hendrix. It is good times.

    • A traffic/hendrix jam sounds like it would be well worth hearing, regardless of whether one has heard of Mike Trout or Niklas Lidstrom!

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