What do the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith all have in common? The brilliant and amazing singer and songwriter Steve Winwood, for starters.
Winwood began playing piano at 4 years old and started playing drums and guitar soon after. His first live performance came when he was 8 years old, but he had to play incognito. His Brother, Muff, said that when Steve began playing regularly with his father and brother in their band in licensed pubs and clubs, the piano had to be turned with its back to the audience to try and hide him, because he was so obviously underage.
He began playing with the Spencer Davis Group at age 14, where his very vocal style and high voice drew comparisons to Ray Charles. The group signed with Island Records in 1964 when Steve was 16. Founder/producer Chris Blackwell said of Winwood “He was really the cornerstone of Island Records. He’s a musical genius and because he was with Island, all the other talent really wanted to be with Island.” Winwood co-wrote and recorded the chart-topping hits “Gimme Some Lovin'” and “I’m a Man” before leaving the Spencer Davis Group in 1967.
He very briefly joined forces with Eric Clapton, before moving on to Traffic. Early in Traffic’s formation, Winwood and drummer Jim Capaldi formed a songwriting partnership, with Winwood writing music to match Capaldi’s lyrics. Winwood also formed the supergroup Blind Faith in 1969 with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech, but the band was short-lived. He also played with Ginger Baker’s Air Force for a brief time.
In the mid 70s, touring and recording with Traffic became such a grind that Winwood “retired” to do session work for a few years. He was forced into a solo career by Island Records in 1977, recorded a self-titled album, followed by his 1980 hit Arc of a Diver, and Talking Back to the Night in 1982. Arc spawned the hit, While You See A Chance, and Talking Back brought us the hit, Valerie.
In 1986, Winwood moved back to New York to record Back In The High Life, producing numerous hits including Higher Love, The Finer Things, and the album title song. He then embarked on an extensive tour to promote the album. All these albums were released on Island Records, but at the peak of his commercial success, Winwood moved to Virgin Records, and released Roll with It and Refugees of the Heart.
Though primarily an amazing vocalist and keyboard player, Winwood proficiently plays other instruments including drums, mandolin, guitars, bass, and saxophone. Additionally, in 2008, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music to add to his honorary degree from Aston University, Birmingham.
He continues to write, record and tour, and appeared in A Tribute to Ginger Baker in February 2020. His daughter Lilly has followed in his footsteps, and is also a singer, and performed Higher Love with him in a Hershey commercial.
Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected]