Steve Winwood (Spencer Davis, Traffic)

English musicianStephen Lawrence “Steve” Winwood was born 12 May 1948 in Handsworth, Birmingham. His father, Lawrence, a foundryman by trade, was a semi-professional musician, playing mainly the saxophone and clarinet. Young Winwood became interested in swing and Dixieland jazz as a boy, began playing piano at age four, and also soon started playing drums and guitar. He first performed with his father and older brother, Muff, in the Ron Atkinson Band at the age of eight. Muff later recalled that when Steve began playing regularly with his father and brother 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. Winwood was a choirboy at St John’s Church of England, Perry Barr. He later admitted to having “sneaked a few plays” of the organ there. While he was still young the family moved from Handsworth to the semi-rural suburb of Great Barr at the northern edge of the city. Winwood attended the Great Barr School which was one of the first comprehensive schools, where a teacher recalled him being a conscientious and able student who displayed ability in mathematics. He also attended the Birmingham and Midland Institute of Music to develop his skills as a pianist, but did not complete his course.

His played rock, blue-eyed soul, rhythm and blues, blues rock, pop rock, and jazz. Though primarily a vocalist and keyboardist, Winwood also plays bass guitar, drums, acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, violin, and other strings. While still a pupil at Great Barr School Winwood was a part of the Birmingham rhythm and blues scene, playing the Hammond B-3 organ and guitar, backing blues singers such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Eddie Boyd, Otis Spann, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. Winwood modelled his singing after Ray Charles.

Winwood joined the Spencer Davis Group at age 14, along with his older brother, Muff, who later had success as a record producer. Steve’s distinctive high tenor singing voice and vocal style drew comparisons to Ray Charles. At the end of 1965 the group had their first number one single with “Keep On Running” and the money from this success allowed Winwood to buy his own Hammond B-3 organ. Winwood also joined forces with guitarist Eric Clapton as part of the one-off group Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse. Songs were recorded for the Elektra label, but only three tracks made the compilation album, What’s Shakin’. Winwood co-wrote and recorded the hits “Gimme Some Lovin'” and “I’m a Man” before leaving the Spencer Davis Group.

Winwood met drummer Jim Capaldi, guitarist Dave Mason, and multi-instrumentalist Chris Wood when they jammed together at The Elbow Room, a club in Aston, Birmingham. After Winwood left the Spencer Davis Group in April 1967, the quartet formed Traffic. Early in Traffic’s formation, Winwood and Capaldi formed a songwriting partnership, with Winwood writing music to match Capaldi’s lyrics. This partnership was the source of most of Traffic’s material, including popular songs such as “Paper Sun” and “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys,”

He also had a successful solo career with hits including “While You See a Chance,” “Valerie,” “Back in the High Life Again” and two US Billboard Hot 100 number ones: “Higher Love” and “Roll with It.” He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Traffic in 2004. In 2005, Winwood was honoured as a BMI Icon at the annual BMI London Awards for his “enduring influence on generations of music makers.”In 2008, Rolling Stone ranked Winwood #33 in its 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Winwood has won two Grammy Awards. He was nominated twice for the Brit Award for Best British Male Artist: 1988 and 1989. .

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