Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Traffic jam to get stuck in

By Wayne Shelor

In 1971 Traffic -- an on-again, off-again, on-again project of the multi-talented Steve Winwood -- released The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.  This was their fifth album.

The nearly 12-minute title track caused a bit of pious -- if somewhat ignorant -- consternation in mid-America; some record executives and religious leaders assumed that the referenced "high-heeled boys" had to do with sexuality/ homosexuality.

It did not.

Low Spark was about the stress, the corporate greed and the incessant demands associated with the success of rock stardom:

The percentage you're paying is too high-priced
While you're living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he's made on your dreams

Low Spark is similar in origin and tenor to "Have a Cigar" from Pink Floyd's remarkable 1975 album Wish You Were Here:

We're just knocked out
We heard about the sell-out
You gotta get an album out
You owe it to the people
We're so happy we can hardly count

An archetypal '70s-style extended jam -- always morphing, stretching and evolving when played in concert -- Low Spark was carved out of blues, stained brightly with jazz and highlighted by more percussion than you'd find in a typical high school marching band.

Like The Brothers Floyd, several of whom were schooled in architecture, the classic Traffic line-up knew how to create space, fill it with wandering, sometimes woebegone lyrics, and then polish it off with sonic hooks and rambling instrumental episodes that defy indifference.

With songs such as "Rainmaker" and "Many a Mile to Freedom," Low Spark is one of rock's great Hidden Treasures. (Shoot, some day it might just end up on someone's Pssst! List.)

Steve Winwood, Chris Wood, Ric Grech, Jim Capaldi, Jim Gordon and Anthony "Reebop" Kwaku Baah: they were Traffic. They knew the high life of fame, record charts and personal income. And they knew the low spark of living with baying dogs forever nipping at their heels.

The music clearly transforms Wayne Shelor and we are happy to channel his musings on Sundays at the Sanctuary.


  1. If I gave you everything that I owned
    And asked for nothing in return
    Would you do the same for me as I would do for you or take me for a ride
    And strip me of everything, including my pride
    But spirit is something that no one destroys

    And the sound that I'm hearing is only the sound of the low spark of high heeled boys......

    Great song..... by Traffic, with Stevie Winwood

    They also did my other favorites...... such as, Empty Pages, Feelin Alright, Smiling Phases.

    Steve Winwood also played with my favorite blues guy Eric Clapton in Blind Faith, after he was with Cream. It's been a long time, so I hope I got this right...
    I think Winwood played for the Spencer Davis Group, before Traffic ???? Not sure.

  2. Great read Wayner! The YT video was incredible. Ha! I was only 13 when they performed then, not old enough yet to consider "cool" as a personal style. ;-) Thanks for sharing your passion!

  3. Yes, Hippie Chick, Steve Winwood WAS the voice (and writer!) of some-a The Spencer Davis Group's best-loved songs, such as Gimmee Some Lovin' ... he was all of 15 when they hit the Big Time!

  4. Everything by Traffic is interesting if not always good. Recently at a flea market I got LP "Fantasy Factory" which has a bunch of the Mussel Shoals crew. Like I said, interesting ...