Dave Mason is coming home . . . in a manner of speaking. The iconic singer, songwriter and guitarist who founded Traffic and helped define the classic rock genre is currently in the midst of his much-lauded tour, Alone Together Again. And on Sept. 23 he’s bringing it to Ojai, where Mason lived for many years and where he still has strong ties.
“I discovered Ojai basically as soon as I came over to the States in 1969,” Mason recollects. “I drove up with a friend and it was really a nice little town. The funny thing is, it hasn’t changed that much. But, yes, I was aware of it early on.”
As the name suggests, the tour celebrates the work off Mason’s first solo album, 1970’s Alone Together. In a career that spans decades, with numerous collaborations and a collection of memorable songs (“Feelin’ Alright” and “We Just Disagree” among them), Alone Together stands out as a music lover’s album, with its blend of beautiful melodies, gorgeous acoustic guitar and cleverly incorporated electric elements. Even the look of it was special. The first pressing of Alone Together was on a special marble vinyl, in swirled pink, brown and beige, which captured both the psychedelic and back-to-nature sensibilities of the times.
The show coming to Libbey Bowl will feature a nostalgic yet fresh take on his breakthrough debut, with his road-tested chops and solid batch of players leading the way.
Mason’s career got on track in the 1960s with the band Traffic, which he co-founded with Steve Winwood and which included Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood. His tenure with the band was disjointed (he would quit and rejoin a few times before leaving for good in 1971) but the fame
and success he found with Traffic led to a rich solo career — and associations with an impressive lineup of musicians.
Jimi Hendrix, for example. To hear him tell it, Mason met Hendrix in a hip Chelsea bar, complete with go-go dancers bouncing on circular pedestals and rock royalty scattered about amongst actors and activists (and actual royalty). Possessing the gumption to walk right up and take a seat next to the upside-down guitar-playing wunderkind, Mason engaged Hendrix as a contemporary and the two forged an instant friendship. This connection would lead to multiple collaborations, including Mason famously strumming a 12-string acoustic during the intro of Hendrix’s classic cover “All Along the Watchtower” — an idea that came about while listening to Bob Dylan’s album John Wesley Harding at a party the pair attended.
“We were listening to Dylan’s version [of ‘All Along the Watchtower’],” Mason recounts. “And Jimi says, ‘I’m gonna go and record this. You wanna come and do it with me?’ That’s basically how it started.”
The result of that monumental session would go on to become a generational anthem, perfectly embodying the volatile and shifting social landscape. It is still today regarded as one of the greatest rock recordings of all time.
Mason would transition from recording alongside Hendrix to working with George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton, a follow-up act that was equally impressive. And even more noteworthy is how Mason, according to an interview with Harrison, actually helped influence Harrison to use a slide, a sound that would become one of his signatures. As the story goes, Mason was playing on tour with Delaney & Bonnie, a free-flowing collective of established artists, and one night Clapton and Harrison joined onstage as well. Mason proceeded to break out a slide, eventually handing the task to Harrison, who at the time had never truly explored that particular style of guitar. Mason quickly showed him a few licks, and from that point on there was something very different about the way the Beatle played. Additionally, Mason has collaborated in the studio and/or toured with such legends as the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, “Mama” Cass Elliot and even the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.
“London had a small music scene, there were only a few studios and engineers that everyone used,” Mason would go on to say. “So you ended up running into other musicians during sessions and then also in late-night clubs around town. It was a great way to meet people and talk about working together.”
While it was Mason’s time with Traffic that led to his 2004 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he recorded and tour-supported several solo albums from 1970 on, garnering critical and commercial praise along the way. He also developed a reputation for being a road warrior, playing at the very least 100 shows a year. This is a feat that, for the most part, he still continues to this day.
Aside from all his music accolades, Mason is also a practicing philanthropist. He has been directly involved in several nonprofit organizations, including Little Kids Rock, which helps bring instruments and lessons to public schools around the country, and Yoga Blue, whose mission is to aid substance abuse recovery with yoga and other holistic treatments. He also co-founded Rock Our Vets, an all-volunteer organization that assists veterans with anything from food, clothing and shelter to continuing education and even suicide prevention. Mason has truly utilized his success to be a champion of altruism.
Bringing it all back home seems to be the theme of Dave Mason’s return to the Libbey Bowl, and with the strong sense of community in Ojai, it should surely feel like a family affair. Opening for Mason is none other than local songwriter Jade Hendrix, who will bring her bright and smooth pop sensibilities to the stage for a must-see show starter.