Dave Mason, April 15, 2017: Shows I’ll Never Forget

Turner Hall Ballroom in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Dave Mason was a founding member of the British band Traffic. He recorded with Derek and the Dominos, released a duet album with Mama Cass and a single with Michael Jackson. He spent time as a member of Fleetwood Mac and adds acoustic rhythm to George Harrison’s best album, All Things Must Pass. He plays the second guitar on Jimi Hendrix’s recording of “All Along the Watchtower.”

But Dave Mason is not listed as a band member on the sleeve to Traffic’s first album. His recordings with Derek and the Dominos are unavailable, his album with Mama Cass sold poorly, his duet with Michael Jackson did not become a hit, and even Fleetwood Mac itself ignores the brief era when this performer was a member. Mason was not asked to play at Harrison’s high profile Concert for Bangladesh and, as to the Hendrix record, most listeners would ask: “What second guitar?”

In spite of various career frustrations, Mason’s name recognition was sufficient to pack Milwaukee’s Turner Hall Ballroom. His set included the eight songs from his 1970 solo album Alone Together, and seven others. Mason played an acoustic 12-string guitar for the first half of the concert, featuring the promised Alone Together material. Switching to electric, Mason and his backing trio performed two Traffic numbers, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Stew” and “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.”

Offering a sincere tribute to the musical influence of Shadows’ guitarist Hank B. Marvin, Dave Mason played this group’s instrumental hit, “Apache.” The quartet then returned to Alone Together, performing its most recognizable numbers. As was evident throughout the night, the lengthy “Look at You Look at Me” showed that Mason still has solid guitar chops and a beautiful voice. This section of the concert also included “Only You Know and I Know,” which became a Top 20 hit for Delaney and Bonnie in 1971.

The set ended with a number Mason had written while still with Traffic, called “Feelin’ Alright?” It was Joe Cocker who saw potential in the song and first made it a hit. Many other versions would follow. Dave Mason made no secret of the fact that this song had been financially lucrative for him, and he admonished the audience not to expect free music.

The band encored first with “We Just Disagree,” a great song and Mason’s biggest radio hit. It was written by his late longtime collaborator Jim Krueger, a Wisconsin native who has an interesting backstory of his own. Traffic favorite “Mr. Fantasy” was played next, and Mason closed with “All Along the Watchtower,” which sounded a lot like a reprisal of “Look at You Look at Me.”

The performer was professional, but the concert was somehow lacking — both in content and execution. Dave Mason’s backing trio consisted of drummer Alvino Bennett, Tony Patler on keyboards, and longtime guitar sideman Johnne Sambataro. All were excellent musicians. But there was no bassist. The electric bass guitar lines all emanated from a keyboard. A live musician on an actual bass instrument was sorely missed, and this substitution hurt the sound of the band.

Mason did play the promised selections that this Alone Together Again tour advertised, but not a lot more. Of the other songs, three seemed questionable choices. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Stew” and “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” both come from a Traffic album that, as Mason acknowledged, he was in no way involved with. “Dear Mr. Fantasy” was recorded when Mason was with Traffic, but he did not write it.

With the large number of solo albums to Mason’s credit, it seems he could have chosen more personal material. Guitarist Sambataro spoke of meeting Dave Mason in 1978, during the recording of Mariposa de Oro, which he touted as a “great album.” If true, a song from that virtually unknown release would have been appropriate and welcome. As the crowd left the hall, Mason’s song “Mystic Traveler” played over the house P.A. I was hoping to hear that very song at this Dave Mason concert, but I was expecting a live rendition.

Tom Wilmeth

Tom Wilmeth

Tom Wilmeth, an English faculty member at Concordia University-Wisconsin since 1991, has given presentations and published widely on the topics of literature and music. Author of 'Sound Bites: A Lifetime of Listening,' he earned a Ph.D. at Texas A&M in College Station. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Wilmeth