A true English rock legend brought nearly six decades of rock music history to the Samala Showroom at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez California last weekend. Steve Winwood has been a rock star all of his adult life, beginning his musical career as a child prodigy in Birmingham England. The 69-year-old singer-songwriter, master Hammond B3 organist, and smoking blues-rock guitarist joined his first rock band, the Spencer Davis Group, in 1963. But he had already been playing organ professionally as a child, playing in a house band at the Birmingham Music Hall. He played in the group which would back performers, who toured back then without their bands. Winwood played with most of the biggest names in American blues music at the time, including Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Howlin Wolf and Ray Charles. Later when he joined The Spencer Davis Group at 14, his vocal skills modeled after Ray Charles became apparent. From there Winwood had a whirlwind career as part of some of the most prestigious English rock bands in the 60’s and 70’s. By the 1980’s the Grammy-winning performer had a successful solo career and had become one of the most prestigious elder statesmen of English rock blues.
A sold-out crowd of silver-haired rock fans many in tie-dyed t-shirts came to hear their favorite songs from Winwood’s storied career, including hits from Traffic and Blind Faith. Winwood opened the set playing the organ alongside his five-piece band of veteran jazz-rock oriented musicians, with the Spencer Davis Group hit I’m A Man. The jazzy jam set the tone for the evening of mostly extended jam versions of some of Winwood’s biggest hit songs. Winwood and the band followed up with the smooth jazz sounds of Fly, and At Times We Do Forget from his 2009 “Nine Lives” studio album. The band then returned to the classics with an extraordinary rendition of Pearly Queen, from the second “Traffic” album. Band member Paul Booth played an inspiring flute solo followed by a mesmerizing organ solo by Winwood. The group played Buddy Miles classic rock and soul fusion song, Them Changes. Band guitarist Jose Pires de Almeida Neto played the classic funky rhythms of the song perfectly.
Much to the delight of many in the crowd, Winwood came out from behind his organ to take center stage on lead guitar for a selection of Blind Faith songs. These included Can't Find My Way Home and Had to Cry Today with an impressive guitar duel between Winwood and Neto.
Winwood then returned to the organ for one of the highlights of the evening an epic Traffic jam of The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. The song has stood the test of time as one of the pivotal moments in jazz-rock, and the haunting rhythms continue to amaze and inspire musicians and music fans alike. The band handled the extended jam seamlessly with each player taking a solo turn, showcasing their skills.
The extended jam segued into Empty Pages, followed by the rock anthem Light Up or Leave Me Alone. Conga player Edwin Sanz and drummer Richard Bailey faced off for a percussion duel during this song. The set closed with Higher Love, the only song in the evening from Winwood's 1980's solo period.
For the encore, the Chumash Casino followed its tradition of letting music fans leave their seats and swarm the front of the stage. The band played the psychedelic rock classic Dear Mr. Fantasy, and the soul inspired rock classic Gimme Some Lovin.’ Although there were only 11 songs in the set, the extended jams brought the show to a nearly two-hour experience of some of the most classic songs in English rock history.