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This must be the place

art masonDave Mason has seen it all.

As co-founder/guitarist for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group Traffic, Mason, alongside band mate Steve Winwood, found himself at the forefront of the music industry in the 1960s. With iconic hits like “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and “Feelin’ Alright,” the ensemble was a vital sound amid the era’s spirit of political turmoil and societal freedoms.


Mason himself has continually ventured down the rabbit hole of music history. It was his 12-string acoustic guitar pickin’ within Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “All Along The Watchtower,” his melodic touch found on albums like “Beggars Banquet” (The Rolling Stones), “All Things Must Pass” (George Harrison), “Venus and Mars” (Paul McCartney), “You Can’t Argue with a Sick Mind” (Joe Walsh) and countless others. He was slated to be the second guitarist for Derek and the Dominos, recorded a duet with Michael Jackson (Save Me), joined Fleetwood Mac for a brief period and opened for the Grateful Dead when Traffic reunited. 

Simply put, Dave Mason is rock-n-roll, which is perseverance and purpose within the endless possibilities of a free spirit. Mason’s Traffic Jam will hit the stage on Saturday, Nov. 8, at The Orange Peel in Asheville.

The Smoky Mountain News caught up with Mason while on his current tour. He spoke of his time with Hendrix, what he sees from behind the microphone, and why his music still remains as fresh and symbolic as it did over 40 years ago.

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Smoky Mountain News: Why is it your music has remained as vital as it did 40 years ago?

Dave Mason: For the music, for the band, the music speaks to a lot of people. They’re memories of college, getting married or falling in love. And there were a number of people who carried my music with them into Vietnam. It’s a lot of things. My themes are personal, so a lot of them become timeless in a sense. And I think people connect to that.

SMN: You’re 68 now. What do you think about that?

DM: It means I’m in the last quarter. [Laughs]. I’ll be doing this until I can’t do it anymore. I’m on the road and we’re hitting towns. I keep myself in a place where I can just get up and perform every night. 

SMN: How do you avoid becoming a nostalgia act?

DM: I really have no control over the way people perceive the music and I don’t give it much thought, to be honest. I have a great group of guys. I’m a working musician, always have been. We all take a lot of pride in what we do. We get onstage every night and make it the best show we’ve ever done. 

SMN: You recorded a cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” with Jimi Hendrix. I heard the idea to record that song came when you were at a party with him in London one night and…

DM: We were at somebody’s house and we were listening to Bob Dylan’s album “John Wesley Harding.” Something tweaked in Jimi’s head when we were listening to “All Along the Watchtower,” so we decided to record it. I never saw Jimi without a guitar in his hand. He was very quiet, all business, all work, very focused. He probably stands out the most for of all of those I’ve worked with. At that time, London was the center of it all. There were a certain amount of studios and everybody shuffled in to finish their albums, and everybody was bound to cross paths with each other. There were so many opportunities to meet and work with people.

SMN: What do you see these days when you go onstage?

DM: I’ve played a couple of festivals in the last two or three years where I’ve walked onstage and been like, “God, didn’t I see you people in the 60s?” [Laughs]. That’s what’s happening. We’re trying to play great music for those in the audience, and it sparks a lot of memories. I also get a lot of guys coming up to me saying, “If I didn’t have your music in Vietnam, I’d have gone nuts,” and that can be a little bit overwhelming, but I try not to dwell on it. For me, I just wrote a few songs about things that mattered to me and the fact that they touched other people deeply is amazing to me.

SMN: What do you think about how big the electronica music scene has gotten, where younger audiences are focusing more on gimmicks rather than actual musicianship?

DM: Well, it’s for younger people. When you’re young you’re caught in the action, the fashion and the flash. And it’s always been that way to a certain extent, it’s just that there’s more of it today. I get younger people at our shows and a lot of times they’re like, “Wow that’s incredible.” We’re a batch of people doing the real thing — there’s no gimmicks going on. 

SMN: What has a life in music taught you about what it means to be a human being?

DM: I think about things like everybody else has — love, loss, laughter, joy, sorrow, triumph, good and bad times. Mostly, you’ll learn more from your failures than your successes. The longer I live, the more I see, the less I know. [Laughs]. I thought I knew everything when I was younger. And a big part of everything is learning acceptance. Don Quixote fighting windmills, and somewhere down the road you’ve got to give it up. Ride the wave, go with the wind, otherwise you’ll break. 


Want to go?

Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8, at The Orange Peel in Asheville. Tickets are $28 in advance, $30 day of show. or


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