Mason’s journey leads herePublished 6:11pm Tuesday, May 8, 2012
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 19
Where: Dowagiac Middle School
Performing Arts Center
57028 Riverside Drive
Tickets: premium seating, $40; main floor, $30; upper level, $20
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dave Mason celebrates his 66th birthday Thursday by launching a new web site at davemasonmusic.com — “the only place to find new music.”
Mason, who lives in California, picked up a guitar at 15 growing up in Worcester, England, as “the next thing after model airplanes.”
A proponent of music education for children, he received no formal training.
In 2005, he signed on in support of Little Kids Rock, a non-profit that provides free musical instruments and lessons to children in U.S. public schools.
Not everyone can duplicate his dizzying trajectory, with Traffic’s 2004 induction by Dave Matthews and a finale jam to his “Feelin’ Alright” with Jeff Lynne, ZZ Top, Tom Petty and Keith Richards.
Mason could be expected to know the Rolling Stones guitarist after playing on “Street Fightin’ Man” on the ninth studio album, Beggars Banquet, a return to R&B roots after psychedelic flirtation with “Their Satanic Majesties Request.”
Mason played on “Listen to What the Man Said” with Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” on Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland.
Beginning in October 1993, he spent two years in Fleetwood Mac, handling lead vocals on two Time tracks, “Blow by Blow” and “I Wonder Why.”
He shows up in The Wrecking Crew, a book about “the inside story of rock and roll’s best-kept secret, unknown studio musicians who recorded the soundtrack of a generation” playing at Abbey Road Studios for producer Phil Spector in the summer of 1970 with Eric Clapton and Leon Russell on George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.”
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Mason said the first time he ever heard “Sgt. Pepper” was at the guitarist’s home.
London is the common thread. That’s where he got to know The Beatles, Hendrix (“totally innovative”) and Clapton (“completely mastered the blues”).
“If I’d been any good at math, I would have been in the Royal Air Force,” he said. “I found a new way to fly. I got a guitar. I’m a product of that whole era just starting. Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran. Real rock and roll. Playing guitar, writing songs, producing, seem to be the one thing I know how to do, so I stick with it.”
“I got to know the Beatles through a girl I was dating at the Royal College of Arts,” said Mason, who also had dinner with Mae West. “I was just lucky to be in certain places at certain times. You eventually ran into everybody in London. Jimi, Jagger, Brian Jones, Eric Burdon (of the Animals). Everybody used the same studios. Small world, basically.”
Jackson was recording “Thriller” when Mason happened to be recording in an adjacent studio. “He was on break and I needed somebody to sing a high part.”
Collaborative collisions seem Mason’s knack. Last month he and Stevie Wonder jammed in the Virgin Islands.
Mason recorded a disc of duets with Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas.
Mason hung out at Elliot’s house in Laurel Canyon in the summer of 1969. She said, “Why don’t we do something together?”
“I came to America at 22,” Mason said, “with a little bag and guitar. I only knew Gram Parsons. I slept on his couch for awhile.”
Parsons infused the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers with country.
Mason played with Blind Faith, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends and Derek and the Dominoes (“Layla”) and was briefly a roadie for the Spencer Davis Group, which included future Traffic member Steve Winwood, who dated Christine McVie — the small world thing.
Mason has his own hits, such as “Only You Know and I Know” and “We Just Disagree,” and is fond of his “Dear Mr. Fantasy” rewrite. He promises a broad swath of his songbook, “the songs I would want to hear and be pissed if I didn’t.”
Other guitar players he mentions as “great” include Eddie Van Halen and George Benson.
Mason seems conflicted by his induction with Traffic. On the one hand, it was “cool” and “nice to get recognized for what you’ve done,” but “a little weird because I didn’t play.”
To Mason, the company he’s kept is “just my journey. Looking back and reflecting, it’s out of the normal, but I lived it. How it appears to people from the outside, I don’t know.”