Rock’s Everywhere Man Dave Mason Pens A Memoir

Only You Know and I Know is not only the name of one of his biggest hits, but it is also now the title of Dave Mason’s forthcoming autobiography.  It’s a freewheeling testament proving that Dave was one of the most Zelig of rockers.  He’s a “quiet giant” who had his fingerprints all over the work of not only the famous group he co-founded, Traffic, but defining tracks by pals like Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, Derek and the Dominoes, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Delaney & Bonnie, Joe Cocker, Graham Nash, Fleetwood Mac and many more.

Only You Know and I Know dave mason

Raised on a farm and saddled with a hip condition that kept him bedridden for a year as a child, Dave discovered music at 12, when he plucked a ukulele out of a trash can while visiting his sister in San Diego. His first axe didn’t last long; his mother summarily used it to fix a stopped-up toilet!  The would-be songwriter’s love of melody and harmony came from listening to The Platters while his still-underrated guitar chops were seeded by coping the solos of Hank Marvin and The Shadows and the Ventures, ones which he played in his early band, The Jaguars.  He would see The Beatles, Stones and Dylan in concert and even meet Little Richard before he struck out on a professional career.

But it was the all-nighters at clubs in Birmingham where he would make his big connection, first with drummer Jim Capaldi in The Hellions then teenage Steve Winwood, when he was the star attraction in the Spencer Davis Group. Mason would contribute to the group’s latter-day hits, “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m A Man,” before joining forces with Winwood, Capaldi and flautist Chris Wood in Traffic.

Dave Mason – photo by Chris Jensen

Mason’s star-crossed, on-again/off-again history with Traffic is a thread that runs through the entire book.  After “getting it together” at their little country cottage in Berkshire, just like Dylan and The Band at Big Pink, they would record Mr. Fantasy, their hit debut disc.  But it’s Dave’s song that the rest of the band hated, “Hole In My Shoe,” which was the biggest hit (#2).  The tension within the band would lead Dave to quit on the eve of their first U.S. tour. But because the trio was lacking in original songs, Mason and his songs are welcomed back for the second album, 1968’s Traffic. He contributes “All Join In,” a tune penned on a caffeine jag in an Athens café and “Feelin’ Alright,” written on the Greek island of Hydra that would achieve classic status in its cover by Joe Cocker. Before the album was released, Dave would be fired from Traffic.  He would be back for a couple of gigs captured on the album, Welcome to the Canteen, before a final split.  At their 2006 induction into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, Dave was not invited to play with the band.

Dave’s move to the U.S. in 1971 puts him in the circle of Cass Elliot and the CS&N crew, along with Delaney & Bonnie.  He becomes a part of the L.A. music scene bringing in A-list stars and session legends to record his truly great debut disc, Alone Together, closely followed by a duet album with Cass Elliot. He also becomes a part of the LaLa social whirl: partying with Sharon Tate and Abigail Folger shortly before the Manson murders, romancing actress Leigh Taylor Young and establishing close friendships with Dan Haggerty (TV’s Grizzly Adams) and Patrick Swayze.

Dave Mason must be a really great hang because many of the true icons of rock are pals who call upon his talents in the recording studio.  He is featured on Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watch Tower,” The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Listen to What the Man Said” and George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.”  It is Harrison who gives him a sitar which Mason plays on early Traffic tunes. It’s also Mason who purportedly shows George how to play slide during a break in a Delaney & Bonnie tour date.  Through Delaney & Bonnie and the Harrison sessions, Dave is enlisted into an early version of Derek and The Dominoes. He leaves after a little recording and one live performance when the drug use in the band proves too much even for him.  Though it’s seldom discussed, Dave was also a member of a post-Rumors Fleetwood Mac, touring from 1994-1995 and recording the album, Time.

While charmed in many places, Only You Know and I Know demonstrates Dave’s life has not been a complete bed of roses. He is honest here about his battles with addiction (mostly cocaine), his broken romances, the loss of his son and shortcomings as a father and his faulty business acumen (bankruptcies, bad management and recording contracts). There’s also talk of aborted music projects with Ginger Baker, Bob Dylan during his Desire album sessions and his trio with Leon Russell and Gary Wright. There is also his decision to move to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands… a few days before Hurricane Hugo decimates it.

Mason is priming his fans for the release of his new memoir with 40-concert running through mid-October. The book and this latest tour prove that Dave is one of the true rock-n-roll survivors, someone for whom music is a salve and salvation which has helped him and his generations of fans cope with life’s inevitable hurdles.

Dave Mason tour Info can be found  here, pre-order Only You Know and I Know, co-authored by Chris Epting, here

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