Born in Birmingham, England, in 1948 Stephen Lawrence Winwood was the son of a musician and at 15 left school to pursue his own music career full time. Over the next decade, he was a key member of several pioneering rock bands, including Traffic and Blind Faith. His solo career soared in the 1980s with a pair of popular albums, Back in the High Life and Roll With It.
Stephen Lawrence Winwood was born on May 12, 1948, in Birmingham, England. His father, Lawrence, was semi-professional musician who played the clarinet and saxophone. His mother loved to sing. The music bug caught both sons, younger Steve, and his older brother, Muff. By the time Winwood was eight, he regularly played with his brother and dad in a local band.
As a young teen, Winwood joined Muff in a new group he was leading, the Muff Woody Jazz Band. Steve was expelled from several schools, in part, because he dedicated so much of his time to music. In 1963, the Winwoods decided to make music their full-time pursuit, a move that earned the full backing of their father, who realized his sons were following their passion.
That same year the Winwoods joined the Spencer Davis Group, which gave Steve the chance to showcase his soulful voice and piano skills. The group's singles included a string of British and American hits, such as "I'm a Man," "Keep on Running" the hugely popular "Gimme Some Lovin'," which climbed all the way to #7 on the U.S. charts.
Traffic & Playing Woodstock
But Winwood's musical interests were not confined to a single genre, and in 1967 he left the Spencer Davis Group to form a new band, Traffic, with guitarist Dave Mason, drummer, Jim Capaldi, and horn player, Chris Wood. The following year, Traffic released its first album, Mr. Fantasy, whose hit track, "Dear Mr. Fantasy," perfectly blended the group's roots in soul and psychedilia.
Pulled together by their mutual love of musical experimentation, the band's members were often yanked apart by differing visions for the group's future. During the group's seven-year-run, they navigated squabbles and band member changes while developing a revolutionary sound.
The band's self-titled second album, also released in 1968, and included such songs as "Feelin' Alright," later covered by Joe Cocker, ""No Time to Live," and Vagabond Virgin," is widely considered the group's finest record.
Winwood broke up the band in 1969 and during the hiatus wasted no time hooking up with Eric Clapton, as well as Clapton’s former Cream bandmate, drummer, Ginger Baker, to form a new group, Blind Faith.
Much buzz surrounded the musical collaboration and in 1969 the group released its self-titled debut. But the pressure and expectations heaped upon the musicians soon led to the band’s splintering. Before the year was out, Blind Faith was finished and Winwood eventually reassembled Traffic.
A few albums and five years later, Traffic disbanded for the final time in 1974 after the release of When the Eagle Flies and Winwood ventured out on his own. Winwood had to weather Britain’s growing punk obsession and America’s embrace of disco, and he was slow to embrace the changing rock landscape. His first solo release in 1977, Steve Winwood, tanked.
Two more albums followed, Arc of a Diver (1980) and Talking Back to the Night (1982). Winwood then released Back in the High Life in 1986. Packed with a brighter, synthesizer backed sound, the record returned Winwood to the charts with a number one single (“Higher Love”) and a Grammy for Record of the Year.
Two years later, Winwood returned with Roll With It and a title track that shot to number one. Another single, “Don’t You Know What the Night Can Do?” went into heavy rotation for a TV commercial for Michelob.
In the years since, even though Winwood’s music hasn’t been a staple of either the American or British charts, he’s continued to perform and record. His later work includes Refugees of the Heart (1990), Junction Seven (1997), About Time (2003) and Nine Lives (2008). A 1994 Traffic reunion produced a world tour and a new album, Far From Home.
Awards & Honors
In 2004 Traffic was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Winwood is also the recipient of the Ivor Novello Outstanding Song Collection and the Musicians Union Classic Rock Award. Several universities have bestowed honorary degrees on him and in 2015 Winwood was inducted into the Walk Of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee.
Winwood has been married twice and lives with his current wife, Eugenia Crafton, whom he married in 1987, in Nashville. He is the father of five children.
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