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A Fan’s History & Tribute To Jim Capaldi

When I was first asked by Aninha Capaldi to write these notes I was extremely honoured. Having been given the opportunity, I soon realized the challenge of condensing a lifetime of music into a couple of pages. Jim was a fascinating character; courteous, with a great sense of humour and many a story to tell. One of Jim’s most famous quotes shows his maverick spirit: ‘my own life story is much too long and mostly untrue.”

Jim was very much part of a musical family. His paternal grandfather had arrived from Italy to the UK, played accordion, as did his son, Nick, who performed on stage with Maria, his wife, and also recorded for radio shows. Jim’s father was a music teacher and Jim studied singing and piano with his parents, before taking up the drums. Jim began first playing in bands at the age of 14. In 1961, playing drums with The Sapphires before recording with The Hellions for the Pye label. A temporary name change to Revolution followed before Jim moved on to Deep Feeling. During the mid-1960’s Jim would often be found jamming at the famous Birmingham night club The Elbow Room with, among others, Steve Winwood, then a member of The Spencer Davis Group. It’s interesting to note that the last two hit singles The Spencer Davis Group released with Steve in the line-up, namely Gimme Some Lovin’ and I’m A Man both featured future Traffic members Jim on percussion, Dave Mason and Chris Wood. Steve would subsequently leave The Spencer Davis Group, and together with Jim, Dave and Chris, they would go off to form Traffic. In an interview I did with Jim some years ago I was struck by his passion for the band. “Traffic was always my baby,” he told me, “As far back as I can remember, from the time when I was a youngster on a street corner in Worcester, I decided I was going to be in a band called Traffic!”

After their wild and well-known time getting it together in the country, Traffic released their debut album, Mr Fantasy in December 1967. Lyrics to eight of the eleven songs on the album were written by Jim, including the timeless Dear Mr
Fantasy. By mid 1968 Dave Mason had departed the band and Traffic performed as a trio. Jim’s lyric writing went from strength to strength, cementing the long- term successful song writing partnership with Steve Winwood, who was really starting to flourish as a musician/composer. When Steve left Traffic in 1969 to form Blind Faith with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech, Jim linked up with Dave Mason and Chris Wood and keyboardist Mick Weaver (known as Wynder K Frog) to form the short lived Mason, Capaldi, Wood and Frog. The quartet played a mixture of Traffic and Mason’s solo material at a number of UK
gigs, but never actually recorded a record.

Following the demise of Blind Faith, Steve Winwood started to work on a solo album, provisionally titled Mad Shadows. He had been working with producer Guy Stevens, but as recording progressed Steve took over production duties with Chris Blackwell and enlisted the help of his old mates Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood. Traffic was reborn, and recorded the album John Barleycorn Must Die, released in July 1970. The album was a musical milestone, Traffic could no longer be classed as a pop group and the days of three-minute pop singles were well and truly over.

During a stoned excursion to Morocco to record the soundtrack to a film that never happened, American actor Michael J Pollard had scribbled in Jim Capaldi’s notebook some words that became the title of Traffic’s next album, The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys. The core trio of Winwood, Capaldi and Wood were augmented for the recordings by Ric Grech, Jim Gordon (drums), and
percussionist Reebop Kwaku-Baah. The album saw Jim taking the vocal spotlight on Light Up Or Leave Me Alone and Rock n’Roll Stew. On the road with Traffic, Jim was seen much less behind the drum kit, often at the front of the stage with tambourine in hand, singing backing or lead vocals.

Jim also embarked on a successful parallel solo career, recording the album Oh How We Danced on which he enlisted help from the Muscle Shoals’ studio recording musicians, together with members of Traffic and guitarist Paul Kossoff from Free. Eve became a hit single and Jim would introduce the Muscle Shoals rhythm section members David Hood (bass) and Roger Hawkins (drums) to Traffic for the recording of Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory at Strawberry Hill Studio in Jamaica.

Jim went on to record a further two albums for Island Records, Whale Meat Again in 1974 and Short Cut Draw Blood in 1975. There was a political edge creeping into Jim’s music. He also released a non-album single, Tricky Dicky Rides Again, about shamed American President Richard Nixon. This tougher lyrical edge continued on what was to be Traffic’s last album for twenty years, When The Eagle Flies. Following the release of the album, Traffic toured the USA, but some of the performances were disappointing, Steve was suffering with his health, and Chris Wood was suffering from the strains of rock’n’roll excess.
Things just fizzled out, with further US dates and a proposed visit to South America cancelled. Jim, Chris Wood and Chris Blackwell travelled on to Brazil, and spent three months there, with Jim enjoying the culture and the music.

Following the demise of Traffic, Jim married his Brazilian-born wife Aninha in 1975. She was a big fan of the band and mentions with some sadness that she never got to see Traffic perform in Brazil on that final tour, where she was due to see them perform in Rio. 1975 also saw Jim have a UK hit single with a cover of Love Hurts. Jim continued to record many solo albums and tour with his own bands, the Space Cadets, and the Contenders. Jim spent a lot of his time living in Brazil, with his wife and daughters Tabitha and Tallulah, attending samba schools to improve his musical skills, he also played football on the beach with the greats of Brazilian football including Rivelino and Zico. He also met Pele and collaborated and jammed with many Brazilian musicians including Tim Maia, Jorge Ben, Marcelo, Lulu Santos, Lobao, Chico Buarque and Gilberto Gil. Jim’s song Favella Music was inspired by these times.

He also collaborated musically with Carlos Santana on various projects and his song writing skills produced success elsewhere, with the Zap Pow hit This Is Reggae Music, a reggae anthem influenced by his time spent travelling with Bob Marley. He also wrote Love Will Keep Us Alive for The Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over album.

In 1994, Traffic reformed and Steve and Jim toured the world to promote their album Far From Home. They did a series of concerts in the US on a joint bill with The Grateful Dead. But this Traffic reunion was not to last and Steve resumed his solo career, whilst in 1998 Jim joined up with Dave Mason for a series of concerts. Jim continued touring, and in 2001 and 2003 toured with his band The Outside, featuring long time band mates Chris Parren and guitarist Pete Bonas. Jim’s album Living On The Outside featured a host of well-known musicians, such as Paul Weller, Ian Paice, Gary Moore and long-time friend George Harrison.

In 2004 Traffic were again to reform and tour dates were penciled in for US dates in October of that year. Jim had also written lyrics for eleven new songs, including the poignant How Do I Get To Heaven. Sadly, Jim became ill, and lost
his battle with stomach cancer on 28th January 2005.

Like his many fans, I was shocked by the news. I was invited to attend his memorial service in Marlow where I was able to learn more about this wonderful man, who supported his wife Aninha with Jubilee Action, her charity work for Brazilian street children. I learned how he’d once been an altar boy and had at one time contemplated a life in the church. He was widely read in the history of Christianity. Prior to his death, Traffic had been inducted to The Rock’ Roll Hall Of Fame, a thoroughly deserved accolade, and Steve and Jim performed an energetic version of Dear Mr Fantasy.

A quote from BBC Radio DJ Bob Harris perhaps sums Jim up best. Bob recalled “One of the big things about Jim was how open minded he was. He was fantastically open minded to all sorts of influences and thoughts. He loved lots of different styles of music, and having friends round him, a gregarious thing he had, like a patchwork quilt with lots and lots of wonderful colours.”

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