One of the most prolific musicians, songwriters and performers is someone too few people know. Steve Winwood was born in Birmingham, England to a foundry worker and semi-professional musician. After playing with his Dad and brother Muff at the age of 8, he joined the Spencer Davis Group with his brother at the age of 14. That is not a misprint. Before being associated with a parade of compelling and different hit songs, he backed up musicians touring in England such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and John Lee Hooker. A long list of instruments he plays would include, but not be limited to: keyboards, organ, guitar, bass guitar, violin, mandolin and drums.
He played and sang lead with great groups such as Spencer Davis, Traffic, Blind Faith (with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker) and several others. In fact, Clapton always lamented leaving Blind Faith in his continual search for perfection, but often played with Winwood as recently as a few years ago. Then, in the mid-1970s, Winwood went out on his own. But, it was not until the mid-1980s did a new generation of fans rediscover this marvelous talent. His hit songs are many, such as “Well Alright,” “Higher Love,” “Roll with it,” “Can’t Find My Way Home,” “Valerie,” as well as the songs noted below and others not mentioned.
The following songs are a taste of the breadth of his talent. I will lead with one of my personal favorites and close with another.
Presence of the Lord
Clapton wanted Winwood’s higher voice to sing this ethereal song. Even with the title, it is not an overtly spiritual song, yet is quite profound nonetheless as he sings about finding a better way to live.
I have finally found a way to live
Just like I never could before
I know that I don’t have much to give
But I can open any door
Everybody knows the secret
Oh, everybody knows the score
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
I have finally found a way to live
In the color of the Lord
Gimme Some Lovin’
When I had the good fortune to see him play, he closed the show with this up tempo song, which has a classic bass beat throughout.
Well, my temperature’s rising and my feet hit the floor
Twenty people knocking ’cause they’re wanting some more
Let me in, baby, I don’t know what you’ve got
But you’d better take it easy ’cause this place is hot
So glad we made it, so glad we made it
You got to gimme some lovin’, gimme some lovin’
Gimme some lovin’ every day
Back In the High Life Again
This song was part of his rebirth as a single performer leading to his discovery by a new audience. More of today’s listeners would equate this with Winwood. It also is somewhat prophetic with his new audience.
It used to seem to me
That my life ran on too fast
And I had to take it slowly
Just to make the good parts last
But when you’re born to run
It’s so hard to just slow down
So don’t be surprised to see me
Back in that bright part of town
I’ll be back in the high life again
All the doors I closed one time
Will open up again
Like the previous song, “Higher Love” would resonate as a Winwood song to more people as part of his rebirth. He wants something more from a relationship, be it a higher love together or from a larger entity than both can provide.
Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine
Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world, what is fair?
We walk blind and we try to see
Falling behind in what could be
Bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love, oh
Bring me a higher love
Where’s that higher love, I keep thinking of?
Dear Mr. Fantasy
Yet, let me back up in time and close with two oldies, which are great songs, but different in lyrics and style. The lyrics of “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” remind me of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Minstrel of the Wind.” Both are singing of entertaining many, but reflective that the singer of the songs is an imperfect being just like the rest of us, those he is trying to provide a brief fantasy or respite away from their problems.
Dear Mr. Fantasy play us a tune
Something to make us all happy
Do anything take us out of this gloom
Sing a song, play guitar make it snappy
You are the one who can make us all laugh
But doing that, you break out in tears
Please don’t be sad if it was a straight mind you had
We wouldn’t have known you all these years
The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys
Let me close with the strangest of titles for a song you might ever see. To me, this song seems to be about a record producer or merchandiser who has made a lot of money off young, talented musicians – the “high heeled boys.” It is quite interesting even without the music, but the music adds a pacing that is also unique.
The percentage you’re paying is too high priced
While you’re living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he’s made on your dreams
But today you just read that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn’t make any noise
But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest was
The low spark of high-heeled boys, high-heeled boys
If I gave you everything that I owned
And asked for nothing in return
Would you do the same for me as I would for you?
Or take me for a ride
And strip me of everything including my pride
But spirit is something that no one destroys
And the sound that I’m hearing is only the sound
Of the low spark of high-heeled boys, heeled boys
Steve Winwood may be the closest thing to a rock and roll prodigy we have ever had. At a minimum, he would be on a short list. Yet, he is not as well-known as his contemporaries. If you know Winwood’s magic, thanks for joining the memory lane. If you are not as familiar with his breadth or much of his work, give him a detailed listen. I would love to hear your thoughts.