Jim Capaldi

Extrovert drummer, singer and songwriter with the rock group Traffic
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The Independent Online

The British band Traffic were the first group "to get their act together in the country" when the founding members Jim Capaldi (drums, vocals), Steve Winwood (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Dave Mason (guitar, vocals) and Chris Wood (flute, saxophone) retreated to a cottage in rural Berkshire before making their recording début for Chris Blackwell's Island Records in 1967. Since then, many other groups have taken to renting a farm in the middle of nowhere to write and rehearse.

Nicola James Capaldi, singer, songwriter and guitarist: born Evesham, Worcestershire 2 August 1944; married 1975 Aninha Campos (two daughters); died London 28 January 2005.

The British band Traffic were the first group "to get their act together in the country" when the founding members Jim Capaldi (drums, vocals), Steve Winwood (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Dave Mason (guitar, vocals) and Chris Wood (flute, saxophone) retreated to a cottage in rural Berkshire before making their recording début for Chris Blackwell's Island Records in 1967. Since then, many other groups have taken to renting a farm in the middle of nowhere to write and rehearse.

Traffic proved the wisdom of spending time away from the distractions of the big city when their first two singles, "Paper Sun" and "Hole In My Shoe", and their début album Mr Fantasy all made the Top Ten. Although they remain best known for those two psychedelic classics, the band evolved into a stupendous live and album group lasting until the mid-Seventies.

A fine singer, excellent drummer, prolific lyricist and noted songwriter, Jim Capaldi also had solo hits on both sides of the Atlantic with "Eve" (1972), "It's All Up To You" (1974) and "It's All Right" (1975), while his cover of "Love Hurts" reached No 4 in the UK in 1975. More gregarious and extrovert than Steve Winwood, with the looks of a pirate, Capaldi made friends with everyone from George Harrison to Bob Marley via Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Gilberto Gil and even Tony Blair. Indeed, the Prime Minister and Cherie Blair recently accompanied Jim's Brazilian-born wife, Aninha, on a fact-finding trip to Rio de Janeiro.

The son of an Italian immigrant who first moved to Scotland before settling in Worcestershire, Nicola James Capaldi was born in Evesham in 1944. He came from a musical family that included several accordion-playing relatives. He soon began playing drums and singing, forming his first group, the Sapphires, with school friends in 1958.

By the early Sixties, Capaldi was working in a factory in Worcester and teamed up with the guitarist Dave Mason in the Hellions, playing rhythm-and-blues covers in Midlands dance halls. The quartet released three singles but didn't make the big time. Capaldi moved on to Deep Feeling, a quintet which also featured the guitarist Luther Grosvenor and Poli Palmer on drums. Having another drummer in the line-up enabled Capaldi to blossom as a lead vocalist and songwriter.

I started writing songs like "Pretty Colours" with strange arrangements and we were suddenly getting avant-garde. I was writing acid rock. This kind of music was just hitting England so we were getting this following just because we were trying to do something different. I have to confess that a strong contributing factor was that in 1965 I had just taken what was probably the first acid ever made.

Deep Feeling established their reputation with regular gigs at the Elbow Room, in Birmingham. "Steve Winwood used to come and jam with us," remembered Capaldi.

I always wondered why, because he was obviously a big star, a huge name. He was one of the biggest music influences in England, incredibly talented. Even though I was four years older than Steve, and that is quite a gap at that age, we started to just hang out together and we became good friends.

Frustrated with forever having to play the same Spencer Davis Group hits, "Keep On Running", "Somebody Help Me" and "I'm a Man", Winwood was keen to leave, and Capaldi proved the catalyst for the shy teenage prodigy to make the move. "Sooner or later, Steve would have found a more creative environment and I think I gave him that," said Capaldi. "I turned everybody on, I was pushing the boundaries of creativity."

Adding Mason and Chris Wood, the band called themselves Traffic and signed to Island Records, the label that had launched the Spencer Davis Group. Capaldi recalled:

Chris Blackwell had a well connected family. He had a friend, also rich and upper class with a double-barrelled name, William Pickett-Brown, who owned all this land in the Berkshire Downs where they used to train horses for racing. It was called the Fair Mile. At the end of this old strip of land was this great old cottage.

They gave it to us for about five bucks a week, and we just went there to live. We were probably the first band that ever did that back then and it became the famous cottage. We all had separate rooms in this cottage and a room to jam in. We also built a little stage and we played into the countryside. It was a magical spot because you could hear the flute and the organ in the middle of nowhere.

Traffic worked on "Paper Sun", a composition Capaldi had started while accompanying Winwood on tour with the Spencer Davis Group in 1966.

I got the title from a newspaper in a boarding house in Newcastle. I was half-asleep lying there writing this lyric in my head at about 3.30 in the morning. I woke up Steve with this idea and then we went into the living room where there was a little upright piano and finished the song.

Capaldi also began the title track to the album Mr Fantasy after drawing a character and scribbling lyrics on a piece of paper, with Winwood and Wood subsequently fleshing out the composition.

After that, I specifically started writing lyrics. I would sweat and think and get it all together. Everything that Traffic ever did, I would give Steve a complete lyrics, titled, written out with the verse, the bridge, the shape and then Steve had to figure out how the metre of the words would fit musically . . . The only song that I wrote lyrics after the melody was "No Face, No Name, No Number" which is one of my favourite Traffic songs.

However, "No Face, No Name, No Number" was only a minor hit in 1968 and the group had begun to evolve. Dave Mason, the songwriter of "Hole In My Shoe", having left the group, briefly rejoined for the eponymous second album, a Top Ten hit, and then left again.

In 1969, Winwood quit too and formed the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Rick Grech before reuniting with Wood and Capaldi to relaunch Traffic the following year. "Chris brought 'John Barleycorn Must Die' and that English folk-rock song became a magical track for thousands of people in America," said Capaldi about the title track of their 1970 album, a best-seller on both sides of the Atlantic.

Traffic went through various stages. We were a three-piece: hammond organ, drum kit and saxophone. We started a lot of people coming in and out: Reebop Kwaku-Baah on percussion, the Muscle Shoals session guys, Jim Gordon [drums], Rick Grech, Rosko Gee [both on bass]. The end came in 1974 when, without warning, Steve just went home right in the middle of a tour.

Capaldi was a key contributor to the acclaimed albums The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (1972), Shoot-Out at the Fantasy Factory (1973) and When the Eagle Flies (1974), which all went gold in the US. The live albums Welcome to the Canteen (1971) and Traffic - On The Road (1973) document the stunning concerts Traffic gave in the early Seventies.

Far From Home, the group's 1994 comeback album (without Wood, who died in 1983), failed to recapture the magic but charted nevertheless and coincided with a world tour and US stadium dates alongside the Grateful Dead, as well as an appearance at Woodstock 2, the 25th anniversary celebration of the original festival.

During the last 30 years, Jim Capaldi also released over a dozen solo albums: Oh How We Danced (1972), Whale Meat Again (1974) and Short Cut Draw Blood (1976) are my particular favourites. A keen football fan, Capaldi settled for a few years in Brazil, a place he considered his second home after he married Aninha Campos in 1975. The couple campaigned on behalf of various charities there.

Capaldi remained a compelling live performer in his own right and also toured the US with Al Stewart and his former bandmate Dave Mason in the late Nineties. His engaging persona and creativity had touched so many strands of popular music that for his 2001 album, Living On The Outside, he was able to call on musicians as diverse as George Harrison, Paul Weller and the Deep Purple musicians Ian Paice and Jon Lord.

Pierre Perrone



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