Take 5: Steve Winwood Sessions of Note

Birmingham, England-born multi-instrumentalist Steve Winwood has had a long and acclaimed career: he was only 14 years old when he joined the Spencer Davis Group, scoring hit singles with “Keep on Running” and two songs he co-wrote, “I’m a Man” and the classic “Gimme Some Lovin’.”

After leaving that group, Winwood went on to a succession of high profile roles in Powerhouse (with Eric Clapton), Traffic, Blind Faith, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, and a subsequent solo career that pays creative dividends to this day. And along the way, Winwood – who’s talented on guitar, keyboards, percussion and of course vocals – has lent his skills to other artists’ sessions, appearing on more than 50 outside projects. On the occasion of his landmark birthday and in recognition of his artistry, here are five superb yet oft-overlooked sessions featuring Steve Winwood.

McDonald and Giles – “Turnham Green” from McDonald and Giles (1971)
After the stressful tour in support of King Crimson’s debut album, two of its key members left the group. Drummer Michael Giles and multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald went on to team up and make an album, their only post-Crimson project together. The subtle, sweet and lovely record’s best moments results rival In the Court of the Crimson King. The duo enlisted Winwood to play keyboards on “Turnham Green,” a section of the Suite in C, one of the album’s centerpieces.

Stomu Yamashta’s Go – “Crossing the Line” from Go (1976)
Japanese composer and multi-instrumentalist Stomu Yamashta has always been an innovator; his 1971 debut album was the first-ever commercial digital recording ever made. His subsequent efforts deftly combined progressive rock with Japanese percussion. In 1976 he assembled a rotating-cast supergroup he called Go. For the project’s first album, he was joined by virtuoso guitarists Al Dimeola and Pat Thrall; former Santana percussionist Michael Shrieve; synthesizer innovator Klaus Schulze and others. On various keyboards and guitar was Steve Winwood, who also acted as Go’s lead vocalist. “Crossing the Line” is among the disc’s many thrilling and delectably melodramatic moments.

Pierre Moerlen’s Gong – “Downwind” from Downwind (1979)
Gong has – and continues to have – a knotty history. The progressive, jazz and improvisational collective with roots in Canterbury and France has seen myriad personnel changes. Among its most high-profile members have been Daevid Allen, Steve Hillage and Pierre Moerlen. At one point in the late ‘70s, Moerlen set off on his own, calling his offshoot group Pierre Moerlen’s Gong. The resulting music was more jazz-rock in character, with percussion (marimba, vibraphone, etc.) at its core. On its third album, Downwind, the group was augmented by two more stars: Mike Oldfield (of Tubular Bells fame) and on the title track, Steve Winwood playing synthesizer.

David Gilmour – “Love on the Air” from About Face (1984)
Guitarist David Gilmour joined Pink Floyd in 1968 to provide backup and cover for the increasingly erratic Syd Barrett. Once Barrett departed after a few gigs, Gilmour took the reins as the group’s guitarist, helping steer them into a bright future. But his creative impulses always extended beyond the band, and so by 1978 he released a self-titled solo album. It would be six more years before he returned with his second, About Face, a record that established a musical character quite apart from Pink Floyd. Gilmour put together a core band including bassist Pino Palladino (these days with The Who), Toto/session drummer Jeff Porcaro and keyboardist Ian Kewley, but Winwood sat in on keys for two tracks, including this one.

Paul Weller – “Pink on White Walls” from Stanley Road (1995)
Paul Weller first came to fame as the voice and guitar of mod/punk trio The Jam. The peripatetic musician headed in a very different musical direction with his next project, the jazz-influenced Style Council. And by 1992 Weller had embarked upon a solo career; as of 2023 he has released more than 15 albums under his own name. Among his most admired is his third release, Stanley Road, noted for its bridging of classic and modern rock styles; it is is most commercially successful solo album to date. Steve Winwood lent his soulful, heartfelt keyboard work to four of the record’s 12 songs, including this one.