Dave Mason: Music and Memories (Part 1 of 2)

Dave Mason is the Zelig of rock ‘n’ roll. He came to fame in the ‘60s first as a member of Traffic, and soon thereafter launched a solo career. He has appeared on recordings by many of his friends, including Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and countless others. At one point, Mason was even a member of Fleetwood Mac. Along the way he has scored hit albums and singles of his own, and cultivated a well-deserved reputation as a superb musician.

These days he’s focused primarily on live performance, and maintains a busy concert schedule. Ahead of a tour leg, Mason took time to chat with me about his approach to playing his classic material, how he spent the pandemic era, and what keeps it all interesting after more than a half century onstage.

In live performances, some artists always play their songs the same way. Others like Bob Dylan rearrange them, sometimes to the point of unrecognizability. Where are you on that continuum?

Dave Mason: All my songs are pretty much the way I did them, except for the new version of “World in Changes” which is on my re-recorded version of Alone Together. If it works, it works. But I do [play] some Traffic songs that are completely different arrangements: “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” is nothing like the studio version. I have a version of “Dear Mr. Fantasy” that’s coming out in November with me and Joe Bonamassa on it; it’s completely different.

If a song is done in a way where it still retains some sort of quality of what the original was, then I think it’s fine. But, yeah, I’ve heard Bob do some things where I thought, “Eh, you should’ve left that alone.” I was at some corporate gig with a friend of mine, seeing John Mellencamp. He did this version of “Jack & Diane.” It wasn’t until maybe halfway through that I even realized that’s what it was!

You know, artists will do that just because they’re bored: “Screw it, I’ll do something else.” From an audience point of view, I think most want to hear the song how it was [originally] done. The point about artists like myself – who have been making music for a long time – is that when you’re on stage, it’s not really about the music. You’re selling memories to people. That’s what is really going on.

You played on albums beyond your own extensive catalog. You’ve played on sessions with Paul McCartney and Wings, George Harrison, Delaney & Bonnie, on and on and on and on. What kind of fulfillment do you get out of lending your talents to the work of other artists? Because that’s a very different thing from doing your own music.

I was never looking to be the out-front guy. Basically, I’m a guitar player; singing was something you had to do when you got started: You’ve got to learn the current hits of the day to get a gig. So for me, it was all about guitar playing. I’m essentially a band guy. I like being a side man, being a part of a group.

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