Steve Winwood

  • British blue-eyed soul artist, musician and songwriter born in Birmingham England in 1948.
  • As a boy, he started piano at age 4, and was in a local band with his brother at the age of 8. While in high school, he was playing guitar, keyboards and backing vocals for American R&B performers like Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Chuck Berry when they toured in England. Winwood modeled his singing after Ray Charles.
  • In 1963, he joined The Spencer Davis Group after Davis saw him performing on keyboards and singing at a pub – Winwood was 14 years old. The following year, the band was signed to a record contract. Winwood performed with the group on 3 albums – the songs Keep On Running and Somebody Help Me reached #1 in the UK, and Winwood co-wrote and was the lead singer for their biggest hits in the U.S., Gimme Some Lovin’ and I’m A Man – both were top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. During this time, he also performed with Eric Clapton, recording 3 songs as Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse.
  • Winwood left The Spencer Davis Group in 1967. He had a jam session at a Birmingham pub with drummer Jim Capaldi, guitarist Dave Mason and saxophonist/flutist Chris Wood, and they soon formed the progressive rock band Traffic. They performed from 1967 until 1974, releasing 7 studio albums (plus an eighth during a brief reunion in 1994). While in the band, he backed Jimi Hendrix on the organ for Hendrix’s legendary song Voodoo Chile. Winwood also had a side project in 1969 with the supergroup Blind Faith – their only album topped the Billboard album chart – and also a jazz-rock project called Ginger Baker’s Air Force that was formed after Clapton left Blind Faith. Air Force released 2 albums.
  • Tired of touring, Winwood retired to session work in 1974. Pressured by his record company, he released his first solo album in 1977, the self-titled Steve Winwood. It was a modest success, though the singles released did not chart. His next album was his breakthrough as a solo artist – Arc Of a Diver, released in 1980. The single When You See a Chance reached #7 on the Hot 100 and #2 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Both albums were recorded at Winwood’s home, with Winwood playing all of the instruments. For more on Arc Of a Diver, see my Vintage Vinyl post from May 6, 2018.
  • Winwood released 3 more studio albums during the 80s. 1982’s Talking Back the Night included the single Valerie, a minor hit. 1986’s Back In the High Life became his best selling album, certified triple platinum. It contained his first #1 Billboard 100 song, Higher Love, with vocalist Chaka Khan contributing vocals. The song earned 2 Grammy awards for Winwood, including Record of the Year. Whitney Houston covered the song in 1990, and an EDM version of Houston’s version by DJ Kygo was released in June 2019, reaching #2 on the Dance/Electronic Songs chart. In 1988, Winwood released Roll With It. It topped the Billboard Album chart, and the title track became his second #1 song on the Hot 100. Two other singles from the album topped the Mainstream Rock/Adult Contemporary charts – Don’t You Know What the Night Can Do? and Holding On.
  • He released 4 more studio albums between 1990 and 2008. The song One and Only Man from 1990’s Refugees of the Heart album was his final hit, topping the Mainstream Rock chart and peaking at #18 on the Hot 100. He continued to tour occasionally (in 2019, he did a brief tour with Steely Dan), and he contributed session work for artists including Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, Miranda Lambert and Billy Joel.
  • Winwood’s career is remarkable, as he has been part of multiple supergroups, followed by a successful solo career, spanning 6 decades. In 2017, he released his first live solo album, a compilation of Greatest Hits. It showcases his many styles, from R&B to jazz to classic rock to Afro-Caribbean rhythms. Here’s the blue-eyed soul master in the video for his song Roll With It – enjoy!

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