June 12, 2014

British rocker Steve Winwood takes his hits to the Bob Hope Theatre

British rocker Steve Winwood has seen many musical eras in his career – from the Spencer Davis Group to Traffic and Blind Faith and solo work. The performer comes to the Bob Hope Theatre in Stockton on Wednesday as part of a solo tour.

If you were to read Steve Winwood’s history like the rings in a great oak, each radiating circle would make an impressive career in and of itself.

“I’ve been very lucky. Music has been my life and I’ve been lucky to make a living from something I’m passionate about. Music still intrigues me. I’m always discovering more,” Winwood, 66, told the Manchester Evening News last year.

To realize how much of his life he meant, you would start in 1963, when the English rocker was just a sapling and he joined the Spencer Davis Group at age 14. The child prodigy gained acclaim for his blue-eyed soul singing style and served as a vocalist, composer and multi-instrumentalist on the British beat group’s hits like “Keep On Running,” “I’m a Man” and “Gimme Some Lovin.’ ”

It would continue as Winwood branched out on his own in 1967 to co-found the band Traffic. The quartet started as a psychedelic rock ensemble with its debut album, “Mr. Fantasy,” and struck a chord with the times. Besides its eponymous single, the album included the hits “Paper Sun” and “Hole in My Shoe.”

Then in 1969, Winwood grew even taller when he helped form what is called the first supergroup in rock history, Blind Faith. The band included Cream guitarist Eric Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker and Family bassist Rick Grech. While short-lived, the band released one self-titled album, which included the now-classic “Can’t Find My Way Home.”

In 1972, Winwood stretched further, taking part in a live orchestral production of The Who’s rock opera “Tommy” with the London Symphony Orchestra. The show was released as a recording and also included Rod Stewart, Richie Havens and Ringo Starr.

By 1977, Winwood had started his solo career in earnest, protected by the dense canopy of his accomplishments. By 1980, he had gone platinum with his sophomore album, “Arc of a Diver.” Six years later, he released the megahit album, “Back in the High Life.” He topped the Billboard Hot 100 with “Higher Love” and had Top 20 hits with “Back in the High Life Again” and “The Finer Things.” The album also took home three Grammy Awards, including record of the year and best male pop vocal performance. His 1989 follow-up album, “Roll With It,” hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and also won a Grammy.

In 2004, Winwood joined the towering icons of the industry when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Traffic.

In 2007, he went back to his roots by re-teaming with former Blind Faith bandmate Clapton. He played Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival and a series of three sold-out shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden. A year later, Winwood and Clapton released a collaborative EP, “Dirty City.”

Since then, Winwood has continued to record and tour – both on his own and with famous friends – not content to just rest under the shade of his past work. He is currently embarking on a 12-stop solo tour and then in August will team up with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers for a major North American tour. Winwood has also toured with fellow British rocker Stewart and others in recent years.

On Wednesday, he rolls into the Bob Hope Theatre in Stockton as part of his solo tour. So with a career so storied and so varied, what does Winwood play on tour?

“I always try to cover everything from the early Spencer Davis days, through Traffic, then the Eighties, Nineties and Noughties,” he told the Manchester Evening News. “I have to do that evenly because otherwise someone will get on Facebook or the website and say, ‘He didn’t do enough stuff from the Eighties’ or ‘He did too much early stuff.’

“I’ve got a good barometer through social media. I have to do touring on my own terms now.”

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