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Chameleon & Future's Past: Chatting with Dave Mason and Harvey Mason, Plus Gabrielle Aplin's Audio Exclusive

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A Conversation with Dave Mason

Mike Ragogna: Let's jump into Future's Past. It's all things Traffc right now for you, what got you in that place?

Dave Mason: Why not? I mean really. I've never done it and it's part of my catalog, so to speak, so why not? I've been thinking about it for five, six, seven years.

MR: How do you look at the period you spent with Traffic?

DM: It was great. I was just nineteen years old, so it was wide open, and the time was awesome. It was great and I wish it had been able to develop further with the four of us. I was just learning. The first song that I ever wrote was sort of a fantasy thing called "Hole In My Shoe" which was their biggest hit. I was just trying to find out what I could and couldn't do basically. I'm just self taught! There's no training, I don't read or write music, so I'm flying without a net most of the time. Unfortunately things just didn't work out with the four of us. Basically whatever I was doing needed to breathe and whatever Jim was doing needed to breathe. Frankly the differences were what made it interesting, but that was not to be. I've let it go for years and years. Hey, it's what it is. A lot of the tunes that I'm doing in the Traffic section, frankly I didn't even write them. They're just cool Traffic tunes. I took one song because it's so Traffic iconic I thought it was irrelevant if I was there or not, "The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys," but I do it as a slow blues. It's nothing like how they do it, and that's cool to do that. In "Dear Mr. Fantasy" I re-wrote the chords for that tune. It's the same melody but I made it a little more moody. I could refresh it that way. It's not old.

MR: Music is transient. It isn't a canvas painting, and I don't understand why people get annoyed when an artist "isn't playing it how it goes."

DM: I have to make a comment about that, though. To me, when people come to listen to me they want to hear certain things. For the most part it's not exactly the song, it's taking them to a whole place, wherever it was they were or whatever it was they were doing. I have to say, I don't appreciate somebody fucking with a song to the point where I can't hardly recognize it. If you're going to redo it, do it so you say, "Wow, that's cool," not "What in the hell fucking song is that?" It's one thing with music and stuff like that, but when you're talking about a song I'm a little more traditional in that sense.

MR: I understand, but I think people have to realize that the artist has to grow.

DM: Right. That's fine, as long as the new version they're doing is cool.

MR: You're also doing songs like "Feeling All Right."

DM: Of course I do that! But see we do the show in two parts, with an intermission and then the last hour is basically my stuff, and part of my stuff is "Feeling All Right." So I keep that to the end of the show.

MR: I'm imagining you're performing "Dear Mr. Fantasy" during the Traffic Jam, right?

DM: We do that, we do "Medicated Goo," "Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring," "Rock 'N' Roll Stew," "Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys," "You Can All Join In," and "Pearly Queen." Basically, I picked those because I actually went looking to see in the People poll "What are the top twenty Traffic tunes?" and those were in there. I've also got to pick stuff that, no matter whether it's my stuff or Traffic stuff, I have to pick stuff that's going to be fun to play four or five nights of the week.

MR: Yeah. Your touring schedule is very tight, huh?

DM: Yeah, other than a couple of months off we have dates to the end of November.

MR: Are you surprised at how beloved Traffic ended up being?

DM: I'm surprised that what I've done there and what I've done solo has lasted this long. It's a nice surprise.

MR: Your albums like Alone Together, Headkeeper, Let It Flow, Certified Live... You have an amazing catalog. What are some of your favorite songs that you still love to play?

DM: Well pretty much whatever I'm doing, I'm doing it because I like doing it. There might be times I've sung "We Just Disagree" but it's a great song. I didn't write it. And of course "Feeling All Right," which everybody and their grand mother has probably done.

MR: [laughs] You've also got "Only You Know And I Know," which is great.

DM: That's usually in the show.

MR: What was the recording process like for this album?

DM: The way things are, I put something out, it was a pretty good album about seven or eight years ago. The problem is that putting out a CD these days is like an exercise in futility. It's not so much about the sales or how many people buy it, because it's important, it's not my craft or my art, it's my living, just like anybody else. It's more of the fact that there's no format anymore for playing new stuff by artists like me on a mass thing. Sirius XM will do it, but what are they? Six million members out of a population of three hundred and sixty five million? There's no drive time anymore for us. Terrestrial radio's still really powerful and there's no format there for us anymore. "Hey! Here's Dave Mason! Go check him out at DaveMason.com!" That's what's really missing. It's hard to get out there to people that there's something new there, which is basically what I'm having to do. I'm like knocking on people's doors, "Hey, it's me, Dave Mason!" That's what it's become. You're basically having to self-promote, with the aid of whatever people are working with or for me. So that's the process now. Like I said, there's no drive time anymore, there's no DJ. There's no real exposure to get it out there and say, "Hey, here it is!" You might have noticed on radio they don't even tell you who the hell it is half the time. Anyway, that's where it's been a little frustrating from my perspective. The labels, they're just delivery systems. That's what the beauty of the internet is, "Here! It's right here, at http://www.davemasonmusic.com," you don't have to go anywhere, it's right there if you want to get it. The point is the exposure, and having people go, "Man, I love that tune, who is that? Where can I find that?"

MR: Yeah, it's more about the social media for people with independent projects these days.

DM: Well it has to be. It's hard to get exposure otherwise.

MR: Let's talk about the cover of this album, too. What a beautiful shot Graham did!

DM: Yeah, he's got this art exhibition, I think he did one in New York and San Francisco and probably LA, but he's been doing it for a long time, he takes these photographs and paints over them. So yeah, it's a picture of me from probably in the seventies at his house in Kauai. He sent me a few of these paintings and I said, "Man, that's cool, can I use that?" He said, "Yeah, absolutely go ahead, use it for the album cover." It also fit in with the title, why I called it Future's Past, because it's got my past in there in terms of songs, but they're treated in a different way. Like any good song they're still relevant.

MR: Plus you have the new one, "That's Freedom." Do you want to give a thought or two on that one?

DM: Yeah! Basically it's my take on the state of the Union.

MR: But from the perspective of, "Oh well, that's freedom?" or...?

DM: Take it however you want.

MR: [laughs] I knew you'd say that.

DM: Everybody's got to put their own interpretation on it.

MR: So your tour logo reads, "Dave Mason's Traffic Jam World Tour 1967." We're in 2014. That's one hell of a long ass tour.

DM: That's about it, that's why I did it. [laughs]

MR: Dave, what advice do you have for new artists?

DM: Well, first off, like anything, you'd better have some good friends around you to tell you that you're full of shit when you get carried away. At least have some business accumen. It's a crapshoot, it's a total crapshoot. You'd better have a lot of faith in what you're doing, because it's a crapshoot.

MR: Has it always been a crapshoot in one way or another?

DM: Yeah, there's no guarantees. All us musicians take on a role in a place where there's no insurance, no life insurance, no medical policies, nothing. We don't have all of that stuff, we just go out there on faith, basically.

MR: What keeps you doing it after all these years?

DM: I'm too old to change jobs now, unless someone wants to give me something really nice and high-paying.

MR: Do you see yourself in this career for the rest of your life?

DM: Oh yeah, I'll be doing this till I drop! Don't want to miss the last show.

MR: [laughs] Do you remember your Delaney & Bonnie days?

DM: Yeah, yeah, they were great. I knew them back in '67 through Gram Parsons. They were great. Delaney and Bonnie and Bobby Whitlock singing together was very cool. There's a video on YouTube of me, Eric Clapton and Bobby and Delaney and Bonnie singing "Poor Elijah."

MR: And you were friends with George Harrison as well, right?

DM: Yeah.

MR: You were friends with everyone!

DM: [laughs] No, I got lucky in the sense that our paths crossed a lot, but part of that is that in England, unlike America where there are a number of music scenes, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, LA, there were a lot of music places, but in England everybody just ended up in one place, London, so you were invariably going to run into pretty much everybody in a studio, in a club, or in a restaurant. It was a very small clique concentrated in one place, so the opportunities to have that happen were a lot easier to come by.

MR: Do you understand the impact you've had on music history as a solo artist?

DM: My solo career is a lot longer than my career with Traffic, that's for sure. I've got some stuff out there.

MR: [laughs] Thank you so much Dave, I really appreciate it.

DM: You're welcome! Thank you.

Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne

GABRIELLE APLIN'S "A CASE OF YOU" AND MORE

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Just a little catch-up on Gabrielle Aplin...

Her single "The Power Of Love" has been featured in Resurrection promos airing on ABC-TV, plus she has toured with Ed Sheeran, Gotye, John Mayer, and many others. Premiering here exclusively are songs from the artist's EP, English Rain, that include a cover of the Joni Mitchell classic "A Case of You."

"I'm especially excited about my songs finally being released in North America for the first time after such a great reception throughout the rest of the world," says Gabrielle. "This EP features my cover of Joni Mitchell's 'A Case Of You' and is a tribute to Joni as it was her and her work that really made to want to create and write songs. I see 'A Case Of You' as a poem, and what amazes and inspires me the most about it is that it's so personal yet has been able to reach people around the world in many ways, which is what I hope to do with my own songs."

Also, check out this video for Gabrielle's single "Home"...

English Rain EP Tracklisting:
1. Panic Cord
2. A Case Of You
3. Please Don't Say You Love Me
4. Home
5. Salvation
6. The Power of Love

GABRIELLE APLIN U.S. TOUR DATES
5/6 Studio at Webster Hall - New York, NY
5/11 World Café Live - Philadelphia, PA
5/13 Schuba's Tavern - Chicago, IL
5/14 The Vera Project - Seattle, WA
5/15 Lola's in Crystal Ballroom - Portland, OR
5/17 Brick & Mortar - San Francisco, CA
5/21 Hotel Café - Hollywood, CA

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A Conversation with Harvey Mason

Mike Ragogna: Hey, is this The Chameleon?

Harvey Mason: [laughs] This is the Chameleon! Hey Mike, how are you doing, buddy?

MR: I'm pretty good, how've you been?

HM: Pretty great! Just fantastic.

MR: Yeah, I know, it looks like it. You've got a new album, Fourplay's been doing great, and everything's on the up and up with you right now.

HM: Yeah, I can't complain, everything's been great, I've just been having a great time, loving life and loving music and I'm going to continue to grow.

MR: Speaking of that, what do you think of the new album? What's your impression of this Chameleon?

HM: I always travel to Japan with different projects, and I put a project together a couple years ago searching for something fresh. Every time I go I try to come up with something a bit different because they're so flexible over there and they love so many different types of music. So I came up with this Chameleon project and brought it over to Japan and it was a hit. They loved it. So I said, "I should record this!" but I wanted to update the original, because when I went there before I played the music that was from that CD that I had never performed, since I never went on the road with it. That was the hook there in Japan, I had never been heard playing that music. So I had such a ball that I wanted to record some music that was reminiscent of that era but a little more forward-thinking. Once we got with the project with Chris Dunn at Concord, he really loved the concept and he started talking more and more about it. We ended up moving towards more of a retro record, that would feel twentieth century but we took some of that era's most special classics that I played on and redid them. I think it's a very interesting record. I wasn't quite sure how it was going to be received, I thought for a while that it was re-hashing something old, but what makes it unique is the fact that we called in all these young, young players, twenty one, twenty two, guys that are up and coming giants, some of the youngest, brightest talents in jazz today, we called them to play, and it was surprising that they were familiar with the music. Initially they were mimicking it and I had to have them just be themselves and play the music. I think it's a pretty interesting CD and I'm looking forward to seeing how people respond to it.

MR: How did you know these were going to be the right players for the interpretations you needed?

HM: I knew Ben, I worked with him on a George Benson project. The other guys, I must say, I heard Christian Scott before, I loved the way he played, Kris Bowers I'd never heard of, Matt Stevens I'd never heard, those people and Corey King were brought to me by Chris Dunn who is A&R director at Concord and he assured me that these guys could play and he'd send me CDs that they'd played on and once I heard it I said, "Absolutely." Kamasi [Washington] had come highly recommended years ago and he'd played with me before. Mark de Clive-Lowe came through Chris Dunn as well. Pretty much Chris Dunn recommended a lot of these players, including Chris Turner and Corey King. A lot of them are on the Concord label as well, or will be, so it was very easy. Once I'd listened to their CDs and heard their playing I said, "Yep! Yep! He works, he works, he works." And they're all great guys as well! They're all really cool people.

MR: What tunes were you surprised by when you revisited them for this project?

HM: "Montara." When Chris suggested "Montara" I said, "Really?" It wasn't something that people would know and recognize. Chris was a DJ one time and he really had his finger on the pulse of music during the seventies and eighties, and he said that was definitely a very, very popular tune and a lot of people would recognize it from that era. I'd never felt that way, but I trusted him because we were in sync. When we recorded it it turned out really nice and very, very interesting. I actually thought it was a boring tune initially, but everyone brought something to it and it turned out really very cool. I really like it.

MR: What track do you think grew the most from the past to the present?

HM: "Chameleon" grew a lot. it's hard to top the version that we did so I had to go in a different direction. We called in Ben Wendel from Kneebody to create a map for us to follow. He gave us a schematic, and there was a lot of meat there. That really morphed into something very, very special. Then I added Bill Summers, who's one of the original Headhunters, to come up with one of his patented African chants, which we used as an intro and and outtro. I think that tune took a big leap and I think it's really, really, really special.

MR: Did you feel like any of the artist had really grown by the end of the process?

HM: I didn't look at it that way because I knew they'd given me what they had on the tunes. I really couldn't tell if they'd grown, because I wouldn't know. They were all so respectful and happy to be there and they gave everything they had and they were so easy to work with that it's hard to know. But I'd say that every time you go to the studio and you're playing with great musicians, you're getting better and you're growing. I'm sure they all get something out of the dates, but it's hard for me to say and I can't say that it's apparent to me because I hadn't spent that much time with them before or since.

MR: Were any of the guys big fans of you?

HM: Oh yeah, most of them. They really were. Guys would come in singing and humming different tunes that they'd heard and liked or listened to and would ask me questions about what was it like when I worked with Jaco [Pastorius] on that song or this and that and Mark de Clive-Lowe was playing songs saying, "We should be recording this song!" So yes, there was quite a bit of respect going around the room, and from my position as well because I respected all of these guys who were very young and very accomplished players with long lists of credits already at such a young age.

MR: Were there moments on this album where you just let the band go, as opposed to following the chart?

HM: Oh yes, we definitely walked into some areas where we'd just go, go, go, go, go. As a matter of fact there are some areas where we went that were cut, I'm sad to say, I guess because of time restraints and the overall feel of the CD. There's some stuff that was not used that I thought was incredible. But there were a lot of moments where we just played and played and played and it was really special. I think people will hear those moments and really appreciate them, because I'm not sure you hear that much of that on CDs anymore these days.

MR: It seems like live music has more of the edge these days as opposed to going into the studio and recording "The Album."

HM: Right. Well we all sat in a room together and played together, which really does not happen anymore. It was great. Everything you hear is what was played. Fourplay plays that way as well. We go in and record everything live. A lot of interplay with everyone, everyone's listening, it was just a lovefest of musical magic.

MR: You collaborate with a lot of people who wouldn't be considered part of your genre, like Santana, John Legend, and BB King. How do you look at music in general?

HM: I just love music. I love all kinds of music. That's how I ended with the nickname "Chameleon" because I've played orchestral music, I've played drum music, jingle music, pop music, country music, latin music, I've played all kinds of music and I love it all. I feel that as long as I'm playing my instrument regardless of whether I'm growing as a musician--that's my aim, to continue to grow and listen and learn and add new things to my repertoire. I love music and I'm happy to perform in any idiom, and I try my best to explore that idiom and try and expand it as well. So that's how I look at it. I have no prejudice against any music. I just love the fact that I can sit down and play--I take great pride in the fact that I play on a lot of CDs of non-traditional jazz or whatever they are and that people have the confidence to know that I'll come in and play whatever they need to the best of my ability. That's what I'm really proud of. I have no axe to grind about it. Of course, I grew up playing jazz. Well, first I was in orchestras, but I loved jazz and played in top forty bands; I just didn't discriminate. I just loved music. Of course I love creative music, just reacting and doing what I feel like playing. That's my first love, I would say, but the thrill of playing any kind of music is still there.

MR: What do you think about the state of jazz these days?

HM: We can talk about the state of jazz, which I think it's in great hands because what I've experienced from listening to all of these young players is that these guys are amazing and they're steeped in tradition and they're trying to expand the boundaries. I think from an artistic standpoint and a creative standpoint I think it's moving forward and I think it's in a great place. As far as the accceptance and the exposure I think it's probably in trouble but I hope that it expands. It's more accepted in Europe and Asia. They love it, jazz plays everywhere. I think there's a place for it there and I hope the United States becomes more aware of our true art form of jazz. It originated here, so I hope that we begin to appreciate it as much as other countries appreciate it, because they certainly do over there.

MR: It does seem like R&B and soul and funk elements often need to be combined in order for them to appreciate jazz.

HM: It seems that way, but I think when you go abroad and you hear the music in hotels and train stations and coffee shops, the just play jazz. You see businessmen after work going there alone, sitting in the chair, having a cup of coffee and listening to jazz. They put their heads back and just groove. That's amazing to me. I love that. And the music fits, and there's a DJ there playing all kinds of music right now, right today in Japan, all over Japan. That's amazing to me. You know there's something they're getting out of the music. So I just hope that might happen here one day, but I don't know, it seems like here there's a definite agenda.

MR: My feeling is there's an aggressive attempt to capture the dollar of certain demos, and they assume that those people will only like certain types of music and certain fads or styles and that's all that they pump the money into for promotion, so that becomes the culture rather than different kinds of music that would seep in naturally.

HM: That's exactly the truth. If you hear something, you have the chance to make up your mind and fall in love with it, but if you don't hear it and it's not there you don't know. You can't love what you don't hear. So I think exposure is a big deal. I think if it were exposed there would be a larger audience and people would appreciate it more. At Concord, Chris Dunn is captain to a lot of very young people, Christian Scott and Kris Bowers and these guys, they have followings now, and there's a club in LA called The Blue Whale and my release party is playing two nights there with all these young guys. The reason we're going to be playing there is because that's where there's a young culture that's heavily into the music. It's not a large audience, but we're tapping into that audience because we think they're going to appreciate my CD. We're trying to reach some of the young people there. I went there to see a couple of bands, and the enthusiasm and the seeming dedication from these young fans is great. That's what we're going to be.

MR: That's beautiful, I really wish you luck with that, that's incredible. What advice do you have for new artists?

HM: Just practice, listen to all kinds of music, and just play, play, play and go with your heart. Go with your heart and believe and anything's possible. Believe in your heart and just play from the heart. Don't try to emulate, try to create. I think creating and playing is where it's at. Play from the heart. People can tell.

MR: What hasn't Harvey Mason done yet?

HM: Hmm. I don't know, there are some people that I'd like to play with, and I'd like to make some sort of quasi-classical record, a record infused with classical and jazz, I'd like to show that side of me and play some extensive works and write something, so that's probably what I'd like to do, and continue to play with as many artists as possible. There's a couple of singers I'd like to work with. I don't want to name them because I don't want to take anybody's job, but there are a couple of bebop singers that I would really love to play with that record a lot. I just want to play with a lot of different people and continue to have new, fresh experiences. I'm always listening and trying to move forward. I just did a record for Quincy [Jones] with a new guitarist named Andreas Varady, who's going to be ridiculous. I love those moments when you're playing with guys who are recording in the major scene for the first time. I'm looking forward to that releasing, that was fun. Those are the experiences I look forward to, and I hope that's a groundreaking record because this kid is sixteen and plays like he's sixty. It's not taught, he plays from the heart. Also nowadays the fact that jazz is in great hands and it's still continuing, hopefully there will be ways that we can expose it to more people in the United States because it's very strong everywhere else as I said.

Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne