Happy Birthday Steve Winwood: Performing With Grateful Dead In 1970

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Steve Winwood was born on this date in 1948 Birmingham, England. The multitalented, multi-instrumentalist is perhaps best-known for his role leading the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inducted band Traffic. Winwood’s impressive resume also includes stints with The Spencer Davis Group and the supergroups Blind Faith and Go, as well as a successful body of solo work.

After rising to prominence as a teenager in The Spencer Davis Group with hits like “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m A Man,” Winwood left the band in 1967 and went on to form Traffic with Dave Mason, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood. Traffic then released their debut album, 1967’s Mr. Fantasy, featuring the now-classic near title track “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” The following year saw the release of Traffic’s self-titled sophomore LP and the partially live release Last Exit came out in 1969.

Winwood then shelved Traffic to focus on the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith that included Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech. Following the release of that band’s lone album, 1969’s Blind Faith, Winwood reformed Traffic in 1970 with Capaldi and Wood. Four subsequent albums released by Traffic featured such favorites as “John Barleycorn (Must Die),” “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” “Light Up or Leave Me Alone” and several others. By 1975, Traffic had again broken up.

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Winwood’s solo career prospered in the 1980s with hits such as “Higher Love” and “Back In The High Life Again.” In 1994, Winwood and Capaldi (Wood had died in 1983) reunited to reform Traffic. The short reunion lasted the summer while the band opened for the Grateful Dead. On multiple occasions, Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia sat-in with Traffic during their opening set on the Dead cover staple “Dear Mr. Fantasy.”

Garcia’s sit-ins in the summer of ‘94 were not the only times Winwood shared the stage with the late, legendary guitarist. Back in November 1970, Winwood sat-in with the Grateful Dead at The Fillmore in New York City. Traffic was in town to play The Fillmore on November 18 and 19, 1970. The lineup at The Fillmore on November 16 featured Hot Tuna, New Riders Of The Purple Sage and the Grateful Dead.

There’s some discrepancy as to who sat-in with the Dead that night at The Fillmore, though Winwood’s participation is not in question. Wood likely (and perhaps Capaldi) accompanied Winwood during the collaboration. Later in the show, harmonica player Will Scarlet also joined the Dead.

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Playing Ron “Pigpen” McKernan’s organ, Winwood was onstage with the Grateful Dead for “Hard To Handle” and “Big Railroad Blues,” as well as a sequence of “Not Fade Away” — with Winwood singing the first verse — segueing into “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad” and back into “NFA.” Listen to a soundboard recording of Winwood sitting-in with the Grateful Dead on November 16, 1970 below:

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