Happy Birthday Steve Winwood: Performing ‘Low Spark’ Live With Traffic In 1994

See Steve lead Traffic through the title track to their iconic 1971 album on the band's reunion tour in 1994.

By Nate Todd May 12, 2022 12:10 pm PDT

Today marks Steve Winwood’s birthday. The multi-talented musician was born in Birmingham, England in 1948. A mere, but formidable, eight years later saw Steve performing with his brother Muff and father Lawrence in pubs and clubs. Muff remembered having to turn the piano around because “Stevie” Winwood was obviously underage at eight years old.

While still attending Great Barr School in Birmingham, Winwood continued his wunderkind ways playing the Hammond organ and guitar, backing legendary musicians like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley when they would come to the UK as the custom at the time was for American acts to recruit local talent for their backing bands.

But it was in a Birmingham club performing as the Muffy Wood Jazz Band that Welsh-born musician Spencer Davis saw the Winwoods and tapped the 14-year-old Steve and Muff, along with drummer Pete Yorke, to form the Spencer Davis Group in 1963. The band would go on to add to the rock ‘n’ roll canon with hits like “Somebody Help Me,” “Keep on Running” and “Gimme Some Lovin,’” the latter bolstered by Winwood’s iconic organ line and signature, soulful high register vocals.

Steve, however, would move on from the Spencer Davis Group in 1967, forming legendary band Traffic that same year with guitarist Dave Mason, drummer Jim Capaldi and multi-instrumentalist Chris Wood. Traffic would go on to craft a stunning body of work in a relatively short time beginning with their debut album Mr. Fantasy in 1967 and following with a self-titled record in ‘68 as well as the semi-live Last Exit in 1969 and John Barleycorn Must Die in 1970. The following year Traffic put out The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys which featured classic like “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone” as well as the title track, an epic 11-plus-minute vibey rocker written by Winwood and Capaldi and featuring extended solos from Chris Wood on saxophone and Steve on guitar and piano.

“The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” would go on to become a Traffic staple and is one of their most iconic songs. Naturally, the band performed the tune when they reunited in 1994 for The Last Great Traffic Jam Tour after a 20-year absence. Appearing on the album of the same name, the performance of “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” features Winwood and Capaldi as well saxophonist Randall Bramblett, multi-instrumentalist Michael J. McEvoy, bassist Rosko Gee and drummer/percussionist Walfredo Reyes Jr. Jerry Garcia also guested on The Last Great Traffic Jam version of “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” But Traffic would go it alone for “Low Spark,” which they characteristically stretched out to over 14 minutes with extended solos from Bramblett and Winwood on piano.

To celebrate Steve Winwood’s birthday, watch Traffic on “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” in 1994 below for this edition of Throwback Thursday:

Steve Winwood
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