John Barleycorn Must Die is the Traffic album that almost never was, but which is now commonly regarded as their definitive work. By 1970, still only 22, Steve Winwood had already served time at the heart of The Spencer Davis Group, as a founder member of Traffic, and with the supergroup Blind Faith. What started out as Steve Winwood’s solo debut, originally to be called Mad Shadows (a title later filched by Mott The Hoople), John Barleycorn Must Die became Traffic’s third and most fully-realised studio album.
Originally a project where Steve Winwood planned to play every instrument himself, he began recording in the Autumn of 1969. Then, after taking time out in January 1970 to participate in Ginger Baker’s Airforce, Winwood returned to his solo album in February. The next piece to be committed to tape was ‘Glad‘, a jazz influenced instrumental based upon a piano part that Winwood had been toying with for some time. With the input of Jim Capaldi’s drumming and Chris Wood’s saxophone, the piece took upon a new lease of life. “It was obvious to all of us that we should really give Traffic another go,” said Winwood soon after.
Songs like ‘Glad’ and ‘Freedom Rider’ reflect Winwood’s time with Blind Faith, more improvised, jazzier and more expansive than anything on Traffic’s earlier albums. The real surprise package, however, was the inclusion of the acoustic, seventeenth century traditional folk song ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’.
In support of the album, Traffic toured America where their shows at the Fillmore East, New York, on November 18th and 19th were taped. A scheduled Live -November 70 album, mixed down from the Fillmore East, was never released. These much bootlegged recordings are now officially released for the first time on Disc Two of this new deluxe edition of John Barleycorn along with alternate takes of ‘John Barleycorn Must Die‘, ‘Stranger To Himself’ and ‘Every Mother's Son’.
Traffic began as a collective of Birmingham based musicians in April 1967 who defined the concept of ‘getting it together in the country’ in the way they prepared their debut album, Mr Fantasy (1968) . ‘Paper Sun’ and ‘Hole In My Shoe’ were classic psychedelic pop hits, very much of their time, but their second album, simply titled Traffic (1969), reflected a band torn between pop and more serious musical ambitions and intentions. When Steve Winwood left Traffic to join Blind Faith in January 1969, the group split up, Island releasing an unsatisfactory third album, Last Exit, which rounded up left over live recordings and studio material.
John Barleycorn Must Die set a template for a rejuvenated Traffic which, with an expanded and fluctuating line up, continued to record and tour successfully, making its final appearance at the Reading Festival in August 1974.
Disc one: the original album, remastered
01: Glad ( 6:59 )
Disc two: Alternative takes and live tracks (previously unreleased)
01: Stranger To Himself – Alternate mix ( 4:10 )
*Recorded Live at The Fillmore East – 18th and 19th November 1970