Steve Winwood is someone whom I don’t believe has been covered anywhere on Andresmusictalk as of yet. His musical conception is interesting because of his talent across two spectrum’s. Winwood is a multi instrumentalist across a broad variety of string and keyboard instruments-as well as drums. At the same end,he also parlayed his talents as a member of bands such as The Spencer Davis Group,Blind Faith and finally Traffic. By the time of Steve Winwood’s solo debut in 1977,the man was already a stand up band leader at least twice over-while still being able to do it all on his own.
The Birmingham,England native began his career playing in his father and brother’s jazz band. And became active on the areas blues scene-his vocals being compared to Ray Charles. So a strong sense of soul always defined his creativity. His second solo album was 1980’s Arc Of A Diver. Much as Stevie Wonder,Prince and Todd Rundgren had done he really exercised his multi instrumental talents here-playing and producing the entire album with only Will Jenning’s co-writing some songs. It re-invented him as a commercial viable artist. And the song that musically expresses this best for me is “Night Train”.
A revving guitar starts up this groove before the percussive synthesizer comes in. After that a bluesy amped up guitar solos directly into the bouncy dance beat of the drums and the very funky bass line that responds to the rhythm in kind. Before the next part of the song starts up,the synth solo that begins the song is accented with a a synthesized string ensemble. Winwood plays a straight blues guitar solo to his vocals along with the synth strings. On the choruses,the melody merely goes into the minor chord. After a rather Brazilian style drum break on the bridge,the song plays out it’s refrains until it fades out.
On a personal level,it still makes me crack up a little bit to remember the first time I ever heard this song. At the age of 11,my parents would set our VCR to record the original Star Trek series for me late at night-commercials and all. One which was constantly repeated was a PSA for the local ABC affiliate about how advertising on TV worked. I loved the funky jam playing in the back-round. Only a decade later when I purchased the Modile Fidelity edition of Arc Of A Diver did I realize the song from that commercial was “Night Train”. Really shows you how funky instrumental music is dismissed as muzak sometimes.
One thing I’ve noticed about the most successful of multi instrumentalists is the level they utilize their talents to express their full abilities. Of course one has to be instrumentally humble in the more democratic environment of bands. On this song,Winwood brings together all of his musical influences into the synth pop of the early 80’s. The song itself is structured closely to the 12 bar blues. Still the rhythmic synthesizer and general keyboard vibe is straight out of the disco/funk sound of the late 70’s. So the end result comes out as a rock musician making his own type of uptempo boogie funk record in the end.