It’s been a total shit show for the past couple of days with a huge storm front (the remnants of Hurricane Patricia) passing through and dumping forth a total ass load of nastiness from the sky and causing gusts too stupid to really run in. This has pretty much crippled all my scheduled run and bike workouts since Tuesday. Partner that with a 100% power outage this morning thanks to a downed generator and now I can’t even use the treadmill. So, fuck it, I’m not running today. I accept that.
Luckily, our home generator (Jenny) pumps out enough power to fuel the record player so I’m opting for this bonus functional strength/core workout set to the ‘John Barleycorn Must Die‘ album by Traffic.
‘John Barleycorn Must Die’ is the 4th album by the the band, released in 1970, on Island Records in the United Kingdom (United Artists in the US), peaking at #5 on the Billboard 200, their highest charting album in the US. It has since been certified gold by the RIAA. In addition, the big single off the album ‘Empty Pages‘ spent eight weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #74. The album was marginally less successful in the UK, reaching #11 on the UK Albums Chart.
In late 1968, Traffic disbanded altogether, guitarist Dave Mason having left the group for the second time prior to the completion of the ‘Traffic’ album. In 1969, a 22-year-old Steve Winwood joined the supergroup Blind Faith, while drummer/lyricist Jim Capaldi and woodwinds player Chris Wood turned to session work. Wood and Winwood also joined Blind Faith’s drummer Ginger Baker in his post-Blind Faith group Ginger Baker’s Air Force for their first album.
In the beginning of 1970, after the demise of Blind Faith, the band having lasted barely six months, Winwood returned to the studio ostensibly to make his first solo album, originally to be titled ‘Mad Shadows’. He recorded two tracks with producer Guy Stevens, ‘Stranger to Himself‘ and ‘Every Mother’s Son‘, but yearned for like-minded musicians to accompany him. Inviting Wood and Capaldi to jump back in with both feet, Winwood’s solo album became the eventual reunion of Traffic and a re-launch of the band’s career (while showcasing Winwood’s voice and instrumental work).
As did most of their albums, it featured less the typical jamming of their 1968 incarnation, and instead influenced more by jazz and blues. And, even then, the version of the traditional English folk tune ‘John Barleycorn‘ also showed the musicians attending to the same strains of folk baroque and electric folk as contemporary British bands like Pentangle and Fairport Convention.
Who is John Barleycorn you might ask?
From the album liner notes:
“Between the years of 1900 and 1910, Cecil Sharpe collected a number of songs, JOHN BARLEYCORN among them. The many versions of this song are said to have come from Oxfordshire, Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey and Somerset, and there are estimated to be between 100 and 140 versions. The Earliest known copy is of the age of James 1st in the Pepoysian collection 1465 printed in black letter by H. Gorson (1607-1641). The popular interpretation is the effort of the people to give up the alcohol distilled from barley but in the last verse: “And little Sir John with his nut brown bowl, And his brandy in the glass, And little Sir John with his nut brown bowl, Proved the strongest man at last…”
When it comes down to it, there are only six songs on the entire album but that doesn’t diminish any of the imminent awesomeness that literally radiates from it once it begins spinning on the turntable. From ‘Glad‘ to ‘Freedom Rider‘ to ‘Empty Pages‘ to ‘Every Mothers Son‘…Every…Song…Freakin…Rocks. It totally makes being stuck inside in a darkened basement doing sit-ups under the rather scrutinizing watch of Tina the Cat a very enjoyable experience. I don’t even mind so much any more that I fell behind in my workout schedule this week, or even that I now probably have to get up early tomorrow morning to run instead.
Thank you, Stevie!