Only You Know And I Know (1970)
Dave Mason’s career is a herky-jerky journey from the heights of stardom and creative genius to the obscure and bland, then back again to lofty achievement.
Attitudinal problems didn’t help him. Neither did the purism of the mid-to-late ’60s that engulfed and destroyed many a good band. It seems almost anything Eric Clapton was involved with from Cream to Blind Faith to the Dominos succumbed to such issues, for instance. If it wasn’t The Blues, it wasn’t nuthin’, honey.
Mason is one of the founders of the pioneering Blues-Jazz-Rock fusion band, Traffic. He wrote one of their most famous songs, “Feelin’ Alright.”
“Feelin’ Alright” – Traffic
His tension with Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi centered around whether Mason wrote songs that were too pop oriented. Indeed, “Feelin’ Alright” and “Hole In My Shoe” were hits for Traffic, although inarguably some of the more enduring numbers they turned out were Winwood-Capaldi compositions, such as “Paper Sun.”
Mason himself said, “It became a big problem when Jim and Steve had their ideas about what they wanted to do, and I was writing different types of music. Maybe it was because I had more of a pop sensibility. We were always diverse enough to make it interesting, but I think it was also that diversity that eventually pulled the band apart.”
Mason most famously played the 12-string guitar on the Hendrix version of “All Along The Watchtower.” He also played on The Stones’ Beggars Banquet; with Delaney and Bonnie and friends featuring George Harrison and Eric Clapton; and on George’s All Things Must Pass.
His best solo effort is Alone Together, from which comes “Only You Know And I Know.” It very neatly embraces Traffic’s earlier sound, cleans it up, and anticipates some of the tracks on Derek & The Dominos’ Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs. (Bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon played on both albums.)
“Only You Know” offers up a solid showcase for Mason’s superb lead guitar playing, so good that one suspects that had he not been standing in the shadow of Hendrix and Clapton, he would be appreciated as a top-tier guitarist.
The song melds an intense, rich background rhythm section provided by many members of the same band that, in the same year, 1970, backed eric Clapton on his eponymous album that immediately preceded Layla. Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, Leon Russell, keyboard player John Simon, Rita Coolidge, and the above-mentioned Radle and Gordon, among others.
“Only You Know And I Know”
The opening is as hooky as it gets, a sharp acoustic strumming punctuated by one note riffs from the lead guitar and bass coupled with a single beat of the snare. Very, very catchy. But it’s a wake up call as well.
Mason’s lyrics are a bit on the superficial side, but it’s a love song – a continuing invitation to sex, more accurately – and the roaming around verbally is easily forgiven.
‘Cause you know that
I mean what I say so don’t go
And never take me the wrong way
You know you can’t go on gettin’ your own way
‘Cause if you do
It’s gonna get you someday, yeah
There is an interlude, a five-second guitar piece – too short to be a solo, too long to be a riff – between the two verses. Mason breaks out into an extended version of the mini-break, wah-wah in full battle array, and in it can challenge anything from Clapton during that era.
As the song returns to the lyrics, the guitars keep on blazing, taking “Only You Know” to the brink of a boogie. The rhythms are fierce and evoke not just Clapton but The Stones, Kinks and a bit of George Harrison when The Beatles allowed him room to rip and roar.
Among other artists, Mason is highly respected and sought after as a session player.
While “Only You Know And I Know” remains his best solo effort – a hard rocker that manages to stay subdued and controlled – the commercial apex of his solo career came with his smash hit, “We Just Disagree.” (There ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys…)
Mason’s top works need to be dragged out of the attic occasionally, if not for re-appraisal then certainly for the sheer fun of it.
- SongMango Maniacs will love Mason’s statement: “I’m not genre defined, that’s for sure. First of all I need a song. As the saying goes: “It’s the song, the song, the song.” Each song requires a different approach musically, and that is how I deal with things.”
- Dave Mason was 21 when Traffic’s first album was issued. (Steve Windwood was going on 19, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood were both only 23.)