One assumes to be a rock star is to get famous by being the biggest outsized personality you can be while playing ostentatious music and hogging the spotlight as often as possible. It’s what we expect. The biggest names in rock from Jimi Hendrix, to Paul McCartney, to Michael Jackson to Mamma Cass all seem to have that special something about them that drives them to excellence; but, also, to excess, that special something is the secret ingredient of what transforms a musician into a star. What if, however, the thing that makes someone a star is just being there every day, showing up and doing the very hard work of practice, rehearsal, writing, and performing as much as one can, for as long as one can, and never stopping? If that is what it takes, what rock star could I point to who is the embodiment of this ethic? Well, Mr. Dave Mason.
In addition to the various attributes we might credit the various rock stars I mentioned above, another thing they all have in common is at one point or another they have shared the stage, tour bus, or studio with the ever-present guitarist and singer-songwriter Dave Mason. In fact, Mason has shared the spotlight with hundreds of stars over a music career that spans seven decades. A one-time, 15-year resident of Ojai, Mason’s career traces a straight line from psychedelic rock in the 60s, through the singer-songwriter era in the 70s and the radio-friendly soft-rock era of the 80s. He briefly did a stint as a member of Fleetwood Man on their “Time” album in the mid-90s and through the last 20 years has been performing nearly 100 shows a year with his own project, The Dave Mason Band. You can hear his playing on The Rolling Stones’ “Beggars Banquet,” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland.”
In fact, as the often-repeated legend goes, Bob Dylan, who is notoriously narcissistic and dismissive of other’s work, admitted that Jimi Hendrix’s cover version of “All Along the Watchtower,” a Dylan tune, was better than his own, thus paving the way for Jimi’s stardom. Do you know who was standing next to Jimi Hendrix as he heard “All Along The Watchtower” for the first time? Dave Mason. Who did Jimi ask to play 12-string guitar on that now mythical recording which made Bob Dylan admit someone was better than him? Dave Fucking Mason.
Dave Mason’s most enduring work, and what earned him entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, was his songwriting and guitar playing in the seminal rock band Traffic. Traffic is one of those bands that nearly every act that followed credits as an inspiration. Traffic’s impact on the sound of arena rock and radio rock anthems which came afterward is immeasurable. In addition to Mason’s own career, the band launched the careers of Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi. It ushered in an era of slickly produced songs about universally accessible sentiments sung with big harmonies over woody guitars which dominated AM radio in the early 70s before the advent of disco. English soul singer Joe Cocker scored his biggest hit with a Traffic song, the Dave Mason-penned tune, “Feelin’ Alright.” After Traffic, Dave had a string of solo hits including, “We Just Disagree,” in 1977 and some chart-topping duets with artists like Michael Jackson and Phoebe Snow in the 80s.
At age 71, Dave Mason still tours and uses his free time to support causes he believes in like Little Kids Rock, a charity which supports music education in elementary schools. In an interview with Red Light District’s Tim Amoroso, Dave recalls music was an everyday part of his education in England, where he was born and grew up. He said it isn’t really about teaching every kid to play but rather just exposing kids to music and giving them tools to understand and appreciate it, which he considers very important in everyone’s education. Mason also co-founded Rock Our Vets, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting veterans and providing them with food, clothing, and life-saving counseling.
Tim asked Dave what he considered to be his proudest moment after a lifetime of amazing accomplishments as a musician. “The work I do helping vets,” he said. Whatever we think makes a true rock star, needs to include whatever it is Dave Mason has.