Multi-instrumentalist and singer Dave Mason’s tenure in the international music business began around the time when he joined seminal psychedelic rock band Traffic. He played lead guitar, as well as a slew of other instruments including the sitar, tambura, and mellotron, on Traffic’s 1967 debut Mr. Fantasy, but separated from the band soon after. Though the end of that instantaneous membership is approaching its 50th anniversary, the membership itself looms in the forefront of his legacy and seems almost impossible not to comment on.
Since then, he’s mostly worked as a solo artist accompanied by backing bands whose lineup has gradually shifted over the years, currently consisting of Johnne Sambataro on guitar and vocals, Alvino Bennett on drums, and Tony Patler on keyboards and bass. His solo career arguably peaking with his classic 1970 album Alone Together, which he recently “rerecorded completely,” over the course of a single afternoon in his home studio. After he finishes his current tour with Journey and the Doobie Brothers (who will not appear at the S.B. Bowl), he’s hitting the road again to tour behind the recent reissue, dubbed the Alone Together Again Tour.
The entire effort simultaneously reflects Mason’s belief that he, and all the bands he’s touring with, are “selling memories” to his older fans, as well as his desire to reach out to younger generations through a rehashing of his classic recordings.
“There’s a lot of young people who will probably really dig this album,” Mason said. “So to them it’s brand new. They’ve probably never heard it, but it’s still great material.”
However, Mason’s strategy for selling his newest albums differ sharply from many of his peers, and most musicians today, since he insists on only selling them himself.
As Mason has repeated to numerous interviewers in recent years: “Making a new album is an exercise in futility, because there’s no way to expose it. At least as it should be properly.”
Feeling that his hand has been forced, Mason will only sell copies of his reissue of Alone Together and his most recent live album, Traffic Jam, in two places: on his website or at a merch stand at one of his concerts. They are not available on streaming services either.
“The internet is, y’know it’s all well and good, but the bottom line is the internet is destroying intellectual property,” Mason articulated. “For songwriters and for writers. And basically everyone is just stealing everything.”
Fortunately for Mason, he has been largely insulated from the music industry’s worldwide financial downturn by royalties from past hits, especially Traffic’s most successful single, “Feelin’ Alright.”
Mason also blames classic rock radio for damaging profits, at least for older acts, by “churn[ing] out the same shit over and over again. And they don’t say, ‘Here’s the latest,’” though he does acknowledge they are catering to their audience, saying, “The bottom line is, for the most part, y’know, the audience in that age group just keep wanting to hear the old songs.”
Though he has always been lumped together with classic rock radio acts, Mason expressed a desire “to be in that whole jam band audience. That’s where I need to be, because I have great fucking musicians in this band, and that’s what we do. Traffic was probably one the original alternative bands, and we were a jam band then.”
Growing up, Mason mainly discovered music through live performances on television show, but would also listen to programs on his crystal radio. Mason would mainly tune into public radio shows on BBC and Radio Luxembourg, as well as unlicensed pirate stations that “would play music 24 hours” and were as accessible as a turn on the dial, though they didn’t pay royalties to the artists they played.
Dave Mason opens for Journey at the Santa Barbara Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.) this Thursday, September 1.