Dozens of artists have recorded Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright.” A new 2020 update features Mick Fleetwood, Sammy Hagar, and the Doobie Brothers.
“I never wanted to be a rock star and be famous,” says Dave Mason, calling from his Hawaii home. “I just wanted to make some great music, have a hit here and there, and make a living. That’s basically it. I’m not totally comfortable in that place onstage standing out front, at all. I’m much better as part of a band. I’m essentially a very private person, and I’m not very conversational – unless I’m doing something like this [interview], frankly.”
Mason may not want to be in the spotlight – but that’s certainly where he’s been for more than fifty years, starting with his time as the guitarist for the legendary band Traffic (which earned him an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). He went on to play on many iconic tracks by other artists, including “Crosstown Traffic” and “All Along the Watchtower” with Jimi Hendrix, “Street Fighting Man” by The Rolling Stones, and several songs on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album. He’s also had a successful solo career, beginning with his 1970 debut album, Alone Together.
Fifty years later, Mason is releasing Alone Together, Again, a reworking of that debut solo release. “It really didn’t start out to be an album at all,” Mason says. “The track “Sad and Deep as You” — I had a live version of it, which was done over ten years ago. Then I started fooling around with the song “World In Changes,” and I completely changed it to a reggae feel. We cut the other tracks when we were out on the road a couple of years ago, basically live in the studio. And that’s when I started thinking about putting it together for an actual album.”
Fans who are fond of the original album shouldn’t be alarmed – overall, Mason didn’t tinker too much with the songs for these new versions. “Other than “World In Changes” I pretty much stayed true to a lot of the original album,” he says. “I think it has a little more energy in it because it’s my road band, rather than studio musicians. So there’s a little extra zip to it.”
Mason says that it felt right to return to these tracks after all these years because of the way they were written in the first place. “The songs themselves and the way I write are pretty timeless,” he says, pointing to “World In Changes,” in particular, as still being as relevant as it was five decades ago. “It could be that song is written in any time, [because] there’s always changes going on,” he says. Because of these songs’ timeless quality, Mason says, “To me it didn’t seem irrelevant to redo them.”
Revisiting these songs didn’t conjure up any sense of nostalgia for Mason. “I’m really not one that lives in the past at all,” he says. That said, Alone Together, Again actually isn’t the first time this year that Mason has reinvented something from his back catalog – this past July, he also released a new version of “Feelin’ Alright,” the track he wrote for Traffic for their 1968 self-titled album. More than a dozen artists have recorded “Feelin’ Alright,” with Joe Cocker’s 1969 version becoming a hit. Mason’s 2020 update features numerous guest musicians, including Mick Fleetwood, Sammy Hagar, and members of the Doobie Brothers.
“For something that was put together with everyone in totally different locations, it has the feel of us being together,” Mason says. “That’s what is very cool about the way it came out. It wasn’t for any dramatic reasons that I put it out. Purely just for some fun – to give people something to enjoy.”
As for what it is about his songwriting that enables him to create such classic material, Mason says with a laugh, “I wish I knew! If I did, I’d keep churning them out!” When it comes to his actual writing process, he says, “It’s pretty amorphous. It comes when it comes with me. I’m not somebody who sits down and goes, ‘Okay, let’s write something.’ I’m not super prolific. [Songs] don’t just pour out of me, unfortunately.
“Essentially, I’m a guitar player,” Mason continues. “That was my enthusiasm at fourteen [years old]: ‘I’ve got to have a Stratocaster!’ And then just teaching myself how to do it when probably other people were out chasing girls. At a young age, I spent a lot of time locked away trying to play.” He says he never took any formal guitar lessons.
Once he started playing, Mason says, “There was never a Plan B with me. ‘This is what I’m going to do and that’s it and I’m going to have it be successful.’” This approach turned out well for Mason. “From the time I was sixteen-[years-old] to the time of having a number two record in England, it was probably about three years. That happened so quick.”
The hit single Mason is referring to is Traffic’s 1967 single “Hole in My Shoe,” which he says “is the first song that I actually ever wrote on my own. It was very much a studio record. Very hard to reproduce live. It was a little bit of a fantasy kind of song.”
After leaving Traffic, Mason went on to release several successful solo albums throughout the 1970s – scoring a significant hit in 1977 with “We Just Disagree.” The 1980s found him doing session work on albums by Eric Clapton, Donovan, and Don Felder. By the 1990s, he was briefly a band member again, joining Fleetwood Mac from 1994 to 1996.
After a busy career, Mason admits that the current pandemic has forced him to retreat to his home in Hawaii.
“I’ve been on the road pretty much since I was eighteen years old. That’s a long time,” he says. “I don’t think there’s going to be really any [touring] coming until probably the fall of next year, so that’ll be over a year off – which, frankly, for me is fantastic. I need the break! I’m going to use this time to do as many beneficial things for myself as I possibly can.”
Looking ahead to his post-pandemic career, Mason is matter of fact: “I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do this. My hands still work great and I can still sing. But at 74-[years-old], I just don’t know how much longer I can physically deal with being on the road. But I’ll do it until I can’t do it.”