Nicola James Capaldi on August 2, 1944 in Evesham, Worcestershire, England
January 28, 2005 in London, England
As a key member of the exploratory '60s and '70s English rock band Traffic, Capaldi served primarily as drummer and songwriting contributor. However, when he launched a solo career during a band hiatus in 1972, he used the opportunity to spotlight his passionate lead vocal style and his versatile gifts as an instrumentalist. Unfortunately, mainstream rock fans took notice only marginally, which is a particular shame when that fact is placed next to the sheer quality of Capaldi's solo LPs produced consistently through a decade and a half of artistic integrity and activity.
Born to Italian parents, Capaldi and his brother Phil followed in the musical footsteps of their father, a music teacher, joining bands in their early teens. Along with future Traffic mate Dave Mason, Capaldi formed a band called The Hellions in 1963 and served as its drummer and, ultimately, lead singer. Still, this group and subsequent ones struggled for notice through the mid '60s until the formation of Traffic in 1967 with Steve Winwood and Chris Wood. Capaldi served as a primary co-writer within the band but generally played a backing role behind his drum kit during performances. That would soon change.
'70s Solo Years:
Though an active member of Traffic whenever the band recorded and toured together amidst the various activities of Winwood during the early '70s, Capaldi launched his solo career in 1972 as a way to support his own solo songwriting and performance impulses. By the end of that decade, Capaldi had recorded seven albums of original material and released six of them. His first three records, especially - Oh How We Danced, Whale Meat Again & Short Cut Draw Blood - drew critical acclaim and employed many of rock's finest musicians as session men, including bandmate Winwood and Free guitarist Paul Kossoff.
'80s New Wave & Arena Rock Stylings:
Despite his prolific '70s output, Capaldi remained under the radar as a solo artist. Part of this obscurity may have resulted from some disco-themed missteps, but for 1983's Fierce Heart Capaldi returned to more of a classic sound, though inflected with new wave-flavored synthesizers on the modest hits "Living on the Edge" and "That's Love." Following his next album, Capaldi set to work on preparing what would become his most successful rock solo record, 1988's Some Come Running. This guitar-centered arena rock effort featured an all-star supporting cast and produced the solid rocker "Something So Strong."
A Quiet '90s & Beyond:
Unfortunately, Capaldi would never follow up Some Come Running with a genuine solo studio recording, instead retreating to a quiet family life and working mostly as an occasional songwriter for other artists. His composition "Love Will Keep Us Alive," co-written with fellow British artist Paul Carrack, became a hit for The Eagles on that band's eagerly anticipated 1994 reunion record Hell Freezes Over. In 2004, Traffic was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with Winwood and Capaldi again collaborating at the ceremony - as they had for so many years - to celebrate the band's accomplishment.
Early Death & Ongoing Legacy:
Sadly, Capaldi would not be able to participate in a planned 2005 reunion of Traffic, as stomach cancer ended his life in the early part of 2005. However, his association with and high esteem among respected rock musicians including George Harrison, Pete Townshend and Paul Weller marked his death just as they always had his life. Heartfelt tributes and genuine recognition of Capaldi's importance as a musician and activist have followed liberally in the years since his death, for good reason. As both a key member of a legendary band and a worthy solo artist, Capaldi has earned his place in rock history.